Nowak+WWS at PEN America

Mark Nowak and Worker Writers School: Coronavirus Haiku, a reading and conversation

Thursday, September 30, 2021
Event Time 05:00 p.m. - 06:30 p.m. PT
Location Remote Access Event
Contact Email


With emcee, Tanya Hollis

Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts

Copresented by The Poetry Center and the Labor Archives and Research Center

  • Video live-streamed to our YouTube channel. Media captioning available there after the event.

Join us as Mark Nowak and Worker Writers School poets Lorraine Garnett, Davidson Garrett, Seth Goldman, Christine Lewis, Alando McIntyre, and Kele Nkhereanye present Coronavirus Haiku, new from Kenning Editions, and talk about their life as “frontline workers” during the Covid 19 crisis and their engagement with the Worker Writers School. Copresented by SF State's Labor Archive and Research Center and The Poetry Center. With emcee Tanya Hollis, Interim Director, LARC.

     Stimulus package     
     Can't buy the acre nor the mule.
     Oh, our pow'r wanes.
                                          —Alando McIntyre

     ok, key, wallet, mask
     stay away, too close, hold that train!
     S*** I forgot the milk
                                         —Paloma Zapata

     Covid 19 took
     A mother away, her kid
     Waits for her return

     No way to explain
     No more hugs and no more kisses
     Now: just ashes
                                     —Nimfa Despabiladeras, two haiku in memory of Arlena Juanico

The Worker Writers School supports writers from one of New York City’s most ubiquitous yet least-heard populations: low-wage workers. Mark Nowak, a writer and founding director of the school, presents a selection of haiku written by “frontline workers” during the Covid 19 crisis. The poets included here had already been studying examples of the form and its connection to political resistance from seventeenth-century Japan to the Black Arts Movement of the twentieth century, as well as it's capacity to amplify voices of everyday life. These “coronavirus haiku” convey moments of protest, solace, wonder, certainty, love, and strife. The writers in this anthology hail from the school’s worker center partners in New York City including Domestic Workers United, New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Damayan Migrant Workers Association, Street Vendor Project, and Retail Action Project: Thomas Barzey, Kerl Brooks, Estabon Chimilio, Nimfa Despabiladeras, Lorraine Garnett, Davidson Garrett, Seth Goldman, Christine Lewis, Doreen McGill, Alando McIntyre, Kelebohile Nkhereanye, Alfreda Small, and Paloma Zapata.

Mark Nowak is a poet, cultural critic, playwright and essayist, from Buffalo, New York. Nowak is the author of three poetry collections: Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009), Shut Up Shut Down (Coffee House Press, 2004), and Revenants (Coffee House Press, 2000). A portion of his critical book, Social Poetics (Coffee House Press, 2020), chronicles his work with the Worker Writers School.

  • “Whether unpacking Mikhail Bakhtin’s ‘unity of the emerging idea,’ demonstrating the practical application of alliteration, or recalling his daughter teaching youth prison poets origami, Mark Nowak testifies to the urgency and intimacy of poetry in our prisons, union halls, and workers’ centers. Social Poetics tracks what happens when people gather around poems: conjunctions, dialogues, imaginative militancy, solidarities. This supple, comprehensive book is a study in the poetics of bearing witness, bearing tools, and bearing possibilities.” —Terrance Hayes
  • Social Poetics materializes imaginative militancy. With a litany of the social as pervasive and intimate, and political memories of life-and-death struggles for justice, Nowak crafts a transformative workshop for the collective. This is an important record of how the people’s power, poetry, and history maintain us and the beauty of our world(s).” —Joy James

Worker Writers School

Labor Archives and Research Center

Image: Mark Nowak and Workers Writer School poets at PEN America

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The Poetry Center

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Event sponsor: 

The Poetry Center and the Labor Archives and Research Cente


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