Worker's tanka (PoemTalk #139)

Six tankas by Christine Yvette Lewis, Lorraine Garnett, and Davidson Garrett of the Worker Writers School


Mark Nowak, who joined Husnaa Hashim, Meg Pendoley, and Al Flreis for this episode of PoemTalk, is one of the few contemporary artists who has organiziationally sought a way to recontextualize working-class consciousness and activism within the American labor movement into the poetics and media art of the twenty-first century. Mark’s new labor poetics has led him to found Worker Writers, an institute that organizes and facilitates poetry workshops with global trade unions, workers’ centers, and other progressive labor organizations. Mark and Al cocurated this special edition of PoemTalk. We discuss six short poems following the tanka form. The tankas were composed by three poets — two tankas each by Christine Yvette Lewis, Lorraine Garnett, and Davidson Garrett. The poets are members of the Worker Writers School, which meets regularly in New York City. The recordings we hear in the episode were made by Brooklyn-based filmmaker Zardon Richardson at a meeting of the workshop on February 2, 2019. Here, below, with our program notes, we make available the films of these poets performing their poems. (Image above: a sampling of tankas published in issues of Tanka Workers Collective.)

Christine Yvette Lewis is a leader of Domestic Workers United and a full-time domestic worker. She helped organized the passage of the first domestic worker bill of rights in the US.

barstow road, depressive
women with rhythm in their verb
talk laundry, pinched wabes,
long hours. live in. live out. twin
misses home. the new plantation.

she dust legacy
privileged oil paintings, things
peruvian belle
almost 8 years here. this house
no room for her. except work.

Lorraine Garnett is a full-time domestic worker.

What did you expect
Can we clean this filthy house
Need soap, Pine Sol, bleach
They wept, washed the floor with tears
It turns, stop pouring the bleach

The blind man next door
was forced to help clean his house
He measured my thighs
to see how much I had grown
I was a child    six years old

Davidson Garrett, recently retired, drove a New York City tax for more than forty years. He performs his poems at events in the New York/New Jersey area.

the mouse in my house
is clever and crafty
as he darts away
snubbing the yellow cheese bits
waiting for him in the trap

they say October
will deliver a surprise
and I recall this
in line at Trader Joes
as a pumpkin grins at me

More information about Worker Writers can be found here. The group tweets @WorkerWriters.