‘Hog Butchers’ author John Marsh discusses poets and the poor in Huffington Post

by Shaun Manning on March 15, 2012

John Marsh, author of the recent U-M Press title Hog Butchers, Beggars, and Busboys: Poverty, Labor, and the Making of Modern American Poetry, offered his insights on the development of American poetry with the Huffington Post. Addressing the focus of poets like William Carlos Williams on the lives of the very poor–a topic Marsh examines in depth in his book–the author writes,

When they started out, in the 1910s and 1920s, what modern poets hated most about the then-contemporary verse was all its artificialities: its metronome-like iambic pentameters, its moon-and-June rhymes, its puffed up diction, its watercolor portraits of nature at a time when most people lived in cities and the smoke from factories covered everything in grime, not fine turns of phrases. If poets wanted to make it new, as Ezra Pound demanded, they could change how they wrote poems, trade iambs and quatrains for free verse. If they really wanted to make it new, though, they could change what they wrote about, too.

Marsh frames his article in the context of Williams’ funeral, where many in attendance regarded him as the town doctor rather than as a renowned poet. Williams was familiar with the concerns of the poor through his care for them as a medical practitioner, and was able to transform this knowledge into poetry.

Marsh’s Hog Butchers, Beggars, and Busboys is available now from the University of Michigan Press. You Work Tomorrow: An Anthology of American Labor Poetry, 1929-41, edited by Marsh, is also on sale.

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