Monday, May 02, 2011

Poetry for Labor Event

Many, many thanks to everyone who came out to the Poetry for Labor reading and commemoration on Sunday, which was International Labor Day / May Day. As I noted in my original flyer, this year marked the 125th anniversary of the Haymarket Square Affair, one of the signal events in US and global labor history, which occurred in Chicago right near the site where we met to read and remember. As I noted in my brief and informal remarks that opened the event, the lives of the striking workers who were killed, the policemen who also died, and the accused bombers who were later hanged or murdered were not in vain. The incident and its aftermath led to many things we take for granted today, including the eight-hour workday, and helped to spark the union movement in this country and all over the globe.  As we find ourselves in another precarious moment in terms of labor and labor relations, with unions specifically under fire, an unemployment rate officially at 8.8% but higher and very high underemployment, and a skewed economic system that is rewarding a very few at the expense of billions of people, it's crucial that we not forget events like the Haymarket Square Affair, that we take time out to commemorate those who fought for what we have, and that we continue to fight for our own rights and for those who'll follow us.

I want to offer especial thanks to Jen Karmin and Laura Goldstein, who read, spoke, brought their incredible presences and commitments to the event, and to their affiliated organizations, the Red Rover Series and the Chicago Durutti Skool, who consponsored the event and put the word out about it.  Many thanks also to my partner C, whose support was invaluable, and whom I even convinced to read a poem (by Frank O'Hara: "A Step Away from Them," no less!), and to my cousin Raquel Stallworth and her husband Walter, who came out to show support. Raquel spoke eloquently about her experiences with the contemporary labor market, making personal, as Jen and Laura did, what can sometimes be discussed in abstractions (and thus, as too often happens in our corporate media, dismissed altogether or sensationalized).  Among the writers we read were Muriel Rukeyser, Charles Reznikoff, Rita Dove, Elizabeth Alexander, Carl Sandburg, Joy Harjo, John Ashbery, Martín Espada, Mark Nowak, and William Blake, and we read poetry and prose.  We talked about poetry as labor, the role of metaphor in the way those in power structure our society and capitalism's systems and how what operates in poetry might offer ways of understanding things better, working-class roots and ancestors, and so much more.

It was particularly encouraging to see that among the first people who arrived at the event were tourists from Norway, and a executive trainee (!) from the Basque country (as he put it) in Spain. Both had learned about the event online, and were determined to pay tribute to the site and to hear poetry. And they did stay and listen, which was wonderful.  We also had a sizable contingent of cyclists who, it turns out, were not only gathering at the Haymarket Memorial Sculpture to begin their tour of major local labor sites, but who also wanted to hear poetry. Rick B., one of the cyclists, also offered a brief and thorough recounting of the Haymarket Square Affair events, pointing out that the alley from which the bomb was thrown was still there, just behind us.

Below are some photos from the event. Many thanks again to C, who snapped some great ones!

The new plaque
The new plaque, dedicated April 30, 2011
Reading at *Poetry for Labor*
During the reading
The visitors from Norway & C
The visitors from Norway (they were there at 8:30 am!) and C
Haymarket Memorial Sculpture
The Haymarket Memoria Sculpture, with our set up
Jen Karmin reading
Jen preparing to read
Laura Goldstein reading
Laura reading Muriel Rukeyser's work
C reading Frank O'Hara's "A Step Away from Them"
C reading
A poet & union member speaking
A poet and union member speaking
Rick B. of the cyclers' group speaking
Rick B. of the cyclists' group
Me reading @ *Poetry for Labor*
Me reading

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