A Union of Poets

Image: Graphics created by the Union of Radical Workers and Writers.



Excerpt below — the full interview on The New Inquiry can be found here (issue: JOBS VOL. 65 | NOVEMBER 2017)


In the essay “Poet’s Strike (version 2.0),” Mark writes that a onetime strike event probably isn’t enough for poets and writers to enact significant resistance. A lot is being written about the role of “political poetry” in the midst of neofascism. How can we stop thinking about poetry as detached exalted narration? How do poets actually shut shit down?

MARK NOWAK. I’m not sure I’d separate poets or writers from everyone else. If we really want to “actually shut shit down,” that’s a massive project. We need poets and writers, sure, but we need workers and students and everyone. Every time I’m reading Ngugi’s work, I underline when he talks about the unity “with workers and peasants,” and I have a lot of underlines in so many of his books, books like Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary and Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya. I’m actually not so much a fan of “political poetry” as I am of political movements, of building them. Then again, there’s the example of our collaborators at the New York Taxi Alliance who actually did “shut shit down” during their one-hour protest that silenced the international terminal at JFK airport after Trump’s #MuslimBan. Christine, who has been with our NYC workshops from the very beginning with Domestic Workers United, always makes us happy when, at the end of our Worker Writers School workshop, she reminds us that this, too, is a movement. We, as worker-writers, are building a movement.

CHRISTINE LEWIS. It is a movement, Mark! How long have we been on the front line speaking our truth to power? The writing workshop which began in New York City with Domestic Workers United, and then other groups, as Mark mentioned, were added on along the way. Listen, some movements haven’t made it past two years, and we’re in our seventh. It has to be a movement. Can you imagine sitting with other groups whose struggle is the same as yours? We’re still within our community fighting for a decent living wage. More so in this era of #45. How important is community? We’ve got the sword which is the word and each other when we sit to scribe our struggles. Hello!!!!!!!!!! We are griots, we are sadhus and sages, we are preachers, teachers, wordsmiths, prophets. We are poets. Let me tell ya, vexation of spirit and sick and tired of being sick and tired build movements. Especially when you are working on the margin or just simply excluded from most labor laws. Or, where you might have emigrated from. Here at the Worker Writers workshop we come bearing love and vexation of spirit. Then our pen becomes our friend, and we get to write what Mark prompts us to write or not write. But to look in our heads and write. We write our truth. We are a movement. Fearless.

What do you think a mass organization of worker-writers and writer-workers could look like?

CHRISTINE LEWIS. A force to be reckoned with. No borders. No walls. We must tell the truth. As Jewish Puerto Rican writer Aurora Levins Morales said, “Our stories are our medicine.” Writers are healers. Writers are magicians. And if we come together in a cohesive way, we would write anything we want into being. Remember what I said before, we are griots and sages. We’d write 45 and his cohorts right out of dat oval office. We’d truly shut shit down. We have the power in our hands. The pen. Note, I didn’t say a gun.

MARK NOWAK. And this is one of the things we’re talking about now. The Worker Writers School this fall expanded to Buffalo and Albany, New York’s capital. And we’re in conversations with people in Chicago, in Oakland, and in Miami about offering Worker Writers School programs there, too. We’ve built the NYC hub over seven years, so we’ll see what the next seven years will hold for, as Christine says, our movement.”


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