The working class experience in contemporary Australian poetry

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The Working-Class Experience in Contemporary Australian Poetry Contemporary Australian poetry neglects its working-class voices. Literary journals rarely publish poetry that focuses on working-class life and there is little analysis of the poetics of class in contemporary Australian scholarship on poetry. It may well be argued that notions of class are outdated and no longer relevant in literary criticism; alternatively, working-class poetry might be seen to lack the kind of literary merit and linguistic innovation that invites scholarly review. It may even be the case that working-class poetry is seen as closer to propaganda than art. However, this thesis takes a different view. It argues that there is a strong and vibrant body of contemporary Australian working-class poetry that merits greater public attention and more incisive critical review. We need to know if and how this poetry builds on important Australian literary traditions; we need to evaluate whether working-class poets have earned a rightful place in the contemporary poetry field. We need a poetic for analysing the cultural discourse of the working class. Therefore, this thesis offers an analysis of the content and poetics of contemporary Australian working-class poetry and of the context in which it has been produced. It presents works that to date have been ignored or dismissed by the literary mainstream. It proposes that working-class poetry can be regarded as a distinctive genre of poetry, distinguished by its themes, use of language and authors’ intentions. It argues that working-class poetry is not unsophisticated but rather a specific expressive form that provides important insights into the ways in which class relations continue to reproduce inequalities. This argument is developed by reference to literature from the discipline of working-class studies in Australia and overseas. It is supported by the literature on class relations in Australia and there is also a small body of scholarship on working-class writing that contributes to the discussion. The main body of the thesis presents the work of individual working-class poets and provides detailed readings of their works that highlight the ways in which the poems exemplify the proposed category of working-class poetry. In short, this thesis creates a poetic for approaching the academic analysis of working-class cultural discourse. The conclusions I have drawn from my analysis of poetry and lyrics are that working-class poetry displays significant literary and artistic merit, and functions not only as a way for working-class people to express themselves creatively, but also provides a valuable insight into the ways in which class affects Australians on a daily basis. It is an important cultural achievement to give full and meaningful voice to disadvantaged Australians at a time of political and cultural upheaval where class cleavages and notions of identity are in a state of flux.
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