This is where the rat bastard poem comes in

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery.

David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs


There’s a poem in Harry Reid’s Leave Me Alone (Cordite Books, 2022) that goes ‘invisible hand feeling pretty / visible today / what’s my labour worth / when / I can’t hold it?’ and this is because the architecture of bullshit jobs is the playground of rats. market poem is a concrete poem that takes the visual form of an economic line graph rising and falling before plunging abyssward, carrying the answer to the question about the worth of one’s labour:


Rats will be found wherever nonsense presented as sense becomes the authority. Such is the cornerstone of anything organised along lines of capital: bureaucracies, workplace hierarchies, real estate, aspiration culture, institutions, ruling class artifice, governments, etcetera. Wherever there is capital there are rats—hoarding creatures, capital’s henchmen.

Writing this essay about Leave Me Alone, I was immediately reminded of the ‘ratbag poem’ as editorialised by Duncan Hose for Cordite back in 2013 (and which I only became aware of from Alice Allan’s excellent interview with Harry on her podcast Poetry Says):

Ratbag poems are immediately recognisable to the gatekeepers of good taste and accomplished craft; they are trashy, rude, slangy, ornery, tongue in cheek, drunken, stupid, libellous, scatological, infidel, counterfeit, profligate, Little Lord Fauntleroy, etc.

How, then, to write the ratbag review? Works such as Reid’s stand out in a publishing landscape that is so Nielsen BookScan-pilled it is rare to find a book so thoroughly unserious and charmingly eviscerating in its approach to bagging the bullshit that comprises labouring under capitalism. Leave Me Alone is a gift but, unlike so many of the publications run off the McPherson’s Printing Group conveyor belt by major publishers, it is not giftware in the shape of a book.

ok ok —
if the poem has a job it’s to find a way to write
on the clock, ideally my job is in service to the poem
instead, it’s often in service to a bastard —
this is where the rat bastard poem comes in
starts thinking ‘there’s gotta be some way to get around
this paywall’— poem’s dilemma: who’s gonna pay me fifty bucks?
poem becomes a website, becomes a direct debit
in this way the poem pays for itself
then, alright — how to wrap up the bastardly poem;
a few kids gone bad, throwing eggs out of a Beemer convertible
a few kids getting into the bag, a few rats getting out,
staring down the work versus actually doing it, the rat bastard poem
gnawing at the walls says who’d want a desk job anyway,
but knows a poem unaware of a pay cheque is no use at all

To be a ratbag is to bag rats. You are only a ratbag for as long as you are in the business of bagging rats, of course, just like you’re not a race car driver if you don’t race cars. The rodential contents of a ratbag’s trappings can be sorted through with poetry, as Harry does. Enter, then, Reid’s ‘rat bastard poem’: the ensnarement of rodential bastardry (fight bastardry with bastardry) in which ‘the opposite of legislation is smoko.’

You have to get close to a rat if you want to bag its bastardry in a poem, which is good news because most of us need not search one out on account of already being cornered by multiple rats. In L’état d’ébauche, Noël Arnaud writes: ‘Je suis l’espace où je suis,’ or ‘I am the space where I am.’ On this, Gaston Bachelard remarks: ‘This is a great line. But nowhere can it be better appreciated than in a corner.’ In The Poetics of Space, he goes on:

Consciousness of being at peace in one’s corner produces a sense of immobility, and this, in turn, radiates immobility. An imaginary room rises up around our bodies, which think that they are well hidden when we take refuge in a corner.

Leave Me Alone’s poetic sensibility is sublime; poems do not appear so much as they appear caused. Reid is not a writer attempting to poetry themselves out of a corner; what they are doing is refusal: refusing to radiate immobility from their corner. Leave Me Alone is full of poems that set out to bag the corners (ie rats) that keep workers in their place. This ‘negative appreciation’ of the corner is never the more potent in work and work work:

there’s enough growth here to set you up
for life it’s a dynamic industry you could really
move up maybe move a little further inland we all
really love you here mate and you’re a real asset
to the team but I’m afraid we’re gonna have to
delay that conversation

but we want you here just gotta
put the work in just a few extra hours
here and there work paid for a standing desk
turn standing into work
turn your back into an office

Reid removes from hiding the imaginary rooms capital has enclosed around our bodies (and minds) in the form of workplace bleed, leaving us wondering how it is we came to participate in our own exploitation. The poems talk back from a time after myriad workplace bullshits have already occurred. Here, when Reid bags bullshit corporate jargon, they locate the microcosm of maddening absurdity that bullshit jobs represent. Reid’s seizure of corporate argot ventriloquises—bastardises—the spiritual atrophy caused by a job wherein the central function is an endless carousel of low-to-no-value tasks. This cornering effect, which seeks submission or ‘immobility’ from the worker without an act of submission is what David Graeber, whose book Bullshit Jobs is a critical takedown of the era-defining proliferation of pointless work, might call a ‘spiritual violence’ linked to the ‘moral and psychological effects of being trapped inside a bullshit job.’

Like any good act of ventriloquy, the dummy must be funny. Humour abounds in Leave Me Alone. However, to solely term Reid’s poetic achievements as bricolage or collage or ventriloquy would be trite because what Reid is doing is so much more premeditated than that, and so much more fun and funny.

Reid’s ratbaggery is evidence that humour is a dish best served strangely and relatably. Again, in a publishing landscape that is so choked by the phlegm of its own obsession with didactic tales of bourgeois existentialism that it is losing oxygen to its brain, Leave Me Alone dares to be funny and weird and Cordite dares to publish it.

As Duncan Hose has already pointed out, there exists much anxiety around humour in poetry. This, of course, is a bourgeois anxiety, one which can only be funny to me, and one which supplies ample reason as to why great works making use of humour are an enjoyable clapback against the humourlessness of institutional gentry who stand at the gates in cold sweats because somebody somewhere used a poem as a vehicle for making readers laugh. Boss-speak synechodism in Leave Me Alone raises humour by bagging the uncanny valley where corporate jargon attempts to look human, to appear normal and sensible, but achieves a grotesque mimicry of aliveness at best. In doing so, Reid embarrasses capital’s henchmen, the relatable locus of which has solidarity at its heart. Humour in poetry has an unmasking effect when it comes to revealing rather than disclosing bullshit.

and over time you really start to see
the impact we’re having we’re becoming
a leader in the sector and it’s all because of the
work you’ve put in and that’s great but I just can’t
approve that leave and I’m sorry mate but we’re
so close to going public just another few months

Corporate jargon is a foul lexicon. It is an island where language has been stranded; not dead but left for dead, castaway, left with no option but to cannibalise itself.

Forged in the interests of HR or PR and broadcast by capital’s henchman, it is a linguistic ecosystem nourished by hierarchy and housed by a deliberate disingenuity. Counterfeit decorum is the transmission device of corporate argot. Reid possesses a sharp eye for rendering, or, rather, embodying the existential fallout of this foul lexicon.

Through a process of literary bastardisation and a fair dollop of tongue-in-cheek humour, the poems populating Leave Me Alone succeed not because they are the mere presentation of bullshit, but the embodiment of a certain despair that arises from the absurdly unnerving experience of being on the receiving end of a daily bombardment of counterfeit niceties sent from the corporate argot. Leave Me Alone led me to think analogously about being a bullshit receptacle, causing me to write things in my Notes app about how dispatches from the corporate argot perform essentially the same function as sticking a candle in a urinal cake and calling it a birthday party. Don’t forget to make a wish when you blow out your candle; no, that isn’t the tart stench of piss in the air, it’s a birthday cake, it’s a team building exercise, it’s wellbeing week because we care.

Corporate argot is a language of delusion, as Reid makes clear. What is so interesting about the poetry of Leave Me Alone is how the writing also pours light on the tragedy of language inherent to corporate jargon. It is a language that lacks the courage of its own convictions, hubris writ large by a kind of sad clown that goes on clowning despite knowing full well that it is the clowning causing problems.

I do enjoy the way in which the term ‘jargon’ is used two-fold: 1. To describe a technical or specialised argot, a vernacular that is morally uninvolved and conceptually neutral, but in a different breath, 2. As an insult to the terms of a specific language. ‘Corporate jargon’ has a bad reputation, as it should, and serves as a good example of how the term ‘jargon’ is also used in the pejorative sense, popularly in the current day. However, once upon a time, as Alice Becker-Ho points out in The Essence of Jargon, it was the ‘secret language of beggars’ and thieves, while ‘argot’ referred to a ‘brotherhood of beggars’. Way back when, the term was initially reserved for what Becker-Ho calls the ‘dangerous classes’, specifically groups such as the Romani, Nawken, Mincéirí, and others whose genealogy of cultural and traditional nomadism is rooted in being both perpetual refugee and fugitive. It is curious, then, that such derogatory terms should evolve ironically in a circle, or spiral, more correctly, to mean in the modern pejorative usage, a specialised taxonomy that may be indecipherable to those outside the dominant group. I feel a sense of schadenfreude bearing witness to the ouroboric nature of capitalists assigning themselves the very same terms of reference they historically used to degrade the ‘other’. We simply love to see a corporatist show their whole ass in this way, a linguistic self-own ripe for poem-ing against the capitalo-existential ensnarement of work and work work.

One of my favourite (and one of the funniest) lines from Leave Me Alone is from ‘book of hours’:

two factor authentication is a misnomer / there are three factors and the third is yourself / your desire to log in /

Humour in poetry is both failure and betrayal: and it is these two walls that become a corner. If the poem fails to match the tastes of poetry bosses, it is also betraying a narrow bourgeois conception of the possibilities of poetry, which is to say a funny poem is a failure that does something right. Where class struggle lacks, the bourgeois poem takes shape. Poems like these do not set out to betray ruling class poetics, but they do.

a sunny day has economic implications

Reid has constructed a poetic argot that is a place made out of other places, wreckages, the detritus of work-dread. In so doing, they masterfully mine the textural and metaphysical scrapheap that is work and being a worker and masterfully weave and fuse these scourings into glowing metals. Poems like tough luck and restore previous tabs aesthetically call to mind the charm and implied story of a car with different coloured panels. The poems read like a repair job, which, like any good poetry about work, they probably are, in an incorporeal sense. From restore previous tabs:

would you rather a day off
or a loyalty rewards card? used to be
you had a cubicle of your own, used to be
you could shake hands with almost anybody —
today I’m back to scarecrow duty, failing upwards.
could this have been an email? am I maximising
my solidarity here? it’s wise to keep a few tricky
secrets between you and the boss, it shows
you’re one to be trusted, living punk rock on an Arts

Bullshit jobs require bullshit bosses who work very hard to elicit submission without an act of submission from their vastly underpaid and overworked workforce. Bullshit jobs and bullshit bosses will always demand submission, which is why unions exist. It is also why the comrade exists. There is a specific kind of understated comradely joy that runs the length of Leave Me Alone, and it just about could bring a tear to my eye, if I’m honest. I’m a sucker for displays of solidarity. Harry’s book is divided into five sections: EMAIL SIGNATURES, WORKING HARD VS. HARDLY WORKING, TGIF, YOU’VE GOT TO FIND THE BOSS IN YOURSELF, and TO KILL THE BOSS IN YOURSELF. It is in TGIF: a series of postcards written to Gareth Morgan while at work, 2019-2021 that the joy of comradeship is brought to the front. TGIF is a triumphant amalgam of the poet’s sensibilities (it’s also where you’ll find the previously mentioned market poem): the personal and personally absurd is stitched into offcuts of anti-union bullshit boss jargon and email-speak. Harry writes poems as postcards to their mate about ‘every way to kill five minutes’, but they could be to any worker with comradely joy cc’d in.

now in the thick of a kitchenette standoff –
‘it’s not that we’re opposed to the union …………
             we just can’t believe you
didn’t tell us first!!

Bullshit bosses, and poetry bosses alike, hate to see a poem thriving comradely. In Comrade, Jodi Dean pinpoints how joy arises from comradeship’s ability to move workers toward ‘new feelings’ that leave them no longer ‘compelled to submit’. Comradely poems thunder against the radiation of immobility emitted by capital. It is writing that seeks to uncorner us. The genesis of comradely joy as described by Dean is also Reid’s gift to readers:

Comrades let one forget the status that the world gives them—birth, family, name, class. In the absence of these relations, comrades develop a reflex for solidarity that exceeds personal happiness.

Now, how to wrap up this review in a way that is both bastardly and comradely? I’ll give the penultimate word to the poet:

a good worker is like a tree / inherently removable

Don’t forget it. See you on Monday.


Dan Hogan

Dan Hogan (they/them) is a writer and editor from San Remo, NSW (Awabakal and Worimi Country). They currently live and work on Dharug and Gadigal Country (Sydney). Dan's debut book of poetry, Secret Third Thing, was released by Cordite in 2023. Dan’s work has been recognised by the Val Vallis Award, Judith Wright Poetry Prize, and XYZ Prize, among others. In their spare time, Dan runs small DIY publisher Subbed In. More of their work can be found at:

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  1. Don Watson has done his best to expose it.
    Politicians parade it.
    Lawyers and doctors profit and hide behind it.

    In the beginning was the word.
    At the end ?

  2. “ If the poem fails to match the tastes of poetry bosses, it is also betraying a narrow bourgeois conception of the possibilities of poetry, which is to say a funny poem is a failure that does something right. ”

    Not just funny poems, every poem that fails to match the poetry bosses’ tastes is a failure. The question is “Who are the poetry bosses?”

    Who make(s) the decision(s)?

    Is poetry a bullshit job?

    And why do poets (including people who write poetry) submitting their poems to literary institutions?

    I enjoyed reading this book (and this review) but there is a concern of lack of reflexivity of the limitations of the ‘(Melbourenian) I”. Who are the comrades the poet has in mind outside this geographical/cultural -ship? Is the poet also a poetry boss?

  3. CLY (deliberately?) ignores Dan Hogan’s thoughtful discussion of ways to read “boss” above.
    Dan Hogan helps us to see how to care less and less about bullshit with the help of Harry Reid.
    Dan Hogan actually lives in Darug and Gadigal country.
    CLY is trying to insinuate that the many-faceted comment about poetry and politics is about jealousy.
    This was a fun review concerning fun poetry beyond the kitchenette.

    1. I was talking about Reid so what’s the relevance of bring up Dan’s residency? Also why are you so aggressive? I am just trying to explain what I think about the claim of poetry in relation to taste/gatekeeping because I am interested in it. I don’t see why you are being so snobbish about it and accusing me of being jealous. I enjoy reading the book and the review, but simply just pointed out some reflections and questions that poets should ask them/ourselves. Whatever I am not taking this from you so I am giving it all back.

      1. I think you misunderstand the sentence about jealousy. I said that “CLY is trying to insinuate that the many-faceted comment about poetry and politics is about [Dan Hogan’s, and by implication, Harry Reid’s] jealousy [of poetry bosses].”

        Maybe that clarification helps you to see that my response meant no aggression toward you. To say that a commenter ignores some things shouldn’t be aggressive. I only wanted to address misconceptions I found in your comment and I did this in what I hoped would be the least ad-hominem way possible by speaking about the ideas you forwarded. You know, rather than argue with you. You didn’t have to respond, in other words.

        The question mark about whether your misreading of what boss meant above was deliberate or not should also show that I sincerely didn’t know whether your comment was misreading the complex discussion of “bosses” in the review or just making a mistake. I was giving you the benefit of the doubt there.

        I am sincerely sorry that you feel annoyed by my comment. Hopefully when you reread the comment you will see that it is about congratulating the reviewer and the book reviewed.

        Your good questions about why poets still bother with institutions ended with the leading questions “who are the comrades the poet has in mind” and “is the poet also a poetry boss”. Maybe you meant these questions less leadingly and more rhetorically than they sound. If so, that is good news. Class is powerfully expressed through rather crude and stubborn ideas of taste in Australia and I thought Dan Hogan’s reading of Harry Reid’s approach to that, the language of the working week used humorously to undermine the expectations of “the boss”, was ingenious.

        Keep asking good and bad questions about Harry Reid’s poetry and Dan Hogan’s criticism. You have my encouragement there.

      2. I forgot that you asked about where the critic lives as being relevant.

        Well, if you say that the argument by a critic not based in Melbourne about bosses risks being limited to a Melbournian “I” in your original comment, even if it is about a book concerning Melbourne, then this confusion comes up. The argument didn’t belong to Reid’s book, it was extrapolated or developed from it by a poet critic from Darug and Gadigal lands about global work culture under capitalism. American Jodi Dean’s idea concerns global capitalism, and so on.

        This is the origin of my confusion.

        1. Hello, thank you for your clarification and follow-ups. I apologise for my “accusation” as well, as now I am realising that I was overly defensive and misunderstood your point. I also want to clarify that I do not insinuate that there’s jealousy at play in Reid’s poems.

          I admire the rebellious nature of Reid’s poems and genuinely resonate with his critique of capitalism. However, what interests me the most is the suggestion that capitalism penetrates/dominates the poetry making and publishing. That is, there are bosses in poetry as well. And so, what are we gonna do about it? How can poets who criticise poetry bosses’ tastes become aware of the possibility that maybe they themselves are also the same (i.e., they are also the poetry bosses)?

          I was/am posting the question that if the “bosses” in poetry are on one hand criticising the dominant poetry standards/tastes that exclude others and on the other hand making another kind of poetic standard that fails to look into the power/privilege//position that themselves occupy and fails to notice other conventions/poetics/stakes from other backgrounds that are not so visible/accessible to them. I think that there is a lack of “reflection” upon the self. That’s why I brought up the “Melbourenian ‘I'” in the first place. But that’s just my take on the book.

          1. Fair points.

            That’s really important, right. You make me think that the key part is to want to do something with poetry other than just become a tastemaker, a poetry boss. On the other hand if Reid’s style (from Melbourne? I feel like the reference points are many) became popular with other poets, then that style (assuming they have one, which I don’t think is the case anyway) is only a boss if it governs and accumulates for its own profit the distribution of literary capital those other poets are taking up. Which obviously isn’t happening, we can say. Allegorically, via Reid via Hogan via you, I feel like that simplified equation there, about whether or not a style or poet accumulates attention purely for its own profit, is a really helpful point to now arrive at, when I think about your line of thought. Thank you.

            The problem of the incentive to become a bourgeois tastemaker is, firstly, the nature of late capitalism and the way it already accumulates capital within the hands of the few, which in the poetry world creates a status economy of billboard poets who make a career point of bringing themselves as close in proximity to the means of production as possible (e.g. literature boards, prize panels etc.). Secondly, industries (e.g. the prize industry) with particular catchments make a set of ladders that tastemakers funnel work into. That funnelling is done through taste.

            And that’s why resisting taste is so important, but on the other hand why we need to enjoy the multiplicity of modes (and whatever popularity they encourage) as they infect us. Because those infections of new ways to experience language help us to resist being funnelled.

            I take your point that some poets become tastemakers often by accident and they might have more self-reflexivity about that. More importantly maybe, readers may not be aware of their style preferences and the poetry that they are completely overlooking. And then I think many poets who change and grow are trying to democratize their own reading experience of themselves. I would resist one answer to this question at any rate.

            The main problem that Reid’s poetry illustrates stylistically, now that I think about it, is that we don’t often use corporate speak or, on the other hand, the language of chucking a sickie, because mainstream poetry tends to be a false space of sentimental reification of bourgeois life and therefore has to avoid the linguistic landscape of workplace content production.

            Thanks for these questions.

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