Alan Morrison on
by Andrew Jordan
As the seeming semi-neologism – or ‘eye-neologism’ – of the title might imply, Hegemonick is a deeply conceptual and highly sophisticated poetical work, a kind of oblique polemic on power structures and their underpinning in the semiotic manipulation of language. In prosodic terms, it is a long poem sequence divided up into six parts made up of 24 individually titled pieces, some of which are in highly accomplished metrical blank verse, while other parts are more compositionally experimental. The word hegemonic, of course, is the adjective for hegemony, meaning the dominant influence in society, whether it be the government, the church, the judiciary, or a combination of these, which one might also term the establishment, or the established version of reality as according to the powers that be; by adding k on the end of the word suggests another, monicker, normally a slang term for a person’s ‘name’, ‘nickname’, or ‘alias’. To take a hermeneutic (interpretive) perspective on this – as one detects is part of the intention of Andrew Jordan’s meticulously crafted, deeply subversive (in a good sense) and sometimes cryptic text – we might interpret the title as a suggestion that the hegemonic is indeed a common and perennial cultural umbrella term, a euphemism or alias for the occulting power structures in society; i.e. those intending not to be detected by its citizens (which immediately calls to mind such ‘shadow operators’ as the Free Masons and the City of London Corporation).
This book, taken as an entire entity – much of its very design and layout being symbiotically fused with the concept of the poetry itself – seems in structural and meta-textual terms to amount to a work of poetic significs, or semiotics (semiosis), that’s to say, a sort of poetic exploration through linguistic symbolism, its use and abuse, and the amorphous political corruptions of word-meanings depending on alternating contexts. There’s an underlying intuitionist logic to Jordan’s dialectic, and the subjects and narratives of the work have to be excavated by the reader through a sort of poetic archaeology. Whether or not Jordan draws consciously on the axiological and philological explorations of the likes of Victoria Welby (significs: navigation through words as signs and symbols), C.K. Ogden (The Meaning of Meaning, 1923), Charles Sanders Peirce (pragmatics: the behavioural instructions of signs and symbols, and cultural units of communicated behaviours and attitudes, or memes), Ferdinand de Saussure (semiotics: signs and symbols in language), or, indeed, more recently, Jacques Derrida (Of Grammatology, 1967), and Noam Chomsky (morphophonemics: the shape and structure of morphemes and phonemes as units of language), is perhaps by the by given that his poetic constructs implicitly resist easy deconstruction or reduction: but it’s perhaps a useful way for readers to objectify the organics of the work and thereby have some sort of rubric or compass with which to navigate them. Of course, even in such exposition of approaches, one instantly falls into some of these semiotic traps.
The cover of Hegemonick has a kind of meta-ergonomic function, not only denoting an aesthetic but also an ethic (or anti-ethic); it is very much a part of the texture and fabric of the poetry within it; the front image is a rather haunting sepia photograph of what appears to be a tall, angular-looking farmer and his small daughter gazing up to the sky at something we cannot see (‘Hark, Hark, the Lark at Heaven’s Gate Sings’ by Ida A. Battye, circa 1930s), which almost has an eerie John Wyndham feel to it (cue Day of the Triffids) or even the haunting weirdness of a still from a David Lynch film, with the title Hegemonick writ fairly large with a crown symbol above it – the effect of the look of the book alone is disorienting. The short, elliptical blurb is equally puzzling but enticing, seemingly written by the poet himself and, one might speculate, partly in response to some sort of (metaphorical?) poetic occupational therapy:
Memory and rehearsal. The cognitive processes upon which we have learned to depend, they keep us in our context, which is where we are screwed. She said, "Use your imagination to set yourself free, be inspired to think the unthinkable." And I did. But there are so many things that contain us.
As soon as one starts reading the book – so conceptually executed that even some aspects of the design itself seem to be part of the concept of the creative text – it feels clear they are starting out on a journey with maps but no compass. The first poem, ‘The Bull Artefact’, which begins
A worm of many features
A colossus of tiny worms
[All eyes and mouths]
Collision of myth and genetic
marvels • Beast of many heads
is an instant challenge in terms of both textual and visual oddness, but more than adumbrates the broadly Eliotic texture of most of the poem sequences in the book, composed as they are with great metrical precision, often slightly staccato, clipped and aphorismic tropes punctuated frequently with full stops. Such poetic technique reminds this reviewer of the levels of poetic confidence achieved in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – albeit with much of the apocalyptic and semiotic attributes of the latter’s most pored-over melting-pot of avant garde high style, The Waste Land. Take the first few lines of what is a fairly typical slice of Jordan’s highly accomplished blank verse style:
A mast or tower inside an enclosure.
This is what it was like then, I said
“It looks like an idol, the head of a bull.”
A test rig, canvas draped on scaffolding,
about it many obsolete fortifications,
buttress and bastion, a bulwark built for the
defence of the past. I had it in my mind
to walk up to the tower, to look down
into the gardens, to see the houses below,
the shops and flats a colossus bends to inspect.
Paedophile thoughts were beamed into the estate.
That last trope immediately echoes the metaphorical introversions and ‘paranoid delusions’ of much schizophrenic poetry (and thinking), reminding this reviewer not only of the literary output of many such diagnosed patients he once provided poetry workshops for in a psychiatric hospital, but also of the bizarre 18th case study of ex-London tea broker, and latterly Bedlam inpatient, James Tilly Matthews, who believed a machine he called ‘The Air Loom’ implanted thoughts into his head, along with various other ‘delusions’. Clearly here Jordan is playing on such associations, knowing any readers less ‘irony literate’ might jump on this as some demonstration of the poet’s own psychopathology. But what is not clear, at least to this writer, is precisely what point Jordan is making here, or rather, how he wishes the reader to respond to or interpret it. This is not a criticism, just an honest comment from a reader who is fairly comfortable with ambiguity. He would however hazard a guess that Jordan is employing an apparent ‘schizophrenic’ symbolic thought process to serve itself as a metaphor for the average modern citizen’s implicit sense of alienation from the true workings of the society in which he/she lives, for the most part, in happily sheep-like myopia or ‘wilful blindness’. Certainly Jordan’s richly allusive, sometimes almost cryptic poetry requires some hefty hermeneutic application from the average reader (particularly those not so accustomed to contemporary poetic experimentalism). The consciously paranoid tone of the poetry itself meta-textually plays on this:
Allurements, coercive rewards, false claims;
of course some fell for it. I had a strong desire
to confess, to clear myself from all my harms.
As noted before in this writer’s review of his superb Bonehead’s Utopia (Smokestack, 2011), Jordan is an exceptional exponent of the sublime aphorism:
Remember how, in the past,
we had furtive or private lives, the things
we cared about and then lost hold of.
What Jordan is essentially composing is a poetic counter-dialectic to the bureaucratic misinformation processed through the pores of society to all of us, whether we wish to listen to it or not. His verse intervention is seemingly designed to prompt us as to this mass-brainwashing, and to encourage conscious dissent, but in a way which is in itself as closely guarded, encrypted and sometimes – though fascinatingly – abstruse as (if not more so than) the power structures he is metaphorically fracturing, even, rhetorically traumatising. This makes for deeply subversive verse (in the anarchic, libertarian Eliotic sense, which is meant complimentarily).
By coincidence, this writer is currently reading a 1973 Pelican edition of J.H. Plumb’s absorbing The Death of the Past (1969), which is precisely about the perennial power structures of successive societies and how their variously appointed recorders of events – whether contemporary or past – or ‘historians’, were more often than not the bureaucratic mouthpieces or ‘agitpropists’ for the hegemonic constructs of their respective times; often manipulating historical facts to suit contemporaneous power-prejudices through mythologizing the nature of events rather than accurately representing them – and in the pre-secular ages, often with a teleological purpose (emphasizing a perceived divine pattern or providence). Plumb’s essential thesis is a demarcation between ‘the past’ and ‘history’: the former, he contests, is ideologically tainted, partisan and distorted to put across certain ‘messages’ to societies, while the latter is an objective and scientific attempt at documenting the past in a purely factual way. Compare, by way of example, the following passage from Plumb with the following excerpt from Jordan:
The past in … society had a constant daily purpose. …the essence of it lay in the concept of the Mandate of Heaven – to secure social subjection and continuity in a world of political change.
This use of the past for social purposes occurs in all early civilizations for which we have written records. … Myth, usually terrifying, provides for the worker; the official past is the property of government.
[pp24 and 26, ‘The Sanction of the Past’, The Death of the Past (Pelican, 1972)]
Collective or national power has become a re-enactment
of itself within an illusion called ‘transparency’. Powers
dispersed through sentiments, our sense of the past. Pain and
remission from pain underpins our interest in heritage.
Note the word ‘sentiments’, which implies an emotionally-rooted sense of the past, as most grotesquely exploited in mythologies. Jordan here appears to be extending the Plumbian dialectic to suggest that the mythologizing of history to suit contemporary power structures is as much a historiographical aspect of today as it was in more strictly religious cultures, or the heavily symbolised pre-Christian myth-underpinned societies of the ancients (one might also say, histological: in that Hegemonick is also a kind of microscopic field study - through a macroscopic lens - of ordinary citizens as so much 'human pondlife' to the all-surveying eye of a ubiquitous, well-camouflaged power structure.
Jordan also focuses on the possible perils of dissociation of self, the dislocation of individual authenticity or subjective inner-knowledge in a society which continually pressurises us to view ourselves objectively; at least, as beings acutely aware of their being observed, whether by other people, or by the ubiquitous invisibles of a CCTV culture – but perhaps more specifically, the dangers of an obsessive awareness of a monitored society, leading to an overt preoccupation with how others perceive one:
The private person is compared with the personas
they present, their observable behaviour. Strident
or furtive, they are known. Outer compliance and
inner withholding of compliance: this is the fracture
the State must fill, into which it already extends.
This ostensible Orwellian tone is perhaps more sanguine than it initially comes across, since here seems to be a mind ultimately reconciled to the ‘Big Brother’ subterfuge of supposedly free democratic society, reassured as it is by the inevitable paradox of such paranoid and paranoia-inducing cultures: how can a government ever know how much it itself is being observed or monitored? Who observes the observer? And who observes the observer of the observed? It’s a Russian doll conundrum which is unsolvable, every bit as much as arguments for or against the existence of God, hitting each time as those do the hoary old Thomist cul-de-sac that, logically, some thing or entity had to be behind the ‘creation’ of the universe, as there is always a ‘cause’ for every ‘effect’; effects don’t happen spontaneously without a cause. And yet, who created the creator? Jordan’s ‘The Paulsgrove Experiment’ closes on a curious, almost conspiratorial (though no doubt with good reason) footnote which details two apparently secretive state organisations, ‘Qinteq and Dstl (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory)’, the former referred to by the author in conscious homage to semantic mythologizing as a ‘cult’.
Tapping back into the schizophrenic subtext of Hegemonick, the following poem is titled ‘Hypnophrenia’. It again plays quite graphically on the deeply symbolic thought processes of this still mystified and misunderstood psychopathology – and one begins to suspect that either Jordan is suggesting in part that there is a kind of thought-encrypted rationalism and vital truth to the ostensibly ‘jumbled’ thinking of those termed ‘schizophrenics’ (in the Laingian sense, something societally induced and stimulated in certain individuals which expresses itself in a semiotic puzzle as direct reflection of the byzantian contradictions of perceived social and political ‘rationality’), possibly even – in a metaphorical sense – a mental tendency in some which is externally created, in a sense, politically implanted somehow through suggestion or some other subliminal but artificial means (hence the classic and contextually understandable schizophrenic resistance towards any form of synthetic treatment, or chemical medication): ‘A poem was transmitted into my head/ Or my poem was broadcast over the landscape’. This line ends with a cross symbol to denote a footnote curiously pointing the reader to the fact that the ‘transmitted’ poem is part of this very collection, ‘The Sonnet Past’. But in ‘Hypnophrenia’, there is not only a meta-textual play on schizophrenic symptoms, or visual/auditory ‘hallucination’, but also, apparently, on neurotic ‘thought disorders’, such as obsessive compulsive spectrum mind-sets:
As directed, I took out my notebook
and began to write – I channelled
involuntary imagery, invasive thoughts
I was crawling along a tunnel that linked one complex
of fears to another deep in my neurosis…
Symptoms of obsessional neurosis (or Pure-Obessive disorder, ‘Pure-O’) involve automatic and involuntary ‘intrusive thoughts’ which appear spontaneously in the consciousness and are often of a destructive or violent nature which is in complete contradiction to the moral personality of the sufferer; or what is termed ego-dystonic, which means, essentially, alien or antipathetic to the ego. Jordan’s segueing together such mental phenomena with the impulse in some to channel them creatively – which is often the most effective way of managing them – as if they are (distinctly painful) ‘inspirations’ is an apposite response which recalls such mental adaptations to similar symptoms of numerous ‘creative’ thinkers of the past, both artistic and scientific, such as John Bunyan, Samuel Johnson, Jonathan Swift and Charles Darwin.
In many ways Jordan’s meta-textual polemical poem-pilgrimage marks him out as a kind of contemporary secular Bunyan; Hegemonick is as much about journey as destination, though is in many ways a teleological loop; a kind of temporal paradox. Appropriate to such, Jordan employs the intra-spatial imagery of ‘symbiotic’ schizophrenic or psychotic thinking, whereby external societal features are internalised, creating deeply conflictive, even disassociated internal consciousness, whereby one’s body is felt or perceived not to be one’s own, is somehow directly connected to the outside environment, the property not of the self but of an outside agency who metaphysically 'sub-lets' it to the occupant; or vice versa. This reminds this writer of one schizophrenic ‘hallucinatory’ anecdote he once heard regarding a woman who was absolutely convinced that the IRA had planted a bomb in her leg!
The real difficulty so far in any psychiatric attempts to fully understand the nature of psychosis or schizophrenia is that these are psychopathologies which are not simply abstract phenomena (i.e. purely the product of muddled thought processes) but are psychical states that are physiologically felt as much as they are thought. And, to some extent, neurosis operates similarly, whereby obsessional thoughts that invariably induce severe panic in the sufferer, are felt through both the physical effects of panic (rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, hot flushes, tremors, sweats etc.) and the automatic/involuntary (or ego-dystonic) muscular reflexes in which an energy surge – a kind of physically felt impulse – is experienced, making the perceived threat of an obsessional thought or idea – often of a spontaneously violent nature – seem all the more real and impending because the body is primed with the mind as if to act it out (which leads in turn to the added confusion and anxiety of thought-action fusion, an almost superstitious fear that a thought will automatically lead to an act; a kind of permanently arrested ‘fight or flight’ conflict. In these senses, then, neurosis, and indeed psychoses such as schizophrenia, are ectopic impulsions: that is to say, displaced or re-routed symptoms of more often than not emotional aetiologies. Still not much clearer, I know! More simply then: they are often emotional dysfunctions vicariously expressed in mental symptoms. No, that's still no clearer...).
Jordan’s ingenious conceit in Hegemonick is to constantly play on this sense of symbiosis as experienced in symbolic ‘delusional thinking’ (to use the psychiatric phrase) as a meta-textual and tonal stylistic. Hence the narrator of the poem fuses a polemic on the clandestine state operations underneath Portsmouth and its surrounding area’s physical landscape with what comes across on the surface as an expression of symbolic or ‘magical thinking’ (another psychiatric phrase): ‘“You see,” she said, “how you are exploring/ neural pathways, precious veins, energy lines…” The person speaking would appear to be the voice of some sort of therapist. Jordan’s continual merging of topographical and psycho-physiological imagery generates a challenging ambiguity to the narrative of the poetry itself. So we get synergies of meanings all at once with neurological phrases such as ‘neural pathways’ also suggesting the tunnels of secret industries underneath the landscape, while ‘energy lines’ is possibly metonymically allusive to the concept of ‘lay lines’. This mingling of image and meaning energises much of ‘Hypnophrenia’:
She said we must LIBERATE THE SACRED GROVE
to cure the phobias I had known
as a part of myself since I had lived
on Portsdown Hill, over an emptiness –
Here, once more, we get the deeply symbiotic, consciously ‘schizophrenic’ personality of the poem. Then the resurfacing of the poet’s consciously constructed poem-apparatus of paranoiac construct: ‘My hypnotherapist was Dstl trained./ I think she told me this and then told me to forget’. So this is specifically a ‘hypnotherapist’, someone who works on patients’ unconsciousness, through their ‘neural pathways’. The superficial suggestion here is that the poet/patient/protagonist – whichever way we feel is appropriate to categorise the narrator, which is itself ambiguous – believes his hypnotherapist is manipulating his treatment (for some unspecified psychological trouble) in order to literally hypnotise his unconscious on behalf of ‘Dstl’, indoctrinating him at a subconscious level into some sort of perceptual cul-de-sac whereby he might not notice the signs of a secret state organisation’s shadowy workings beneath Portsdown. Then, again, the play on physiological symbiotic introversion so common in ‘schizophrenic’ thought processes:
She had worked for them. Through a process of healing
she concealed her own thoughts inside my body,
She tuned me to the frequencies, placed codes
of her own within my flesh, made the muniments
work differently, as if they were a part of me –
she used my numb dissociation to embody
Again, there is the tacit allusion to historical case studies as schizophrenic or psychotic ‘delusional’ or ‘hallucinatory’ thinking of the likes of tea-broker James Tilly Matthews (1770-1815), with the reference to ‘frequencies’: Matthews believed that a mysterious device he called ‘The Air Loom’ manipulated his thinking via sound frequencies. The feminisation of the objectified perpetrator of the narrator’s psychical state is interesting, tapping as it does into the latent male fear of being somehow invaded, dominated, or, in Freudian terms, penetrated. Here the penetration is into the subconscious, but with an effect on physical sensation also, which suggests mental and physical penetration, or implantation with some foreign body or device. Then, after having made his ‘being subsidiary to hers’ and ‘stored her self in my own for safe keeping’ the narrator says ‘She left the map inside my body, so that I know my heart/ is a location inside Portsdown Hill’. Is this also a physiologically displaced metaphor for being in love – what one might term ectopic eroticism? The female hypnotherapist is finally ‘Recalled to her office’ and ‘filed in deep calcareous fissures’ – presumably this means she sinks into his very body and consciousness. Next comes the ‘transmitted poem’, ‘The Sonnet Past’, which further encrypts itself into the meta-textual complexity of this byzantian book-length work; it reads almost as if the reader is being given some sort of directions on a psychical treasure hunt, beginning: ‘There was a raised causeway: an atmosphere, a depth’. This first line is then linked to the first four footnotes, the first three of which are pieces of rather cryptic imagistic verse. Here is the first footnote, itself a deeply ambiguous piece of symbolic poetry:
Cancer of power – the line of tension
a swelling in the earth; tubercle, embossment,
a stud platform from under which to measure
and survey the machine called Time
they had discovered and explored, a cameo
on the printed page, a clock made of money.
Again, in its succinct complexity of diction and metaphor, one is instantly reminded of early Eliot. This poem also proffers another sublime Jordanian aphorism:
Heritage is a form of amnesia. After the Reformation
there’s nothing to remember. With heritage, objects
do it for you, the past is just the bit you consume.
That last trope is particularly potent and resonates chillingly with today’s hyper-consumerist society in which ‘history’ seems to have little place, and a constant present-ness is promoted supremely as the only reality which matters. This again taps into the historiographical dialectic of J.H. Plumb:
Industrial society, unlike the commercial, craft and agrarian societies which it replaces, does not need the past. Its intellectual and emotional orientation is towards change rather than conservation, towards exploitation and consumption. The new methods, new processes, new forms of living of scientific and industrial society have no sanction in the past and no roots in it. The past becomes, therefore, a matter of curiosity, of nostalgia, of sentimentality.
(The Death of the Past, ‘Introduction’).
Into the second section of Hegemonick, ‘A Paulsgrove Bestiary’, the poem ‘Equus’ reads much like the metrical, broken-rhymed, religiously symbolic blank verse of Eliot’s Four Quartets:
A bleak acreage that lost itself in fog.
The cloud is low today.
Cowering amongst the scabby thorns
where once even the incumbent
was a paedophile. Paulsgrove, a vast,
betrayed estate – like an otherworld –
surrounding it. We got off at Cosham.
our rendezvous, the White Hart at Portchester,
already lost. The key to the riddle
in which ‘how you feel in your body’
is the map that shows you the way out.
Chemical ingredients to anti-depressants and/or anti-psychotics are alluded to in ‘iron oxide’ (i.e. oxide yellow; many medications being composed of chemical colourings), in a trope which might have come out of the mouth of Dr Dysart in Peter Shaffer’s play Equus (1973):
his white mare bleeds iron oxide on the hill –
and his gentle sacrifice must be made
a spiritual urge domesticated
and under the knife.
Jordan is aphoristically sharpest when at his most socially polemical, as in one of his characteristic dialectical takes on how class shapes human perceptions:
Alembic of good fortune, crucible of the soul;
the working class, unhitched from a reality
not really made by them, nor owned,
but an ideal that served to fill the gaps
left in identity. We walked through the ideal,
from Self Help into Loathing, where
disgust is palpable. Each public space –
‘Alembic’, an alchemical term referring to distillation via two tube-connected vessels, serves as a highly appropriate symbol for the symbiotic thrust to Hegemonick as a whole (it also connects nicely to the widely use aphorism ‘the alembic of creative thought’). An Eliotonian urban acuteness of description continues in the following passage, which seems to meditate on such cultural taboos as the concept of sexuality in children (a contemporarily toxic topic which Jordan touches on as if tapping at a public nerve with periodic mentions of ‘paedophilia’):
The bank of the motorway, located
to provide atmosphere – a kind of fosse –
an ancient effect which might unite
the tribe around children – their innocence
plastered over the slope as fool’s parsley,
toadflax, milkwort, vetch or ‘rose’.
The pithy ‘Bridge Perilous’ returns to the theme of being as being observed, and non-being, or absence, as being unobserved: ‘In cloud I was an absence. No-one observed me.// …Step one into agoraphobia – an absence/ of horizons or horizons that move’. The poem ends on ‘A reassurance. I was unobserved’. ‘News of the World’ is one of the longer poems of the book, bursting with urban imagery and, in parts, almost stitched together out of aphorisms, some of which are astonishingly wrought, textually – and texturally – embossed in virtuosic alliteration, as in ‘the drip of rusted guttering’, or in the first near-tangible stanza:
A grey line of leylandii along the track.
Below, an estate where mobs unleashed
the best of darkness –rumour, vengeance, hate–
as a radical agenda for change.
The path into abnegation
The noun ‘leylandii’, referring to the Leyland Cypress (named after Liverpudlian banker who gifted one such shrub as a wedding present to his nephew in 1847), may well be in part semiotically allusive to ‘lay lines’. The following verse suggests to this reviewer more vividly than the poems preceding it a definite meta-textual seam of Manichaeism – which threads throughout Hegemonick: references to a legendary king first recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth, together with the parallel theme of a landscape honeycombed by secret state weapon and defence installations which locals are not supposed to know about – tantamount to an underground infestation of parasitic technologies and an overland, or local landscape ultimately unknowable to its inhabitants – brings to mind David Rudkin’s sublimely subversive 1976 ‘Play for Today’ Penda’s Fen:
We approached the fort. High walls of
Victorian brick – glowing, as if
the sun had taken refuge there
from this grey light which corrupts flesh;
you are rotten in your body. Belinus
in his otherworld fort, not to be parleyed with.
Our souls in his care, stacked like munitions,
deep in the chalk.
Such supernatural visions (or hallucinations?) as the young neurotic, sexually repressed, Elgar-loving youth in Penda’s Fen (who believes said composer's The Dream of Gerontius (1900) - from a poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman - to be not simply a piece of music but also an aural religious experience) increasingly witnesses of angels and demons seems – if unconsciously – echoed in this poem:
a sensuous child,
hung from a tree
at the gate. Castellated.
And, again, a tangible sense of the timeless mythological roots to our common perceptions, no matter how scientifically enlightened we might like to think them, seems ubiquitously adumbrated in every scenic detail Jordan describes:
At Lover’s Leap –false memories–
the Greek Temple recovered,
like an absurd bandstand,
from a thicket. 1973. Puke of romance.
An astonishing wank – chronicled
The monologues of Schaffer’s Dysart spring to mind again, particularly his observation about his horse-blinding patient Alan Strang: that, while the psychiatrist pores over images of Centaurs in his books on antiquity at home, ‘outside my window – He is trying to become one, in a Hampshire field’. This poem has to be among the most powerfully expressed and aphoristically startling of this exceptional book:
And compassion is a selfish urge,
a dark figure observing.
Water on the walls.
The whole building sweating;
Note again the use of ‘observing’. Jordan intensifies his segueing of past and present, mythology and technology, ancient and modern, by describing the abstract ‘Modernity’ as ‘an ancient tradition/ started over and over’, and also as a ‘victim’, ‘a child – abused/ and demonised,/ or made into an ideal’. This trail of thought grows more engrossing still as Jordan brings in potent scenic images of the common consciousness in order to further emphasize his point:
Stonehenge, an amended form
of the Brutalism
first practised at Avebury – the ugliest
stone circle in England, too modern –
Nearby, an obelisk to hint at
Nelson as the one-eyed god
or penis. Erected about 1814;
phallus of sunlight; proud
victory over inconsequence...
This latter verse is particularly subversive in how it implants in us an irresistible juxtaposition of Nelson’s statue with, say, an anthropomorphic chalk feature closer to this reviewer’s own neck of the woods, the Long Man of Wilmington near Eastbourne, stood on a hillside with giant erect penis on proud display.
The third section of Hegemonick, ‘A Further Survey of the Hill’, begins with the double-spaced ‘Fort Widley’, a fairly short poem virid with alliterative ‘v’s throughout, as once more Jordan merges modern and ancient constructs; or rather, superimposes ghosts of ancient religious constructs onto modern scientific ones, mostly via adjectives evocative of more archaic architectures, as if to emphasize the transience of even our post-historical present version of reality:
a giant ring of observatories erected at intervals
to maintain security in the heavenly sphere
so that Heaven’s Light might be our guide.
The breastwork of an administration, vanishing;
stretched out cadaverous below, dark against the sea.
The poem closes with an indented verse of shorter lines which are sharply imagistic:
In local pubs framed prints show
the fleet reviewed off Spithead,
the sea tilted to reveal the ranked
men of war that are hidden now.
The last line presumably alludes to the underground state-armament distilleries. ‘Blind Springs’ is another tour de force which, again, appears to chafe against the dialectical materialist take on historiography of J.H. Plumb in his The Death of the Past; though this time focusing on the earliest propagandists and their use of mnemonic didacticism in order to brand their ‘message’ into the minds of future generations:
You look up to imagine the shamen and their
predecessors, an ideology enforced by rhyme and narrative,
making the executive, an aristocracy, seem natural.
Meritocracy –the same pathology– what they call it now.
Glamour cast over the edge and shape of the enclosure
and the island below, corporeal echo, corporate future.
So Jordan appears to say that while words, semiotics, language might all change through time, the perennial intent to manipulate public consciousness through political euphemism or metonymy – a kind of encrypted hegemonic tongue – does not. ‘Blind Springs’ is one of Jordan’s more combative polemical poems:
and priests, the ghost-arm of the State. Religion a fist
rendered in heroic tales to hold aloft the mantle
of celebrity. …
… Belonging, is rooted in knowing when to cry
and not to cry for justice. A square pit to mark
the founding of the law and the first punishments;
dowse the fosse of the mechanism…
You can feel it in the depth,
a tremor of conflict, a black stream redirected into
blind springs …
… Common sense dictates.
The slightly tangential hints as to a conspiratorial shadow state timelessly in operation surface again:
keeps builded light out of kilter with old notions
of harmony, they have deployed it now for bad reasons.
The use of the very Blakeian verb ‘builded’ is interesting here, evoking as it does the famous line from ‘Jerusalem’: ‘And was Jerusalem builded here/ Among these dark Satanic Mills?’ There is again, as in Eliot’s Four Quartets, a distinctly etymological sensibility preoccupied with place-names, as in one line which is literally a staccato list of locales: ‘Fort Monkton. The Gosport Redoubt. Southsea Castle’. A vaster footnote follows this poem which in part elucidates many of its allusions and themes – though it would seem that part of the ingenious conceit of many of Jordan’s footnotes is not so much to elucidate as further obfuscate metaphorical meanings (or rather, to add to them). ‘Farlington Redoubt’ is a direct continuation from the previous poem, referring again to
A thick tar of energy
from the black streams, it sticks like an oil spill,
is endlessly diluted by the passing vehicles and redirected
back into the hill along the remaining tunnels.
This seems to be in part suggesting a kind of symbiotic lifeblood or public consciousness of the local community filtered and reprocessed through secret subterranean alembics. This symbiosis with place is continually evoked:
girls and boys ran uphill to the crater left by the hurricane,
so children are still moved by these forces
like iron fillings on paper with a magnet underneath.
The last image perfectly captures, in a blinding metaphor, the thematic current running through Hegemonick of an underground power station which invisibly influences topographical phenomena and both physical and psychical atmospherics on the surface:
It builds up static as pollutants circulate along tunnels
where loss, grief, hatred and despair leak into the aquifer.
The hill sends power over radial spurs to far stations
to vitalise policies, deployments, broadcasts. It is still functioning,
a complete pentagram, although its outlying works have
been demolished, the orgone damped, the secret diminished.
The old ways blocked by dumped rubble. Ruined armouries
used as reservoirs for a darkness you can distil and deploy.
So we seem to be in the shadow of Manichean menace; but in this context, the hoary revelation that it was not a benevolent God but an artful demonic entity who created our world is transposed into the realisation that society is not constructed from collective common will but is architected outside of us by an invisible elite, establishment, or state: a hegemonic – as opposed to demonic – governmental demiurge. ‘Fort Southwick’ appears to be a topographical personification of the narrator’s ostensibly hallucinatory state:
intense activity over months forced
repressed psychic material into
the chalk. The place developed sentience.
They experimented with therapies.
This physiological wearing of a state-utilised, honeycombed landscape by the narrator grows more and more chilling in its mechanical descriptions of consciousness as a kind of construct tricked into believing it is natural, organic and autonomous, as the narrator personifies himself as the hollowed-out hill itself:
In laboratories cameras were installed to provide it
with eyes, so that it could see its therapist,
and microphones through which it could hear.
Cognitive and behavioural therapies were developed
to put the productive capacity of the entity to work.
Ingeniously, Jordan appears to be, in part, including a metaphorical polemic in our current government’s obsessional preoccupation with getting more and more incapacitated benefit claimants “back into work” via the brutally persistent Atos Work Capability Assessments.
In the fourth section, ‘The Paulsgrove Mystery’, what has been rapidly morphing into a kind of Swiftian nexus of psychical dissociation segued with mechanical experiment and visceral symbiosis begins to take a more Kafkaesque (or metamorphic) turn in ‘Fieldnotes: Fort Nelson’:
It seemed to me that the fort was like a toadstool
sunk low into the ground,
like something poisonous.
Steps down into the moat. No light –
a damp airy shadow – a depth south of the citadel
Turned left at the spiral staircase, I think
it went through a rampart called ‘consciousness’
A psychic dump, old
bricks and pipe
all mossie and dampe,
no time for tears:
The archaic spelling of ‘mossie’ and ‘dampe’ is interesting. The poet then reveals that this is was the state in which he found this location ‘at the end of the 70s,
mostly derelict and covered in graffiti. A haunted space
below an event horizon. A fort shimmering
on the column of a void.
‘Theory: The Self’ continues with the symbiotic merging of the mind, body, identity with man-made constructs of the landscape as ‘The psyche exists within affective walls’, and then the description of a derelict site with a ‘precinct’ of ‘timber structure’ at its centre ensues; and then we are told that within its ‘post holes’
This is where the self lurks,
holy mutant, craver, administerer of small things,
and addict swayed by sentiments, stupidly
vain host to thoughts, this dark interior.
The central area contained post holes and
a pit in the middle, perhaps used for libations.
The theme of being observed is again commented on by Jordan, this time in the footnote to the poem: ‘The environment represents absolute surveillance in that it registers our every action’ and that now Nature ‘groans beneath economic globalisation and we, the consumers, must embody the blame’. ‘Research: Hillsley Road 1978’ – which sounds like a report made by Mass Observation (the Orwellian-sounding social research organisation which used ‘volunteer observers’ to record data on social behaviours between 1937 and the mid-1960s, and whose founding alumni included such figures as film-maker Humphrey Jennings and poets William Empson, Charles Madge and Kathleen Raine) is, in a sense, a poem-survey of the social atmosphere of the year of the title, written in a nostalgic tone of a time which is nowadays commonly hyperbolised by conservative-revisionist historians (such as Dominic Sandbrook) as one of general decline, as touched on by Jordan:
There had been a period of
industrial unrest and on TV there were images
of uncollected rubbish and references to 'the unburied dead’.
But Jordan challenges this received conception of the late Seventies by flying in the face of the Tory-spun mythology of the notorious “winter of discontent” (a disingenuous one, since there was an even worse “winter of discontent” under one of their own governments, Ted Heath’s, in the early 70s). Jordan depicts the Seventies with a cussed nostalgia with which this reviewer strongly empathises:
An aura burned bright in Paulsgrove then –
redoubt of a collective spirit, stronghold
of redistribution – a future still seeming as if it were
underpinning the place
that had vanished elsewhere.
Then Jordan turns to prophecy in retrospect of the oncoming storm of Thatcherism and its gutting of working-class industry:
But already it was the place that propped up
yesterday’s 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.
Then follows what reads like a kind of industrial warning sign writ large in giant font; and in the footnote, this: ‘Certain geological features, especially fissures and the dead, can act as good conductors of sound…’. ‘Inside Mary Millington’ is ostensibly about the eponymous ‘hardcore porn star’, Britain’s first, who was ultimately driven to suicide by the blackmail of ‘corrupt police offers’ who exploited her ‘professional’ vulnerability for their own illicit sexual involvement with her. Jordan spells out her suicide note in a giant overlapping font:
The police have
framed me yet again.
They frighten me so
much. I can’t face
the thought of prison.
In the footnote, Jordan plays on the word ‘Framed’ in terms of Millington’s career of having her voluptuous nude body framed in the camera lens: ‘It means ‘made picturesque’’. This poem is one of the longest in the book, and one of the most polemically – not to say linguistically – loaded: ‘Gape cunt replica. It was put on display/ to make something invisible. Not like Mary’. Then a cross symbol appears to lead us to another figurative footnote: ‘She had been filled in. Spoil heaps placed over her. Her body like the lost tomb of a pharaoh. The State must control or destroy key nodes. Her cunt was neutralised and then buried’. Jordan’s full-on repetition of the word ‘cunt’ seems to be his way of confronting the misogynistic pincer-movement on Millington by consciously employing said visceral depersonalisation of a woman’s body as purely existing as a vessel for male pleasure. The poem then slightly discursively drifts back into the symbiotic personification of industrial constructs with talk of ‘portals’ – the description is frequently sexually suggestive: ‘you can see along the length of the oil fuel pipeline/ to the pumping station behind the North Star pub’ –and grows more explicitly so further on, with Mary Millington now merging metaphysically with the man-made landscape:
of her pretty cunt – a hooded mound – with the long building
of the Vosper shipyard way off below.
This visceral evocation becomes more and more graphic and startling:
I followed the path
through a tunnel entrance, below concrete, into
foggy greyscale. The authenticity of flesh.
you could taste her bloody ore on your tongue.
We have a trope which almost reads like a combination of Franz Kafka, William Burroughs (The Naked Lunch) and Jean-Claude Forest (Barbarella): ‘Engines to generate an orgasm’. This is, of course, no titillation, but, one senses, an emphasis on the inescapable human sexualisation of everything in the environment, even down to inanimate or derelict things. Then we get: ‘On the casing of her clitoris, a sign:’ with ‘Danger’ writ large in giant font underneath, followed by smaller block capitals stating ‘NO UNAUTHORISED PERSON TO/ TOUCH THIS SWITCHBOARD’. Phallic imagery surfaces with ‘The plume of your torch’; and then another erotic-metaphorical intra-exploration of industrial construct:
At the centre was a cavern as big as a cathedral,
with no supports, just a great big dome. The pumps
all gleaming green and red, with highly polished
brass and steel…
This continues into more visceral, seedier descriptive avenues, in ‘And Close to Qinetiq these Cults Persist’:
She was up against the wall outside the Portsdown Inn.
It looked like it must have hurt her back to keep
her pelvis in that position for so long. She was in a trance.
I doubt she remembered it.
And again there is a sense of emphasis on the unconscious interrelationship of sexuality and infancy (or pre-pubescence), or rather, of eroticism and innocence:
She looked from deep
within herself – she was a portal like
an infant’s soul – as if momentarily released.
Aspects of ‘magical thinking’, of obsessional compulsion even, echo in the first poem to ‘Part Five: Repetition’, ‘A Walk in Hegemony’:
I knew from the moment it began that my walk was not ordinary.
It had a ritual feeling about it, as if it were an act
of reckoning, or a pilgrimage. I did not know why.
Jordan speaks again of the mythologisation of the past when noting the local name of ‘the Royal Forest’:
This name persist on the map, as if the Ordnance Survey
were obliged to uphold an obscure tradition
hermetic information in sheets
Later, we get a bravura imagistic polemic on the architectural sterility of nouveau riche environments:
I passed the garish ranch style homesteads of the wealthy,
their expensive cars shining in arid drives lined
with tiny conifers. Unbroken sunlight. Lawns
that were too green, too flat. New-build
as out of a place as a Roman villa or Disney castle.
their cars swerving past me
as I walked in the road – the mute hostility.
And, again, this reviewer is reminded of Penda’s Fen with the following epiphany of a suddenly transformed landscape:
I stood at a field gate and saw as if in a revelation
an alignment of ancient features that I marked
on the map that I destroyed.
The poet doesn’t allow the commonplace human luxury of received thought or idea without a poet’s self-reproach, which - with the use of the occupying term 'colonisation' - also plays on the metaphorical schizophrenic sense of the psyche somehow being occupied by the thoughts and perceptions of others - the concept of psychic imperialism: ‘This episode exposed an act of literary colonisation’ – the line precedes a quote from one Alfred Watkins writing on an experience he had ‘riding across the hills to Bredwardine’. Polemical aphorisms sprout thick and fast on the landscape of this poem:
This is the nature of the land.
Abstraction underpinning sentiment.
Sentiment a tree planted before a factory in which
short-term returns define a sense of history, or self knowing,
made into the commodity now called heritage.
Shades of a staccato Eliot crop up again, particularly echoing such poems as ‘Journey of the Magi’, with almost mantra-like repetitions of ‘city’:
This is the furthest rim of the city.
It defines the heart of the city. This is where the city is found.
This is what we have come to.
Then we return to the conspiracy-laced poetic: ‘I was due north of the research facility now called Qinetiq’; and further passages which have the Eliotonian tug of some sort of psychical pilgrimage:
I had this in my mind, became afraid
of what was in the ground, felt a fear of corpses,
of the unexploded shell of my body
containing – as it does – a self that is alien
to the earth as any human being.
And then a return to the being observed leitmotiv of the poem and the book as a whole, in a phantasmagorical, beautifully composed series of lines:
There was a man watching me from a distance, unsure.
He saw how the moon had become filled with malign
significance, sought to decant its curses solely
into his life, magnetic attraction, a hate campaign
to focus this disk of light carefully on one so blameless –
the idyll, the past – a reservoir of hate
which people enact now in everyday life.
For some reason this last verse very much encapsulates to this reviewer the red-top-whipped claimant-baiting ‘big blue-rinse society’ of “shut curtains” and neighbourly espionage. But never content with staying too long at only one or two dialectical levels, Jordan swerves back to elemental Manichaeism and what might be broadly termed a Druidic sensibility:
He stood shocked in the light
Of the poisonous moon, this spectral intelligence,
A lump of dead rock in space, a screen
Upon which to project sentiments
For a species that hates nature
And that idealises nature.
The map tilted to this sickly glow.
A thick band of blood ran suddenly across the landscape.
When I went into a pub
To wash the blood off my hands
There was a single puncture mark.
This has left a scar like a full stop;
Just beneath the skin, a fleck of rust.
It responds to magnets. In my hand each August
I can feel the rising of the harvest moon.
The mention of ‘magnets’ again links back to the ‘forces/ like iron fillings on paper with a magnet underneath’ of ‘Blind Springs’. Magnetic forces are indeed a great metaphor for the unseen underground workings mysteriously governing the movements of the surface of society with their subterranean gravitational pull – and we are also reminded again of James Tilly Matthews and those thought-implanting air waves generated by the ‘Air Loom’.
‘A Walk in Hegemony’ might very well cement itself into wider – that is, beyond this reviewer – critical perspective as a ‘Journey of the Magi’ of the early 21st century. Like most of the poems in Hegemonick, it could more than justify a full critical essay in its own right – such is the challenge of attempting to get to grips with this extraordinary volume as a whole. ‘Some Photographs’ has some striking descriptions, such as of two people snapped in a photo ‘leaning forward,/ as if running into a gale’. The poet documents his album of pictures with clinical proficiency which bespeaks of perceived significance: ‘I wrote ‘Portsdown Hill Spontaneous Picnic,/ June 78, Hants’’.
For Jordan, the camera, and its captured frames of metaphysical emptiness, never lies: ‘In the photographs of the picnic in June I see that I am smiling,/ But this concealed a vacancy within’. Is this ‘vacancy within’ another metaphor for the hollowed-out underneath of this locality? The symbiosis of landscape and psyche is graphically present in terms of symbolisms and descriptions, as is the almost out-of-body, schizophrenic perspective: ‘a remote landscape that is so far below us/ it seems dissociated’ – perhaps the landscape here represents the body? A sense of floating, of being suspended in air, or time, is caught serendipitously through a tilted lens: ‘Our feet are not visible, we are adrift in a white featureless sky’. This poem then closes, again, on Manichaean imagery:
It is strange that, despite the adventurous spirit
of some people in our group,
nobody approached this portal. We were
just outside the underworld
and a darkness was already upon us;
a vast demon stalks the hill,
it leans invisibly into these pictures
and we waited outside an entrance
like the victims of a sacrifice
ready for our purpose to be fulfilled.
‘Around Another Sun’ projects an intra-telescopic lens ostensibly suggesting that our world and the universe is one of infinitely encapsulating Russian dolls, and any seepage ‘might form vapours
around a planet, robing Venus in mystery, making
rings around Saturn. At the centre of this earth, the sun.
Around this sun there is an earth circling. The same seas
… And this earth is hollow,
it too has a smaller sun at its centre.
One almost thinks of lines on Xanadu from Coleridge’s unfinished ‘Kubla Khan’ at this juncture: ‘Where Ralph the ancient river ran/ In caverns measureless to man/ Down to a sunless sea’. The poem then comes over more John Wyndham as Jordan writes of his ‘interest in the movements of lights/ in the night sky’, ‘revived’ circa 1978. ‘The Repetition and The Source of Love’ marks another series of small aphorismic explosions, beginning:
There is no collective past. Memory is a vulnerability.
It makes identity contingent upon the ideas of the imagination
Which are faint and obscure. Meaning derives.
Events, perceptions and memories work differently
And project different futures.
If that’s not too disorienting, we then get:
The tree, which had formed over centuries, ring
Upon ring, was rent by explosions. It was as if tensions fuelled
Flames that only appeared to feed on wood.
Jordan’s deeply parabolic poetic, necessarily ambiguous – as all of the more profound aphorisms in history – can at times be considered more abstruse than simply ambiguous; however, it seems meta-textually appropriate, in a sense, to approach a polemic on – in part – the obscurantist antics of a subterranean state with at least ostensible metaphorical obscurantism. But these aspects to Hegemonick aside, the lucid and sometimes musical character of the surface poetry itself carries the reader along, even if full comprehension of meaning is in part clouded.
The detectable but healthy tonal ‘paranoia’ of the narrative hits again on the notion of being observed, of surveillance, and in this particular passage, taps into the previously mentioned ‘Mass Observation’ activities:
Eventually the car returned, slowing to a crawl
as it passed us, its occupants staring hard,
as if to memorise
for a report.
Not only David Rudkin’s Penda’s Fen, but also Troy Kennedy Martin’s Edge of Darkness (dramatised 1985) seems to have played some part in the textual mutations of Hegemonick. More in Rudkin’s vein, another aphorism posits a sublime notion of symbolism, that is, the semiotic representation of an existent thing being itself of equal if not greater importance than the thing itself: ‘For me, the tree was reduced by flames/ to a symbol. It represents, having once only existed’. Note 'only'. The rest of this poem appears to be recounting a friend’s (‘Dez’’s) hallucinatory experience after taking some sort of narcotic, or what might be more succinctly termed, ‘a bad trip’:
He became erratic in his movements – frustrated
and consumed by grief about the thought
that he could not recollect.
Say the same thing again, say it,
you said it, you just said it,
say the same thing again, say it.
Jordan’s descriptions of suburban blandness, as he and Dez hallucinate their way home in the night – ‘the blank frontages of homes’ – grows more phantasmagorical and, again, Manichean:
The dark well of the gardens with their outlandish trees;
at the heart of this settlement a darkness
we guarded. A watchful emptiness within.
A perimeter we patrolled.
When I had exhausted him and the mania had subsided
I left him sleeping in his bed. It was
just before sunrise when I walked past the crematorium.
I was pursued by demons. I can recall
dark shapes that flitted around me
as if I had been worn thin
like an icon and they knew me to be weak.
Finally we converge on the sixth part of the book, ‘How the Last of the Light is Held’, which begins with ‘Marsh Gas Incendiaries’ (another title which has that early Eighties industrial electronic tilt to it, as much contemporary modernist poems, and could well have been that of an OMD B-side circa 1980-81). This poem once more employs a conscious synergy of industrial and occulting terminology – and almost hallucinogenic symbolisms – in order to re-emphasize the mythological character of our flimsily secular contemporary society:
The sub-control points were arranged in alignments
with the entrance of a fiery underworld; most of which
still exists though the bunkers are derelict and overgrown.
Then Jordan seems to progress further into occult motifs, such as Tibetan Buddhist tulpa or thought-forms, seemingly three-dimensional solid images or objects apparently willed into existence through disciplined mental projection – though here Jordan’s meaning seems to be a metaphorical comment on subjective perception:
A thought, carefully expressed, can shape space making
a topography others might observe.
The eye, a shaping organ.
To each, the product of their gaze.
In any act of rapture the watcher is vulnerable.
This knowledge – new at the time – has since enabled planners
To make decisions for civilian populations, drawing them
Along a line over a barrow in a field
That you can see from the road,
And over modern politics.
This sublime then seeps effortlessly into metaphorical polemic on the mass delusion, or involuntary ventriloquism that is contemporary democracy:
An enclosure, once a Parliament. They said the people
of this country were represented here,
like a film projected onto a screen,
the people were enacted by those who managed them.
A shamanic hand that
crushes what it personates.
They felt nothing of the dream they had entered.
A city, shifting, creates no turbulence.
Jordan’s polemic then seems to shift to the politics of semantics, to memes (culturally germinated behaviours or ideas) and their indoctrination of the public consciousness (think in today’s terms of the “scrounger” meme perpetuated in every right-wing red-top tabloid, as an example of this):
Perception makes the ground solid according to
the rules of a vocabulary, a system of rehearsals repeated
endlessly to confirm the position of stars that will guide you
back, a series of repeated actions leading to nullity.
Nature absorbs us. My heart is a layer of organic material
just below the present ground level. The natural order
is something we comply with and governance
has responded to this, employing unconscious processes
to lead us into a point of view or behaviour.
Thus we have become consumers, mimicking nature,
absorbing things. The Q-Decoy site rehearsed the mall.
It looks like what we think it is and that is all.
That last rhyming couplet is particularly striking. Following an image of natural double-obfuscation in ‘grotesque shadows of smoke on the mist below’, the next stanza pulses with an implicit solipsism:
The whole machinery of the self
builds an environment it can recognise, a process which
consciousness cannot observe. The essence of
the self is arcane, knowing only memory and rehearsal, it is
the largest and most sophisticated decoy ever built.
But a decoy from what? Or whom? Ourselves as observers? Or others as observed? Then we have a sense of unreality, or virtual reality, or human perception as a smokescreen, a filter, and our physical environments spontaneously inventing themselves to delude us into believing they embody anything more than merely synthetic verisimilitude – the smoke and mirror film set masterminded by a demiurge:
A fog over the rooftops to hold the glow of fires in buildings.
A phantom town hall in the marshes.
A string of structures, mainly in the north
of Langstone harbour, to mimic the effect
of light shining through chinks in doors and windows.
This goes beyond Christopher Caudwell’s dialectical materialist treatise Illusion and Reality: we are in the nothing-is-quite-what-it-seems realms of Jordan’s poetic existential treatise, Illusion OF Reality. Focusing purely on the surface for a moment, Jordan has a singular capacity at making industrial terminology sound almost breathtakingly poetic:
In the Grid Fire paraffin was continuously sprinkled
onto a hot metal grid to which was attached wire waste
and metal turnings – scrap from the fuselage of a Dornier
to attract them with a likeness, hot metal in the heart to
kindle a passion – and she was there too, in his thoughts
to haunt him later, when his force was spent. This burning
with a vivid yellow flame.
This reviewer hasn’t a clue what the poet is writing about here; but it sounds beguiling. The meta-textual melding together of derelict industrial imagery, mythological, biblical and Classical allusion, existential neurosis and secular dissociation and dislocation from one’s once-natural, now partly artificial environment, draws obvious and justifiable comparisons with The Wasteland; and certainly, if any long poem of today – and Hegemonick is, in spite of its six sections and individually titled parts, intended as a long narrative poetic work – comes close to echoing or re-evoking that blasted, apocalyptic atmosphere of Eliot’s avant-garde Grand Giugnol of Nietzschean – seemingly atheistic but actually not – anxiety, then this reviewer would say it is most likely Hegemonick (over and above various contenders, or pretenders, of recent years). Like Eliot, Jordan employs the aphorism of the disinherited godless prophet through a continual jar and clash of secular and religiose phraseology – ‘Hell-fires, the opium of warriors’ – and almost hallucinogenic Vorticism. Jordan’s vision is of a continually reshaping landscape, becoming more and more an impression of itself:
And so there were mass attacks on a mirage
conjured from a bunker
about 600 yards away –
this fortress at the edge of an imaginary city
…. how it sat at the edge of England, increasingly imagined,
It was an inferior copy of the real one.
‘Three’ appears to return us to the scenario of narrator-‘patient’ with all-invasive Mother Earth-like female therapist – and possibly the title to this poem alludes in part to the three-faced moon goddess excavated in Robert Graves’ The White Goddess and James Frazer’s The Golden Bough:
She had been living with the beast, her physical shell
trapped in an enchantment, her body made
to move according to programmed codes,
perverse instructions. It had wanted her soul.
This time, however, the roles appear to be reversing:
They had rented a house for her just behind Portsdown Hill
… You could see the transmitters
on the hill from there and feel the broadcasts.
He had been inside her head, touching things.
Even when the experiment had ended
He kept the loop running, added new data.
He was at the centre of the conspiracy, had
children in closely guarded bunkers, had a front story
that he was a therapist, working with
The poem becomes more and more phantasmagorical:
The creature had fascinated her but
Children had bothered them in the night.
There was singing in the woods
and high-pitched cries, the blur of
a face at the window.
The chalk children, I said
it was the chalk children.
They looked at my hypnotherapist, judging her darkly, thinking
how best to kill her or
should she be killed,
or was she one of us?
This instantly became their latest fascination.
The poem then seems to mutate into the narrator’s own observational scrutiny of the analytical attempts of the therapist:
You have constructed a narrative
based on three concentric circles, she said,
these are the walls of Your Fortress Amnesia.
The outlying earthworks of the original defensive complex
are now levelled in the main, although
they are visible close to the river, a vallum
to delineate a fictional narrative, this most strong
urge to communism – an act of nature
in which the young although bewildered
and greatly abused will throw off the notion
of the bourgeois centred subject to express
personhood through the narratives of the tribe.
These lines bring to mind Shelley’s phrase ‘Children of a wiser day’ (The Mask of Anarchy); or even Angela Carter’s Wise Children; there’s a psychical purgative at work here, of the savage innocents putting the corrupt, topsy-turvy world to rights, no matter how violently – it’s fundamentally a Blakeian anarchy, a milk-letting:
… place and all other indications
of identity will be wiped away by children
is analogous to the child’s exploration
of the human body, its own and other people’s.
As the poem tumbles on, one is drawn into a Jungian jungle of shadowy symbolisms, and Freudian id-like leitmotivs of ‘children’ as embodiments of an instinctive, amoral form of innocence which might, among adults, be termed ‘psychosis’ (R.D. Laing is vital to explore in this regard):
Death made fast the horizon from under which
children still peep. There are beast fights
and other entertainments involving heroes, sinners
and saints who loom large within the childish psyche.
An Imperium is formed which the insurrection
will dismember, bit by bit, brick by brick,
death by death, as ants will dismember the remains
of a bird that has fallen from the sky
without needing to understand the engineering,
of feather, muscle, bone or the physics or fact of flight.
This last trope echoes Keats’s concept of ‘Negative Capability’: ‘when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. Yet Jordan’s impulsion - or so it appears - as a poet is very much to understand and get underneath the ‘engineering’ of everything, of human environment, of reality itself. Perhaps this ‘child’ to whom the poet keeps alluding is a reference in part to Nietzsche’s construct, the wholly free and impulsive state of innocence which was the projected synthesis of his dialectical aphorism of the ‘The Camel, the Lion and the Child’, that is to say, of the ‘morally burdened’ (thesis), the ‘moral rebel’ (antithesis) who throws off the burden, and the reconstituted ‘innocent’ (synthesis) who is finally free from the manacles of morality?
This is the child as it was defended
early on. Then it was overrun and pushed back
into the last redoubt, where it withdrew
under the ground, connecting to other children
via a system of tunnels that adults could not enter.
Then came industrialisation and the mass abuse of children
as it occurred in the late modern period.
Then children burned their parents and their teachers,
they slipped social workers
from their skin…
And so this extraordinary poem continues, at one point hitting on what may or may not be interpreted as the poet’s attempt to define – aphoristically, of course – the umbrella eye-neologism of the title: ‘Hegemonick. The bull artefact. The Law retreating to/ sub-cortical areas to detect coincidence’. ‘Sub-cortical’ refers to the brainstem; but what precisely is meant by ‘the bull artefact’ is open to speculation, though this writer suspects some sort of allusion to Zeus, the Greek god who often metamorphosed into animals to seduce mortal females, mostly memorably as a bull (or possibly an allusion to the Cretan Minotaur myth, and all the Freudian meta-textual phantasmagoria associated with 'The Labyrinth' in which it is kept; indeed, the warrens and tunnels of the secret underground installations under Portsdown might well be symbolised as a kind of - sub-earth thus sub-conscious - labyrinth).
Then we come to (technically) the last poem in the volume, ‘How the Last of the Light is Held’. Here Jordan seems to be in more detectably polemical mode again with a graphically composed comment on tabloid-spun ‘moral panic’ of the like which generates social scapegoats, bogeymen or ‘folk devils’, forms of Jungian ‘shadow-projections’ which take shape and germinate in the public consciousness to a hyperbolic ubiquity; but more specifically, Jordan is referring here to the very real ‘paedophile purges’ which erupted in Portsmouth’s Paulsgrove estate in 2001 following the ‘naming and shaming’ of known paedophiles by the News of the World:
The paedophile riots in Paulsgrove erupted
via a deep underground fault which vented
directly into the national media. Qinetiq operatives
were on bonus payments for weeks. Journalists
with dodgy images on their laptops
bought drinks for vigilantes, suggested scenarios,
mythologised what was already mythic, and provocateurs
whispered names, described intimate touching in the park,
set up their gear in advance and waited.
The estate developed a personality, it was a celebrity teenager
who liked to self harm on camera. Children
learned the hard way how to abuse themselves, speak
filth to strangers. They shouted 'Kill, Kill, Kill’.
Then it all went quiet.
The stories were withdrawn. Shadows drained
back into the ground and one morning the estate woke up
to sunlight. It was as if there had been a storm in the night,
an act of nature, that nobody could properly remember.
Like a child haunted by a nightmare,
the neighbourhood looked over its shoulder.
Later the citadel was on fire.
Youths had gathered,
as on any other night
they gathered outside the shops.
Then another stark, eerie image of the ‘chalk children’, who seem to be a kind of Golding-esque juvenile retributive vigilante group armed with sharp flints skulking inside ‘Paulsgrove House air raid shelter’: ‘Inside there were a few of the chalk children, naked/ or dressed in dusty rags, nothing unusual’. On an aesthetic note, there’s a beautiful alliterative flourish in the following stanza:
And then yachts moored in the marina at Port Solent
were set adrift in flames. From the slopes of the hill
they could be seen drifting before the Vosper shipyard.
The conflagration of mass infant anarchy grows more and more apocalyptic through the course of the poem:
So we climbed from the old air raid shelter
and followed a path beneath the line of pylons along the hillside
to the east, hearing a chanting that grew louder and already
the first automatic fire from the compound above.
A helicopter flew from west to east below us,
just above the level of the rooftops of the estate,
we thought it was an air-sea rescue chopper
with no weaponry, just a crew gaping out into
a world renewed by fire and the violence of children.
There were revenge killings—teachers, social workers
and frontline healthcare staff were killed
as a form of play, as a means of healthy socialisation.
Finally the children destroy the industrial constructs of the locality, the ‘henges of hegemony’ if you will: ‘And then the image of the grey transmitter tower engulfed/ in bright petroleum flames…’. Then we come to a sort of juvenile subversion of the Creation of Adam with the resurrection of a killed child:
We saw him rise and coat himself with dust.
And then one by one they embraced him.
The poem – and the book proper – closes on a lingering, infernal image:
And fiery pits opened up
and the engines deep in the earth burned.
Phew! Then follow three more pages of footnotes titled, in the nature of the theme, ‘Devices Found’. Jordan here provides an elucidation of his ‘eye-neologism’ via a related quote which reveals that actually the word is more an eye-archaism, first coined in 1656, though we are not told by whom:
The idea of hegemony is "... especially important in societies in which electoral politics and public opinion are significant factors, and in which social practice is seen to depend on consent..."
"From 1567 there is Aegemonie or Sufferaigntie of things growing upon ye earth, and from 1656 'the Supream or Hegemonick part of the Soul'. Hegemonic, especially, continued in this sense of predominant' or 'master principle'."
Keywords, Raymond Williams
(Fontana Press, London 1988, pp. 144-145)
Clearly these ‘Devices Found’ footnotes are a part of the thematic meta-textual structure of the book as a whole, as indicated in the very Tilly Matthews-esque elucidation of the ‘Bull Artefact’:
The Bull Artefact is a cognitive prosthetic device. It serves as an interface, creating analogue neurones to mirror processes in the brain. It allows the predator to match and mimic the brain functions of a victim or group of victims, transmitting thoughts and altering thoughts in ways the brain cannot detect. The device creates a cloud within which neural pathways form, connecting one subject with another via ontological functions sensed as 'belonging'. The device operates in sublinguistic regions, using imagery. The device creates dependency in its victims who become loyal to what they experience as a deep and previously hidden aspect of themselves. When the functions of the device are withdrawn the subject exhibits symptoms of distress, including sadness and depression. The Bull Artefact is housed in a unit referred to as The Maritime Integration and Support Centre (MISC). It purports to be a radar testing facility. Artefact inscription: this poem 'The Predatory Auntie' was induced by the Bull Artefact.
And just when the reader may not expect things to get more cryptic, disorienting and out-and-out bizarre, we find on the final page of the book what seems to be a continuation of the footnotes, which include within it an intra-footnote poem, which is a beguilingly weird lyric in its own right:
Ode to Oblivion
Device located in notebook dated 1978. Device is a hypnopomp or example of nulled hypnopompic speech. A force defined by its effects, it consists of desires once suppressed by the mechanism itself. Currently inactive or stilled. Function unknown.
Ode to Oblivion
Oh to choose to move slowly now, to
fall into oblivion
anchored freely by the wind and find
the land is slightly thin
forever shadow find your home and
see to much you can
Device reveals subject to be predisposed to False Landscape Syndrome (FLS), a condition in which a person's identity and relationships are affected by beliefs pertaining to the nature of landscapes and the construction of'places'in terms of their histories, physical structure and social, economic and political functions.
"At different scales, spatial relationships can be said to mask, naturalise or mystify contradictions either between social groups with different interests or between the forces and relations of production." Source unknown
"Inasmuch as adolescents are unable to challenge either the dominant system's imperious architecture or its deployment of signs, it is only by way of revolt that they have any prospect of recovering the world of differences—the natural, the sensory/sensual, sexuality and pleasure."
Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space
(English translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Blackwell, 1991), p. 50.
And so concludes this deeply complex, almost unfathomable, supremely conceptual, fragmented book-length poem which seems to be a combination of (distinctly Swiftian – re Gulliver’s Travels) satirical narrative, meta-treatise on sexuality and sexualisation, poetic conspiracy thriller-cum-macrocosmic polemic; an ostensibly discursive but detectably logical dialectical verse-novel which is ingeniously organised into its own intra-textual references, codes and cartographical instructions, a sort of psychical orienteering outing with amorphous map and compass; a richly allusive, sometimes cryptic, and encrypted poetry that, in spite of its hugely ambitious conceptual leaps and conceits, carries the attention of the reader through the sheer prosodic accomplishment and imaginative use of image and phrase that spring from the legerdemain of Jordan’s inspired and utterly absorbing poetic vision.
As with Jordan’s previous volume, Bonehead’s Utopia (Smokestack), Hegemonick is an absolute must-read for any keen reader of contemporary modernist experimental poetry, and will well, too, serve as a truly revelatory alternative to the far more linear conventions of mainstream verse; compared with which, Hegemonick reads almost as if composed in a parallel universe – only, of course, it is not, it is our universe, as experienced externally and internally, but at a further – at times, extreme – tilt (a ‘tilting at pylons’ if you like). This is a volume which simply screams out to the reader to keep revisiting it, not only to continue trying to fathom and decode its multi-layered conceptual complexities and polemics, but also to re-experience the brilliantly accomplished cadence of its Eliot-esque blank verse. It almost sounds cheap and commercial to say it, but this book comes highly recommended.
Alan Morrison © 2013