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Sunken Town

Peter Ivan Young, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Sunken Town is a collection of poems that represent the struggle of place within me. Belonging to place means belonging to identity, and perhaps the introspective nature of the poet leads the working-class poet to never fully belonging to either the space within or the space in which he physically resides. The poem becomes a space where the poet can exist in all his/her contradictions and still feel whole. My parents divorced when I was seven, and my mother, a beginning high-school English teacher in the early 1970s, found herself, at least economically, thrust into the working-class. We lived in modest apartment complexes along with the increasing number of other single-parent families driven by the boom in divorce. My mother had been raised on a farm by a father with no college education who had begun as a railroad fireman and worked his way up the ranks of Southern Railway. Her mother had a college education but quickly gave up the pursuit of a career for the traditional role of housewife and mother. My mother was thus most comfortable with the men and women, the laborers and service workers, we label working-class. But at some point, and this recognition comes in retrospect, I crossed an invisible boundary. I clearly entered the middle-class, as do many writers who began with working-class origins. It was this crossing that drives the current project. It is my aim to try to understand what constitutes that boundary, to understand what privileges allowed me to cross it, to recognize the people who did not cross it and why they couldn’t, didn’t, or maybe didn’t want to cross it. I have noticed in my own work and in the work of other working-class poets, a sort of survivor’s guilt. What I see the poet grappling with is the division of achieving class mobility while still trying to cling to a working-class background. Poems in this collection thus straddle boundaries not only between places but between versions of self.

Subject Area

Creative writing

Recommended Citation

Young, Peter Ivan, "Sunken Town" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13857752.