The author Toni Morrison began writing because of a void she felt in the books she read, even in the time of rapid change in the 1960s. “Things were moving too fast in the early 1960s-70s… it was exciting but it left me bereft…. There were no books about me, I didn’t exist in all the literature I had read… this person, this female, this black did not exist centre-self.” I have felt this myself with the majority of the literature I have read over the past thirty years. As I have commented previously, the working classes, irrespective of gender or ethnic background, have rarely been portrayed in anything but overly dramatic caricatures. It is of course why I started Proletarian Poetry, but it also haunts my own writing as I try not to mimic that which I am critical of.
Both writers and readers will question who their writing is for. I think both will initially say it is for themselves; I know I write to help me think clearly and improve my mood. But of course we also write because we feel we have something to say, a unique take on something (if the writing is good that is) and then possibly we are writing about a group of people who are either neglected in literature or misrepresented.
This was certainly Toni Morrison’s reason, and also in the case of Fred Voss’ poem, Factotums, where he tells of a workmate who ‘catches’ him reading, so he turns, “Bukowski’s Factotum/to the side so the machinist can’t see the cover.” The machinist himself has only ever read one book, “He was probably forced to read Of Mice and Men in High School/told how important it was/made to hate it/like castor oil.” I know with my own sons, they often feel the same way about books being foisted upon them at school. (more…)