Andrew Jordan seems to have been busy of late, having
published a new collection with Smokestack - Bonehead's Utopia - in 2011, and a new 10th
Muse in the offing, hopefully. Which
reminds me, I must re-subscribe. Although it's not a magazine that comes out
with regularity it's still one of the most interesting publications around,
both for the obsessive insights of its reviews section and for the poetry
itself, which is always stimulating and generally includes new writers of
This is an astonishing book, which includes Jordan's deep relationship to
time and place, both as a satirist and up-ender of tradition, but also
including a more lyrical streak where his modes of thinking about language
and archaeology are genuine attempts at breaking away from reductive models
of 'the pastoral'. The playful yet serious use of footnotes in this
collection recalls Flann O'Brien in The Third Policeman and there's a quotation in the end-notes from
Raymond Williams' classic 1976 volume - Keywords - which gives an introduction to the notion of
Hegemony (shades of Antonio Gramsci) that serves both as a way in and to further
muddy the waters.
Jordan has the astonishing facility to be both a deconstructionist and
'pricker of pomposity' while producing texts which while being parodies of
high art also embrace something of its methods and are riveting to read. He
seems to 'really mean it' while also, at times, taking the piss, yet this appears
to be an even darker book than Ha Ha and is a much more uncomfortable read. He has a somewhat committed,
almost utopian political take on things but his is a stance which is
constantly undermined and challenged by hard experience and by a dark suggestiveness
which permeates the book. As Peter Philpot says on the back-cover blurb -
'The hair on the back of my neck rose'. This is not a book for those of a
If we take the notion of hegemony to indicate a totalising system, then Jordan's
book can be seen as a political satire, which embraces a love of landscape
with the downside of the surveillance state, a questioning of the way we are
controlled by our political masters while also taking on something of the
implications of a system which implies self-censorship and self-mastery in a
somewhat negative sense. Jordan's aim isn't to produce reverential
'spirit-of-place' poetry which fuses the Romantic tradition with Hoskins' The
Making of the English Landscape, but to
open up a dialogue (multi-voice
response) about our relationship to our surroundings and the conditioned
nature of our response(s) to our time and place as related to the power of
received mythology and historical constructs. The fact that Jordan is writing
'about' the South West and such heavily over-mythologized concepts as
'Wessex' makes his enterprise all the more intriguing.
Hegemonick is a book in six
parts. It's cover, a b&w
photograph from the
1930's is of a man and a girl in a field looking upwards, presumably, so it's
suggested, to the lark ascending. Above the title is a crown, hinting at a
long history of 'hegemony'. The titles of each section imply a tradition of
English poetry which is very 18th century and fuelled by an
awareness of landscape and its associated 'baggage', for example, property,
ownership, the common wealth. These titles include Part One: The Sonnet
Past'; Part Three: A Further Survey of the Hill. The layout and construction
of the sections is varied in a formal sense and contributes to a feeling of
the overall architecture of the poem, which is in itself impressive.
There are references to what may be 'key moments' - a German bomber pilot and
a British Hurricane airman both shot down in 1940 and contributing to the
sense of landscape and history. There is a lot of walking going on in this
book and references to Ordnance Survey maps. Passages of pure description -
either real or imagined - are juxtaposed with an intense psychological
enquiry, as in 'Theory: The Self' where place and person are imaginatively
subsumed into a whole. At times this reads like one of those conspiracy
theory fictions - The Illuminatus, for example - or even something from the pages of
H.P. Lovecraft's subterranean ponderings:
exists within affective walls.
It has a
single bank and ditch enclosing
precinct surrounding a circular
structure which may have been roofed.
appeared to him in a dream
as a series
of three concentric V-shaped gullies,
containing post holes. Two
holes flanked an entrance
eastern side. This is where the self lurks,
craver, administerer of small things,
swayed by sentiments, stupidly
vain host to
thoughts, this dark interior.
(from 'Theory: The Self')
Jordan engages with topics of political radicalism, with the damage that is
done to children, with paedophilia, - a minefield which most avoid discussing
or negotiate indirectly - with a whole host of dark materials, in fact,
including an astonishing section on the hounding of the unabashed porn star
I had to
visualise Mary and walk across the slope.
images of Mary in my head,” I said, “a close-up
of her face
bathed me in rays.” Her body is gone
litho but it's vitality is replicated
in a shabby
or desperate honesty
like the face
of the Queen on the coin of the realm.
Images of her
body are a currency. Power flows through her.
(from 'Inside Mary Millington')
it was the place that propped up
future, there was a fugitive sense of
a ground that
was lost, of a better world
in time to
come from an obsolete past.
and then the
landscape began to give way.
(from 'Research: Hillsley Road 1978')
It's that mix of what appears like undermining satire with genuine feeling
and direct speaking which makes Jordan, at his best, such a powerful writer.
I could go on at length about this collection; there is so much meat here and
so many varied avenues to explore, such rich variety amid its dark materials.
The finale has an almost apocalyptic feel to it:
distance I saw the children we had seen
in the old
Paulsgrove House air raid shelter,
looking at a boy who had died.
We watched as
they approached him, accepting him
as one of
We saw him
rise and coat himself with dust.
And then one
by one they embraced him.
(from 'How the Last of the Light is Held')
Wow - this is almost William Golding territory. As I said earlier, an
astonishing book. I could end on this dark note but I'm inclined to recall a
relevant story which I first remembered when reading Jordan's previous
Shearsman collection Ha Ha.
I'm reminded of an art historian called Michael Dames who wrote a book about
Silbury Hill and argued that it was, without doubt, an ancient fertility symbol. He then photographed
a number of art students who were encouraged to run down the hill each
carrying a white-paper toilet roll which they unveiled as they ran. This was
mythology in the making and I believe it turned Mr Dames into a minor
celebrity for a while. There's a lot to be taken from these poems. You can
enjoy the serious nature of the enterprise, relish the high-art nature of the
language or you can laugh your socks off as Jordan undermines his own
seriousness as he goes along. However you decide (or are 'decided') to
approach this writing, it's well worth the effort and I sincerely hope that
Jordan hits the wide readership he clearly deserves.