I don’t recall where I first heard of Mark Nowak. Nor can I remember where Shut Up Shut Down first surfaced. What I can say, though, is that now I remember what interested me about him.
Mark Nowak is a labor-poet whose work is tied closely with creating an understanding of working-class culture in America. Shut Up Shut Down is a compiling of projects across the country Nowak has worked on related to layoffs in mining and steel. His work is heavily researched, quoting from personal interviews, local geography and news, labor academia, and more to produce something that is very intriguing: an enthnographic poetics. Nowak is out to find literary avenues in which people voice their own literary creation, where working-class peoples both generate and become the art and culture they engage with. Fortunately, it’s tremendous poetry as well – I envy Nowak’s sense of rhythm as he pulses between interviews with Francine, a mining mother, the newspaper, and photographs. I feel like I’ve read the first essay discussing labor and Reagan that really interested me – all it had to do was turn inside-out the idea of an essay to do so, unless headlines of air controller strikes, a biography of Reagan alongside General Electric, and a capitalization handbook welded together into poetry meets your guidelines for the essay form.
I hope to read more Nowak soon. Real soon.