Hog Butchers, Beggars, and Busboys

Poverty, Labor, and the Making of Modern American Poetry
John Marsh

A new reading of 20th-century poets and their subject matter sheds new light on the development of American literary modernism


Between 1909 and 1922, the genre of poetry was remade. Literary scholars have long debated why modern American poetry emerged when and how it did. While earlier poetry had rhymed, scanned, and dealt with conventional subjects such as love and nature, modern poetry looked and sounded very different and considered new areas of experience. Hog Butchers, Beggars, and Busboys: Poverty, Labor, and the Making of Modern American Poetry argues that this change was partially the result of modern poets writing into their verse what other poetry had suppressed: the gritty realities of modern life, including the problems of the poor and working class.

A closer look at the early works of the 20th century's best known poets (William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Carl Sandburg) reveals the long-neglected role the labor problem—including sweatshops, strikes, unemployment, woman and child labor, and immigration—played in the formation of canonical modern American poetry. A revisionary history of literary modernism and exploration into how poets uniquely made the labor problem their own, this book will appeal to modernists in the fields of American and British literature as well as scholars in American studies and the growing field of working-class literature.

"Impressive—Marsh successfully rewrites the founding moment of American Modernist poetry."
—Mark Van Wienen, Northern Illinois University

"Cogently argued, instructive, and sensitive, Marsh’s revisionist reading opens new insights that will elicit lively comment and critical response."
—Douglas Wixson, University of Missouri--Rolla

John Marsh is Assistant Professor of English at Penn State University and editor of the prizewinning collection You Work Tomorrow: An Anthology of American Labor Poetry, 1929–41.

Visit John Marsh's website

Praise / Awards

  • "As problems of poverty and labor take new forms during the current economic downturn, literary-historical explorations like Marsh’s will continue to assume importance. If, as Marsh suggests, both modernists and Americanists tend to 'shy away' from issues of class, then Hog Butchers, Beggars, and Busboys will certainly make us pay due attention."
    Against the Current

Look Inside

Copyright © 2011, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Classroom Resources

Discussion Questions | Word doc

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Starving Artists: Why Authors Write Books About Being Poor | Huffington Post, 3/14/2012

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 280pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05157-1

Add to Cart
  • $36.95 U.S.



  • Modern American Poetry, The Labor Problem, Romantic Anti-Capitalism, 1910 L.A. Times Bombing, The Lawrence Strike, The Paterson Silk Strike, Poverty, The Mechanization of the World, Back to the Land, Greenwich Village Bohemia, Voluntary Poverty, Busboys and Poets, Arts and Crafts, William Morris, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg