Show Your Workings: Other Forms of Labour in Recent Poetry

  • Peter Middleton
Part of the Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics book series (MPCC)


Although modernist and late modernist poets write extensively about both traditional and historically unprecedented forms of labour, the scope of this poetic interest remains under-recognised. As readers of poetry, we need to update our categories and our theories of what constitutes paid and unpaid labour. This chapter explores exemplary texts by W.B. Yeats, Frank O’Hara, Tom Raworth, and Simone White, to show how outdated definitions can render labour scenarios in a poem almost invisible, even when they are integral to its workings. Karl Marx defined labour primarily in terms of the use-value produced by human activity engaged in the “appropriation of natural substances to human requirements.” Examining the diverse concepts of labour in a prose poem by Simone White reveals the need for literary analysis to supplement Marx with recent studies of the economic and political significance of reproductive and intersubjective labour. After discussing Nancy Fraser’s important work in this field, the final section of the chapter reads Marcella Durand’s book-length poem Traffic and Weather, as an instance of poetry traversing the spaces of an expanded concept of urban labour.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Middleton
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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