Work, Experiment, and Solidarity: The Transformatory Poetics of Mark Nowak

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In the latter part of the twentieth century, North American poets such as Tom Wayman and Jim Daniels began to practise and theorize a poetry of the workplace that Wayman called the ‘New Work Writing’.1 This writing emerged to meet a perceived lack in the majority of twentieth-century literature: namely, writing specifically from and about the industrial workplace. This new work writing defined itself, in part, against socialist realism and the tendency in the ‘proletarian literature’ of the 1930s to privilege politics above descriptions of the actual experience of work. However, the ‘New Work Writing’, as theorized by Wayman, was in many ways just as prescriptive as socialist realism, and similarly sceptical of experimental modernism and its inheritors. It is somewhat ironic, then, that arguably the most prominent North American work-related poems of the twenty-first century have been written (or aggregated) by Mark Nowak, a formally experimental poet.2 Much of the previous scholarly criticism of Nowak’s work has focused on the documentary aspects of his work.3 This article, however, will discuss Nowak’s texts within the context of ‘work writing’, and his attempts to reimagine this mode of writing as a transformatory social practice, through experiments on the page – Shut Up Shut Down (2004) and Coal Mountain Elementary (2009) – and beyond it in his transnational poetry dialogues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-114
Issue number249
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2016


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