28 November 2009

Mark Nowak ~ Coal Mountain Elementary

Poet Mark Nowak and collaborator, photographer Ian Teh, have assembled a pretty remarkable book called Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009). Notice the verb. The book was not exactly written by Nowak. All the text consists of more or less alternating passages from three sources: (1) testimony provided by miners who survived the 2006 Sago, West Virginia explosion (in which a dozen miners died) and from members of the rescue teams that struggled to save them - the testimony was given to the state Office of Miner's Health & Safety; (2) a curriculum for schoolchildren developed by the American Coal Foundation; and (3) press reports of the death and mayhem created by numerous mid-decade mining disasters in China. Interspersed with the text are a couple of dozen uncaptioned photographs - half by Nowak, half by Teh - of the area surrounding Sago and various mines in China. This is an extremely creative endeavor to prompt readers to think about commonalities and complicities and connections relying, powerfully, on the irony of lessons designed for elementary school pupils to do so.

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