Ratbaggery: ‘To achieve harmony in bad taste is the height of elegance.’
Ratbag poetry and Ratbag poets are not, necessarily, one and the same. There are poets for whom a Ratbag poem requires the serious maltreatment of themselves, while there are others for whom Ratbaggery is the effortless demonstration of their personal grace. There are poets who begin writing as Ratbags and become stockjobbers of Romantic flap, while others begin by making exquisite paste and later come to hear the sublime music of the rant. Whether sticking it to the jealousies of formal practice or mocking the precious tendencies of poesy, Ratbag poems always import a little wickedness. Or a lot.
For example, Catullus’ poem 59:
BONONIENSIS RufaRufulumfellat, uxorMeneni, saepe quam in sepulcretis uidistis ipso rapere de rogocenam, cumdeuolutum ex igneprosequenspanem absemirasotundereturustore.
Rufa of Bologna gives head to Rufulus; wife of Menenius, you have often seen her in the graveyard grabbing the baked meats from the funeral pyre, chasing the bread when it rolls from the flames, being thumped by the half-shaven cremator.
A Ratbag poem seems partly cured of form’s politesse, yet may still demonstrate a certain crusty savoir faire. Of course, there are any number of exceptions; Ratbag poems that are coolly housed in classical frame. These are the ones that cleave to while exhibiting a finger at the niceties of guise. 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. Yet perhaps the poems that bag the biggest rats are those whose rodential charms only begin to air a finely piquant appeal after a particular passage of time.
Ratbag poems are democratic in their enjoyment without being communist: their sweetmeats are aristocratic and proletarian. Their tradition is full of cheeky, even saturnine observers: Catullus, Chaucer, Rochester, Shakespeare, George Gordon Lord Byron, Villon, Lautreamont, Baudelaire, Mina Loy, Edna St Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker. You see, there are poets who are Ratbags, but not all of them are the authors of Ratbag poems. Christopher Brennan is a total ratbag, but he writes only a few poems of this ilk.
Like all designations of high hermeneutic mystery, the phrase ‘Ratbag Poetry’ requires a personal archaeology. I needed to know what a Ratbag Poem could be – poems that are vituperative, poems that are a nuisance. I call upon Byron’s distaste for Keats’ propensity for ‘frigging with his imagination,’ which seems to us a virtue, and counts as a measure of the bile produced when a Ratbag is, in their turn, Ratbagged. It is partly the wickedness of your type and partly the quality of your infection; the spleen is actually the Romantic organ.
What has been bagged is, I hope, a toothsome collection of poems that have achieved the right sort of resistance to what I as a royal bourgeois presume to be the standard decorum of poesy. These are the hunting horns of digital static, and we can see the particons of dada, Martial, Joey Ramone, Klaus Kinski and Princess Margaret, the kamikaze who survived and the Lady of Shalott who became a mother of five. You see that ratbag poems are always sage; they burst into being in mid-career; smart and sharp with the courage of proper weltschmertz.
Herakleitos, the philosopher of ratbag – the one who preserves and makes relish of contradiction – gives us this calculus of fatal flux: ethos anthropos daemon. This has been happily translated as ‘a person’s character is their destiny,’ but I would suggest that it’s making a mathematical trinity of the question of the human, allowing the definition of each of these figures to remain open. What has been called for in this collection is an artificial ethos, a bend to excess, where the daemon might come out to play. In each of these poems, the author’s ethos is available as ‘character’ or outward showing, but the feeding and informing daemon remains to be sorted in a private delectation, through black absorbable spunk.
Any editorial principles in an edition such as this must, in their turn, be ratbagged, and so there have been all sorts of unprincipled allowances.
It will not do to name names and so that is the only thing to do. I cankerly invite you then to step forth and admire Nick Whittock as Ricky Ponting as Ahab, with his compositional sextant madness; Kent MacCarter’s split bag of genetically modified Twisties; the quietly devastating essay from the rarely in recline Astrid Lorange; the boiled lolly lint biographies of Maurice McNamara; the gorgeous smut of Eric Dando; Ann Vickery’s bag of ferrets; the lucid fumes of Shane Rhodes; Ania Walwicz’s harvest of pigshit; the brittle boudoir mirror of LK Holt; Laurie Duggan’s squibs and skewers; Corey Wakeling; DJ Huppatz’s stars and stripes for Australia; Caitlynn Cummings’ fluvial rage; Pam Brown’s sticky postcards; Justin Clemens’ mockitt/boggin bugling; Michael Farrell’s queering of the already queer Catullus; Cameron Lowe’s subterranean poo pastoral …
somebody hand me an et cet era.
Rimbauldian checkmate: there are many of those who pursue poetry as the paragon of human activity and who also find it largely despicable. To have both faces talking at once is a rare treat. This is what I always wanted from a << the wolf in his haste had swallowed her alive >>