Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Poem-of-the-Week: Mark Nowak

From Francine Michalek Drives Bread

Note: “Francine Michalek Drives Bread” is a fictional work. Resemblances to characters living and dead, fictional and non-fictional, are (just) coincidence. Textual samplings from speeches by the protagonist in Bertolt Brecht’s The Mother and Mary Ann Landis’s interview with Theresa Pavlocak (published in Thomas Dublin’s compendium of oral history interviews, When the Mines Closed: Stories of the Struggles in Hard Times: Cornell U.P., 1998) provide historical underpinnings for this fictional tale.


They took me right down
.........the hill, and
pulled up in front

of the hospital. The Piggly
.........Wiggly, outside of
Union, is Francine’s

last stop of the day.
.........Outside Eleanor
smokes a Slim.

And humming, Francine to
I never dreamed

I would have to pass last years
like this
. Before

they took me in the see him,
.........Doctor Steel
was the doctor

at that time, they took me
.........into a little

and they told me exactly
.........what’s wrong
with him

Her father was a preacher,
.........miner, and
union organizer

who taught her to stand up
.........for the rights
of common people.

She was writing tunes age four,

picket lines with her father age five,
and by ten

she’d spent time in jail for her’s union beliefs.
They make sure

to let us know when our time is
.........past. We have

to look forward to. Everything
.........we’ve learned

to the past. He told me
.........he wouldn’t

the two hips were crushed
.........and one arm
was practically

mangled. And our experience
.........means nothing
And maybe

that’s why Francine was
them songs.

-Mark Nowak

From Shut Up, Shut Down (2004), used by permission


Mark Nowak is the author of Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009) and Shut Up Shut Down (Coffee House Press, 2004). For the past several years he has been designing and facilitating “poetry dialogues” with Ford autoworkers in the United States and South Africa (through the UAW and NUMSA), striking clerical workers (through AFSCME 3800), Muslim/Somali nurses and healthcare workers (through Rufaidah), and others. Nowak’s writings on new labor poetics have recently appeared in Goth: Undead Subculture (Duke, 2007), American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan, 2007), The Progressive, and elsewhere. A native of Buffalo, New York, he now directs the RoseO'Neill Literary House at Washington College in Chestertown, MD.


Nowak will be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation &Witness, March 10-13, 2010, in Washington, DC. The festival will present readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, activism—four days of creative transformation as we imagine a way forward, hone our community and activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. For more information:

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem-of-the-Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

Split This Rock

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