“Work is work… . Work is work.” So repeats the father who teaches poet Jan Beatty to dream (20).1 This poem, collected in M. L. Liebler’s 2010 volume Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams, echoes the redundant words of work spoken by parents or grandparents to its many contributing authors coming to terms with the “uniquely American stories of work, labor, and class through their poems, songs, stories, and memoirs” (xix). For editor Liebler, this is best expressed in the opening line of Ray McNiece’s poem “Grandfather’s Breath”: “You work. You work, buddy. You work” (154–55). Philip Levine’s 1992 collection What Work Is refuses to define work in its title poem. Work is always already known: his brother’s job, like that of so many fathers...

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