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Frances Richard Reviews The Work-Shy for 4Columns

By Harriet Staff


At 4Columns, Frances Richard reviews The Work-Shy (Blunt Research Group, Wesleyan University Press, 2017). “The Work-Shy is a book of spare lyric poems interspersed with a few pencil drawings, archival documents, and photographs reproduced in black and white. Yet these simple forms conduct us into a complex terrain, one shaped by holes: the fissures in authorship; the aporiae of history; the rift between word and image; the hollowing-out of genuine social goods like diagnosis, assistance, collectivity, productivity.”

Looking for its author, you’ll find: “BLUNT RESEARCH GROUP is a nameless constellation of poets, artists, and scholars from diverse backgrounds.” Richard considers this:

Scanning the “Sources” listed at the book’s end, as well as the copyright, one deduces that personnel in this group include historian Miroslava Chávez-García and poet Daniel Tiffany, among others. Yet the “nameless constellation” is a more interesting author-position to attach to The Work-Shy. For, in its juxtaposing of subjects’ and authors’ anonymities, the project asks: What rule does one obey, or what self does one create, by having a name or occupation (“scholar,” “poet”)? What kind of blunt instrument is the sifting of archives, and what kind of work is being an artist—or a ward of the state? Are both “ungovernable” outcasts from orderly processes of capital? Or does the imagination of such kinship further obscure the latter’s particularity, already imperiled by their historically enforced silence or “shyness”?

Each of the collaged poems in “Lost Privilege Company” is titled with the name of the teenager whose words it borrows: Frankie, Cornelius, Pedro, Uriah, Javier. Most of the kids were boys. They were aged twelve to seventeen, disproportionately Chicano and African American, but also Native American, white, and of mixed race. Serious and suspicious, they look out from the “mirror portraits” reproduced in The Work-Shy—administrative documentary images in which sitters were photographed beside a mirror, so that both sides of their faces can be seen.

Blunt Research Group italicizes the teens’ voices and leaves case notes from the institutional researchers in plain type, emphasizing the domination of the former by the latter. Thus the poem titled for Jesus, in its entirety:

refused to talk

and was sent to “thaw out”

sent to Lost Privilege Company

for mauling and kissing another boy used

       to teach younger boys to steal

       one would almost call him

                      playing bandit

The poems are hard to excerpt—a sign of their allusive integrity.

Read the full review at 4Columns.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, February 13th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.