Down in the mine


From organizing worker-to-worker poetry dialogues between American and international trade unions to being asked to speak at a Ford plant, poet Mark Nowak has taken an on active role in labor relations.

He captures the plight of miners in both West Virginia and China in his newest book Coal Mountain Elementary. The book is a photo documentary with testimony from those who survived 2006’s Sago Mine tragedy and newspaper accounts of mining disasters in China.

Nowak will read from his book at 7 p.m. on Friday at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. He will also speak at the John L. Lewis Memorial Museum of Mining and Labor in Lucas, Iowa, on Saturday.

Students from UI Professor Dee Morris’ Poetries of the American Left class will attend both events.
“He is at a cutting-edge trend in poetry,” Morris said. “Documentary poetry is attempting to deal with a landscape of fact. To bring to people’s consciousness that [which] is not usually seen, to formulate ideas to address damage in culture, which in his case is capitalism and the global economy.”

Nowak’s two other books, Revenants and Shut Up Shut Down, contained his poetry, but Coal Mountain Elementary does not.

“I wanted it to be an accurate historical document,” he said. “Rather than transforming their words into mine, I thought it was most powerful to let their words speak for themselves.”

After being invited to speak in a community near Sago five weeks after the mine tragedy occurred — in which 12 miners lost their lives after an explosion — he realized mining was something that should be written about. This epiphany led him to write Coal Mountain Elementary.

“It is costing thousands of people their lives ever year,” Nowak said. “Besides soldiers fighting in wars, there’s not another place where people die every day just going to work. I hope that comes across.”

He decided to include Chinese miners in the book as well so that it would have transnational ties, leading readers to see the problem in a new light. By juxtaposing the distant locations’ similar stories, readers are engaged in a complex discussion.

“Each one of them creates a different level of discourse,” he said. “To see a photo and then to read simultaneously, it forces your mind to think globally. People are experiencing similar conditions at the same point in time halfway around the world.”

Nowak now has a blog, Coal Mountain, with links to news articles about mining disasters throughout the world. He has noticed people come to the blog looking for information about a certain country but then become interested in another nations’ occurrences.

“I wanted to show that it is something happening every day across the globe,” Nowak said.
Elkins, a city near Sago in which some of the mine’s former employees live with their families, remained supportive of his book and his efforts to tell the people’s stories. While he was finishing Coal Mountain Elementary, members of the community read part of the book aloud at Davis and Elkins College. They felt they heard their own voices and not those of stereotypes, he said.
“That gave me the strength to pull the book together,” he said.

Davis and Elkins College will stage the book as its spring drama production, and it recently premièred the show in Pittsburgh.

“I want to be part of a larger public conversation,” Nowak said. “I would not be happy if I was consistently reading to audiences of poets. Expanding what literature is and who can participate is an important part.”

comments powered by Disqus
Daily Iowan Advertising
Today's Display Ads | Today's Classifieds | Advertising Info

Sponsored Links  
T-Shirt Design  
Insurance Leads Charlotte Web Design
Health Insurance Leads Home Equity Loans
Home Service Guides  
Life Insurance DMI Furniture
Custom Magnets Buy a text ad

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.