Affiliated Poetics

I want to thank the 70+ people who turned out Thursday night at the Rondo Community Outreach Library for the Coal Mountain Elementary book launch and the premiere performance of the Twin Cities Labor Chorus. For the past decade or more I’ve been speaking about (and working to build) new social spaces for the performance and reception of literary works, and Thursday night’s crowd was an expansive display of that ongoing activity: rank and file members and organizers in numerous local unions (UFCW, AFSCME, SEIU, Building & Trades, UAW, the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, and others), professors at local colleges (from history, social work, and theater departments; interestingly, I didn’t see faculty from a creative writing or English Department–someone correct me if I’m wrong), several former MFA students of mine (& very soon to be graduates: congrats Katie & Amy Mae!), a few current graduate students (and their students: thanks Becky!), and patrons of my local neighborhood library here in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. Below are a few photos (thanks Esther!) from the event, beginning with the Twin Cities Labor Chorus, who opened the evening with tunes from the Little Red Songbook:

#3 Mark Nowak at Rondo Library 5-7-09

Affiliated: “to associate (oneself) as a subordinate, subsidiary, or member.” Twisting David Antin‘s title (and talk-poem) What it means to be avant-garde, I’d like to pose a question to poets (and all writers): What does it mean to be affiliated? In contrast to an avant-garde practice that images itself set ahead/in front of the public (and, in turn, too often criticizes that very same public for not understanding/appreciating its “avant” practices), what about a writing practice as “subordinate or subsidiary” to, for example, a social movements’ concerns? What about a writing practice that seeks to articulate its formal inventiveness to the felt needs of social movements for imagining, say, new modes of organizing?

#8 Mark Nowak at Rondo Library 5-7-09

Across the page/spine from the photo on the screen by my collaborator, Ian Teh, above, this text: Like on arrival at the mine, I went into the bathhouse and changed out of my street clothes into my mining clothes, put on, you know, my hard hat and mining belt and boots, my rental uniform. And you know, we kind of sat around, joked with everybody, told stories and whatnot until it was time to go down over the hill. Proceeded over to the lamphouse, got my earplugs, cleaned my safety glasses, checked my light out and made sure it was working, put it on. You went down over to — into the pit. Affiliating miners in West Virginia and China; affiliating poets and union workers; affiliating image and text; affiliating social practices into a new aesthetic-political combination and affiliating that to new social spaces and audiences for its reception. Here’s a final photo from the Q&A, the conversation around all these issues and affiliated concerns, from the incredible audience who came out to Rondo: thank you.


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