Highlighted by The UMass Boston MFA Program
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Meet Our July Massachusetts Poet in the Spotlight: Mark Pawlak

Highlighted by The UMass Boston MFA Program

Mark Pawlak is the author of nine poetry collections and the editor of six anthologies. His latest books are Reconnaissance: New and Selected Poems and Poetic Journals 2005-2015 (Hanging Loose Press, 2016) and Natural Histories (Cervena Barva Press, 2015). Pawlak’s work has been translated into German, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish, and has been performed at Teatr Polski in Warsaw. In English, his poems and prose have appeared widely in anthologies such as The Best American Poetry, Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, For the Time Being: The Bootstrap Anthology of Poetic Journals and in the literary magazines New American Writing, Mother Jones, Poetry South, The Saint Ann’s Review, and The World, among many others. He supports his poetry habit by teaching mathematics at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he is Director of Academic Support Programs. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Poetic Profession   
I practice a poetics of attention that strives to not simply look at people and things but to see them freshly, penetrating beneath the commonplace. I follow the prescription of the eleventh century Chinese poet Wei T'ai who said: "Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling…."
Faith, Hope, Charity
Street corner morning, sidewalk littered:

plastic soda bottles, candy wrappers, aluminum cans—

flotsam after yesterday’s snowmelt.

When the light’s red, a man

(paper cup in hand, winter coat unbuttoned)

steps off the curb

into the sunlit lane between stopped cars.

Cradled in the crook of his arm

an improvised sign:  




Inside the coffee shop,

a line of patrons stretching from counter to threshold

waiting for pastries and morning java. Just outside,

three anxious sparrows twittering beneath the bench 

where a young man sleeps, stretched out, 

duffel bag for a pillow,

face turned away from us passersby.

Beside him some Samaritan has left

a lunch sandwich,

neatly wrapped in clear plastic, homemade.


I descend into the subway station:

The ever-cheerful Metro hawker greets me,

“Have a nice day.”

At the Dunkin’ Donuts kiosk

a dark- skinned man-—West Indian?;;

curly gray hair under

the knit cap he wears in all seasons,

cargo bags at his feet,

hunches over a Bible

open on a pedestal table, his “lectern.”


Some days he scribbles in a notebook—sermons?—

other times, lips moving, eyes turned inward,

he recites passages to himself.  Today, he lifts his head,

casts his gaze over the multitude,

hand extended, and, citing chapter and verse,

silently preaches to his congregation

entering, exiting through the turnstiles –

to all of us sinners and to no one in particular.

The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is a selective three-year program that admits approximately five applicants in fiction and five in poetry each academic year. Every student receives financial support from the university. The program offers an intense and focused opportunity for students to further their commitment to writing as the center of their professional lives. Through a combination of mentoring by accomplished faculty in a series of creative writing workshops, courses focused on the study of literature offered through the English MA Program, and electives that include the practice of literary editing and the teaching of creative writing, students will have the guidance to develop and shape their work to the full extent of their talent. After three years in the program, they will be prepared to sustain their commitment to contemporary literature as writers, readers, editors, and teachers.

Massachusetts Poet in the Spotlight is a monthly installment from Mass Poetry. Each month we shine the spotlight on a poet affiliated with, and nominated by, one of our poetry partners.

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