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Drinking with the Second Shift, Poems by Robert Collins

Drinking with the Second Shift by Robert Collins is a collection of poetry that chronicles the coming of age of a white, suburban, middleclass young man working his “first real job” in an industrial bakery during summers to pay his way through college. In poems that are narrative and dramatic in form, the book explores questions of race and class and the meaning of labor, especially work that can be menial and degrading but that also has its rewards for the persona whose persistence pays off in ways far more beneficial than monetary. Interweaving metaphors of baseball, the military, the penal system, and dance and set against the backdrop of the 1960’s, the poems convey the agony and occasional delight the protagonist experiences and describe the education he receives as he matures over the course of four summers and prepares for struggles to come once he graduates and leaves the bakery behind.

Sample Poems by Robert Collins

“In Drinking with the Second Shift Robert Collins explores the experiences and insights of men working in a bakery whose slogan is  ‘baked while you sleep’ and whose tasks range from dance-like sessions of mopping to sweating over the ovens. The poems follow the ordeals, satisfactions and rituals of producing the daily bread, proving that ‘the miracle of the loaves is no miracle.’  The bakery itself offers a metaphor for the discipline of labor, and the poems with their lean and vibrant language, present a memorable rogues’ gallery of characters, whose devotion to subversion and mischief almost equals their dedication to the craft, which is a wonder.”—R. T. Smith

“The poems of Drinking With the Second Shift walk a thin white line between the dignity and camaraderie of work on one side and the degradation and exploitation of factory workers on the other. The protagonist, a college kid on a summer job, finds his way among the ‘ratchet of conveyor belts’ churning out industrial loaves at the local ‘Bread and Buns.’  Punching his card among the ‘lifers’—‘animated manikins blanketed with fake snow,’—he wins the respect of a crew of unforgettable characters:  blue cap supervisors, one with a ‘mouth of gold teeth glinting like a colonel’s service stars,’ a deaf worker abused by the blues, and a man who loses yet another finger to the machines. In narratives compelling, lyrical, compassionate, and enraged, we bear witness to a disappearing way of life, one often mourned for the loss of its wage and pension security, yet one whose dignity rose only out of the workers themselves. Collins’ poems offer a corrective to our current nostalgia about a lost American world of factory work, while their lyricism honors and remembers men and women who labored together and sometimes taught a young man the meaning of work.”—Michael Sowder 

“In Drinking with the Second Shift, Robert Collins delivers his readers into the bleak lives of ‘all the workers of the world’—to whom this fine and haunting collection of gritty poems is dedicated.  In poems that are, by turns, heart-breaking and shocking, Collins confronts crucial issues of class, privilege, injustice, and despair. Drinking with the Second Shift is an important collection for America now, exploring as it does ‘what a harsh/awakening it can be when the magic vanishes’.” —Carolyn Elkins

ISBN: 978-1625492456, 72 pages, $17.00

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