Recovering the "Narrow Plot of Acquisitiveness
and Desire": A Methodology For Reading
Working-Class Narrative
the Scoth coal miner-writer James Welsh published a poetry
collection entitled
Songs ofA Miner.
Encouraged by George Bernard
Shaw to write his own introduction-"a bit of autobiography" (7)-
Welsh uneasily complied by furnishing the following statement:
My'songs are the expression of the moods I happened to be in
when I wrote them. I do not ask the world to judge them be-
cause a miner penned them-there is no credit in that-in fact,
I rather dislike the fact that there is a tendency already in some
quarters to dub one a "miner poet." Miner I am, poet I may
be; but let the world not think there is virtue in the combina-
tion. 'Ploughmen poets,' 'navvy poets,' 'miner poets,' appeal only
to the superficialities of life. The poet aims at its elementals.
These I have tried to touch, and let the world say whether I have
succeeded or no; I want to 'stand on my own legs.'
Though ostensibly concerned with poetics, the passage sets up a cen-
tral problematic surrounding class and cultural production that I
believe has equal bearing on British working-class narrative of the
same period. Welsh's preoccupation with his own difference as a poet
from the mining class compels him to make two simultaneous claims:
he at once announces and resists membership in his "minor" cul-
ture. Much like other writers (past and present) of marginalized
groups, Welsh rebuffs the dominant literary world's categorization of
his work as "miner poetry." He declares the literary to be his rightful
territory, rejects their acknowledgment (and seeming legitimation) of
his outsider status. At the same time, the poems themselves are un-
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