I haven’t read enough of George Oppen to identify his major themes, but, like William Carlos Williams, he has written a number of poems focusing on the poor, and so far those tend to be my favorite poems, this one in particular:
If the city has roots, they are in filth.
It is a slum. Even the sidewalk
Rasps under the feet.
-In some black brick
Tenement, a woman’s body
Glows. The gleam; the unimaginable
Thin feet taper down
The instep naked to the wooden floor!
Hidden and disguised
perhaps because it reflects some of my own experiences.
It seemed to me that the men in the poor areas where I grew up were most often angry or “tough,” perhaps because they needed to be to survive.
The women were tough, too; they had to be in order to survive; but they were often secretively kind and loving, managing to make such a life bearable.