Now I don't want my students thinking that only white men are down and out or that only white men write down and out fiction, so my first three, while good, would only tell part of the story. So I thought I'd add in some short stories from Edward P. Jones, whose Lost in the City I've been reading. One thing led to another, and I ended up with a syllabus that included those I've mentioned, Helena Maria Viramontes (Under the Feet of Jesus), Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street), and some random short stories. The course is ending up being less about pure down and out and more about working class studies, which means I'll probably front-load it with some short theoretical bits from Michael Zweig and Janet Zandy among others.
But in the midst of putting this course together, I came across this poem by Peter Oresick in American Working Class Literature: An Anthology (eds. Nicholas Coles and Janet Zandy) that I'd like to share (in part and hopefully within the limitations of fair use) with you:
The Story of Glass
From the holes of the earth, from
truck, from silo, from cullet,
from scale, batch, tank, heat-wind; from
heat, from ribbon, from flow, roll
roll, from lehr, they feed the line.
They crosscut, snap, they flour lites,
plates, plates, plates on belts, coveys,
glass, glass you grab, you pull, you
lift, you pack, you kick, you count,
and you turn, they feed the line.
You reach, you grab, you pack, you
tap, into skid, into crane,
into pack, uncut and cut-
down, they stock, they bay, they stack
skid, skid on skid, box, and they
feed the line. [...]
I'll stop there; maybe I've already overstepped my bounds. The poem is beautiful, the rhythm of the words prodding you forward and the repetition of "they feed the line" giving you a full stop before you start all over again. And again.
I'm not going to use it because I'm not going to do poetry in this class, but I almost changed my mind because of this poem.