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The Work-Shy

Paperback not yet released.
Publication date: September 4, 2018 (paperback)

Wesleyan Poetry Series

2016 • 160 pp. 18 figures 7 x 9"
Poetry / Poetry - American

$14.95 Paperback, 978-0-8195-7861-7
$24.95 Hardcover, 978-0-8195-7678-1

$18.99 Ebook, 978-0-8195-7679-8

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

“The Work-Shy ‘wrest[s] poems from the lived experience of incarceration as if poetry could be a jailbreak … The success of BLUNT RESEARCH GROUP’s undertaking rests in their soft but persistent demand that we as readers listen.’”—Eli P. Mandel, Make literary magazine

A poetic archive of subcultures rooted in the lives and language of the unsettled

The Work-Shy painstakingly reconstructs a chorus of voices rescued from hermetic “colonies” and fragile communes, from worlds that work in ways that defy work as we know it. Its poetic assemblages offer direct testimony from the first youth prison in California and from asylums for the chronically insane (preserved in the Prinzhorn Collection in Germany and the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in New York City). Painful facts emerge about “sterilization mills” in California, where thousands of individuals became subject to compulsory procedures (policies that shaped eugenics practice in the Third Reich). In addition, the poems “translate” asylum texts--the writing of the insane--into a wider field of social conflict and utopian fragments of not-yet-being.
Activating what Susan Howe calls “the telepathy of the archive” (and Peter Gizzi dubs “archeophonics” in the title of his latest collection), the poems of The Work-Shy become part of a “book of listening,” occupying identities rooted in the demimonde and in places of confinement. Voices echo to form a ragged chain of soliloquies, kenning and keening, riddles and rants. Published under the collective, anonymous signature of the BLUNT RESEARCH GROUP, the book operates at the crossroads of lyric and documentary poetries, of singularity and collectivism. An online readers companion will be available at

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“The chorus of voices raised in this book refuses isolation.”—Henk Rossouw, Boston Review

“In its every aspect, The Work-Shy, is generative of thinking, and that should be counted a true achievement. Books of poetry often have a take-it-or-leave-it air. The Work-Shy, though is worrying and when shut continues to worry its reader, not least because there are poems in the second sequence that make much admired poetry of the present look posturing and paltry.”—John Wilkinson, Critical Inquiry

“To striking, uncomfortable effect, the collection illuminates the eugenicist movement’s ties to state schools for the so called ‘work-shy’—children deemed incorrigibles by the state—and mental health institutions in the early 20th century.”Publishers Weekly

“The found-language portrait … it’s almost all Blunt Research Group does, and they do it superbly, scarily, never forgetting how much these lives have been shaped … never forgetting how much we cannot know.”—Steph Burt, The Yale Review

The Work-Shy celebrates an old theme, the vision of madness and degeneracy as a path beyond instrumentalized compliance. But simultaneously the book takes as its focus the suffering required to even passively resist the violent absurdity of authoritarianism.”—Frances Richard, 4 Columns

“Herein are the voices of children sacrificed to the barbaric dogmas of eugenics and conformity; an archeology of inhumanity that should haunt us forever.” —Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz

The Work-Shy is a remarkable sequence of poems composed by way of writing practices that restore the possibilities for lyric poetry and its historical imagination, using documentary techniques and a principled cultural poetics. The poems are commanding verbal performances that reveal how institutions are empowered to confiscate meaning from the most vulnerable. To read these poems is to come face to face with the contemporary cruelties of historical means. The result is heartbreaking.”—Roberto Tejada, author of Full Foreground

“Extending the commitments of Situationism and Dickinson’s romance with No, The Work-Shy is an apology for idleness, the deliberate liberation of time. Seeking to expose a ‘utopian surplus,’ these poems pit nomadic words—a cacophony of ‘countersigns’—against their wardens. By listening to the idiolect of Outside, the anonymous collective that remixed this book speaks from—rather than for—those whose minds were outcast, their bodies imprisoned.”—Andrew Zawacki, author of Videotape

“The Work Shy documents moments in time that resonate with us still, as each breathes up through history like an iron shackle around the leg. A heartbreaking and necessary read.”Dawn Lundy Martin, author of Life in a Box is a Pretty Life

The language of The Work-Shy cuts straight through, as sharp and alive as the eyes that peer out from its photographs. Our words are like people, one inmate declarespeople who change our hearts.  Yet suddenly we realize that each poem rivers across the page, where we can either drown or float, and the tension between leaves us gasping for air.”Carmen Gimenez-Smith, author of Milk and Filth

From the Book:

Victor R

Then he turned up suddenly in El Paso, Texas.

Needs taming.

One day he took all the new brooms
and cut off the handles then again
he cut the locks off the lockers--said he wanted them
to make something

BLUNT RESEARCH GROUP is a nameless constellation of poets, artists, and scholars from diverse backgrounds. Work by BLUNT RESEARCH GROUP has been published by Noemi Press and has appeared in museums across the country.

This project is supported in part by an award from
National Endowment for the Arts

Tue, 15 May 2018 13:38:46 -0500