$18.95

Social Poetics

Essay by Mark Nowak

March 10, 2020 • 6 x 9 • 288 pages • 978-1-56689-567-5

A people’s history of the poetry workshop from a poet and labor activist heralded by Adrienne Rich for “regenerating the rich tradition of working-class literature.”

Social Poetics documents the imaginative militancy and emergent solidarities of a new, insurgent working class poetry community rising up across the globe. Part autobiography, part literary criticism, part Marxist theory, Social Poetics presents a people’s history of the poetry workshop from the founding director of the Worker Writers School. Nowak illustrates not just what poetry means, but what it does to and for people outside traditional literary spaces, from taxi drivers to street vendors, and other workers of the world.

About the Author

Mark Nowak is the author of Coal Mountain Elementary, Shut Up Shut Down, and Revenants. He is the recipient of the Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism and fellowships from the Lannan and Guggenheim foundations. Nowak has led poetry workshops for workers and trade unions in the US, South Africa, the UK, Panama, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. He is currently a professor of English at Manhattanville College and the founding director of the Worker Writers School.

Reviews

“Whether unpacking Mikhail Bakhtin’s ‘unity of the emerging idea,’ demonstrating the practical application of alliteration, or recalling his daughter teaching youth prison poets origami, Mark Nowak testifies to the urgency and intimacy of poetry in our prisons, union halls, and workers’ centers. Social Poetics tracks what happens when people gather around poems: conjunctions, dialogues, imaginative militancy, solidarities. This supple, comprehensive book is a study in the poetics of bearing witness, bearing tools, and bearing possibilities.” —Terrance Hayes

Social Poetics materializes imaginative militancy. With a litany of the social as pervasive and intimate, and political memories of life-and-death struggles for justice, Nowak crafts a transformative workshop for the collective. This is an important record of how the people’s power, poetry, and history maintain us and the beauty of our world(s).” —Joy James

Praise for Mark Nowak

“[Nowak is willing] to submerge his own voice beneath these other accounts, privileging other voices—those of survivors, widows, journalists—above his own. He is a legislator whose job is allowing others to be heard.” —Leslie Jamison, The New York Times Sunday Book Review

“The aim of making poetry to make change, to make history, is what makes Nowak’s work most radical and most daring, moving into the realm where knowing is a kind of collective being and doing.” —Philip Metres, Kenyon Review

“Mark Nowak is restoring the perspective of working class Americans to contemporary American poetry.” —The Buffalo News

“The several long poems that make up this book build into each other with devastating force and understatement, breaking poetic boundaries, regenerating the rich tradition of working-class literature.” —Adrienne Rich

Coal Mountain Elementary is an imaginative and shocking reminder of what it means, in the most human and poignant terms, to be a miner, whether in this country or in China, or for that matter anywhere in the industrial world. It is also a tribute to miners and working people everywhere. It manages, in photos and in words, to portray an entire culture. And it is a stunning educational tool.” —Howard Zinn

“Mark Nowak encounters the whispers of creation and cultural remembrance in his eminent, visionary poetry. Revenants is an original return to a splendid ethos of ancestral word patterns, and the images bear the solemn pleasures of time, place, and singular landscapes.” —Gerald Vizenor

“One of the most original collections of poetry I’ve read in years. In it, the curling smoke of myth mixes with the smoke from cooking sausages, and heavy steps of history are crisscrossed by the indelible birdtracks of particular places, recorded by the poet in his fieldnotes.” —Forrest Gander

Revenants is a meta-ethnography, a palpable social and psychic cosmos made visible by fiery dislocations and upturned names. I have seen few manifestos as incandescent as this one.” —Juan Felipe Herrara