Welcome to the third in a series of profiles of featured poets here at Blog This Rock. The series, titled "Up Close and Poetical," aims to introduce you to our featured poets and their body of work. Other profiles can be found here. This profile was written by GMU student and Split This Rock intern Mike Reid.
Coal Mining is dangerous business; for as long as there has been mining there have been accidents. According to the US Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration, there were 17 mine related fatalities in 2009 – and that is just in the US. Chinese officials reported 2,631 deaths in mining related incidents in 2009, down 18% from previous years. These are the types of numbers poet and social activist Mark Nowak wants to make people aware of. Nowak is the author of three works: Revenants focuses on the Polish-American subculture around his home town of Buffalo, New York; Shut Up Shut Down talks about the hard life of America’s steel workers and miners face in the “rust belt.” His newest work Coal Mountain Elementary mixes real life testimony from miners and rescuers from an accident in Sago, West Virginia with the American Coal Foundation’s curriculum for schoolchildren and newspaper articles and pictures of Chinese mining accidents.
Mark Nowak was born in Buffalo, New York and was strongly influenced by the “working class” culture he was surrounded by. When asked about his education, he says “I was educated in the neighborhood. People who lived next door to me were steelworkers, bricklayers, bakery truck drivers. My dad was the vice president of his union for many years. I went to four grammar schools, two high schools, a community college... I learned almost nothing about literature, about art, about politics, about life, at any of them.” He was educated at Eerie Community College, where he got his first introduction to poetry.
Labor difficulties have been a major focus for Nowak, and he has been in support of and part of the dialogue for multiple different labor groups’ conflicts. Through the United Auto Workers and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, he designed a transitional worker-to-worker poetry dialogue for Ford plants in the US and South Africa focusing on analyzing, communicating and expressing their thoughts and feelings on the job and effects of situations such as plant closings, downsizing and the tensions that can exist between workers and management. He also founded the Union of Radical Workers and Writers and through them has helped unionize a Border’s bookstore as well as produce essays and volumes about and even by the employees of big box chain and independent bookstores across the United States and Canada.
Mark Nowak currently serves as the Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. He is also associated with Speak Out Now: The Institute for Democratic Education and Culture and has his own blog with writings and press releases about recent mining accidents at http://coalmountain.wordpress.com/. He is a featured poet at the 2010 Split This Rock Poetry Festival; Nowak will take part in a featured reading at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, March 11 at Bell Multicultural High School, and will help lead a panel entitled Documentary Poetics in the Langston Room at Busboys and Poets (14th and V) Friday, March 12 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Mike Reid is a sophomore at George Mason University.