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Review: “WORKING ANIMALS” by Liam Bates

ISBN: 978-1-913642-09-9

“Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside — remembering all the times you’ve felt that way” – Charles Bukowski

The contradiction between working life and actual life is a subject written about extensively. From the theories of Karl Marx observing labour and the means of production, to more contemporary thoughts on modern capitalism, such the rise of industrialism and the capitalist contradiction of ‘freedom’  as outlined by thinkers like Noam Chomsky.

I start here because my point is not about theory, but about the feelings surrounding it. The poetry of Liam Bates, and specifically his pamphlet ‘Working Animals’ captures the sheer emotion of how as humans we live, survive,  and immolate within these worlds.

Released in 2020 by Broken Sleep Books it was the title of this pamphlet that first drew my attention, particularly as the world of ‘work’, its pressures, it sense of entrapment at times, is something I have often struggled with personally.

I will say now that this pamphlet resonated with me at the deepest level. Not only did I connect with the words, but I felt them. I lived them. I could feel the emotion of the author and his sense not only of his cynicism of daily existence, its grinding of the soul, but his exasperation with it. This pamphlet perfectly embodies all of those times you have stood in the shower trying to make sense of the meaning of your own life.

Structurally, this pamphlet contains 24 poems all of which are designed to be read together. Each poem is relatively short which by default adds to its sense of urgency. In turn this can be equated to the pressures of modern life and a breathlessness of sorts. This is perfectly exemplified within the poem ‘Dream’ where the author presents us with a sleeping human as a pupa meditating the lines “(you are) well fed (you are) watered (you are) one among many” which to me indicated a feeling of opposite truth. That in the real world, we are all just struggling to survive. Very powerful for a poem of just twenty-three words.

The same can be said of the poem “Canis Irregularis” and its focus on “If they’ve forgotten what food looks like. It’s a middle management world” This conjures a feeling of hyperreality, of office workers as fighting dogs who have forgotten their sense of humanity. A place where a career ladder has more importance than empathy, that we have forgotten the fundamental truth of life and living. For anyone who has experienced this, it is hard to disagree.

Something I really love about this pamphlet, aside from its incredibly punchy well crafted style, is its use of living imagery. Dogs, maggots chewing food, spiders in plugholes, fish thrashing in tanks, pigs, ruminants, swans, even the dirt of the earth itself (as seen in Snakes Mistake Their Tails for a Snack). It all makes for a delicious contrast of the natural world and the unnatural world of the office, of living beings vs inanimate corporate process, even to the extent that it questions the capitalist structures that exist around us, that control us. It makes us question why we live the way we do or maybe, are forced to.

In summary, this is a masterful, well crafted, and acutely observant pamphlet from Liam Bates that speaks to the very nature of the human spirit trapped in an unreal world. It will stay with me. I will read it again. I want more.

I wholeheartedly recommend that you pick this up in all of its beautiful pale blue collar working gloriousness.

You can find Liam on Twitter at @wordswithpurple

Review by Stuart McPherson 2021

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