A review of Hegemonick by Alan Dent
From Mistress Quickly's Bed, issue
4, Summer 2013
100 Waterloo Road, Preston PR2 1EP
Andrew Jordan's Hegemonick, Shearsman ISBN 978-1-84861-220-4, is unlike much being published. His Bonehead's Utopia, reviewed in this magazine, was excellent: a focused, clear and memorable exploration of the cruelty of the institutions where we put those we prefer to forget about. This book is quite different: a long poem which ranges over much territory, but is anchored by its questioning of the way we are watched, controlled and corralled to conformity. The poem is focused on Paulsgrove and locations close it, and Qinetiq and by implication companies like it. The mood of the poem is essential (sic) dark and suspicious; it evokes the world of secrecy and surveillance and the paranoia which accompanies them. The writing in Jordan's previous collection was secure. Most of the piece (sic) in that book were short. There is a very big difference between writing a thirty-line poem and a book-length one. A short poem is a unit of energy so the writing needs to be good enough to hold that energy and direct it; but a long poem needs propulsion. It's like a river and some powerful source must be driving its flow. I think Jordan writes in this book very much as if he were writing short poems and that creates a friction. From the first line of a long poem, you have to anticipate a significant journey. Think of Whitman. He begins with lines which open out, which suggest broad vistas and rolling contemplations. The style of modern poetry isn't like this: it is designed for the short poem. Long poems need tendrils to reach and find something to cling to; they have to grow, and like a clematis making its way up a wall, they have to send out something that gains a bit of purchase before they can shoot forwards. It's also characteristic of much modern poetry that it doesn't stray too far from prose. Modern poems tend not to begin with lines which echo "O that this too, too solid flesh would melt" or even "My love is like a red, red rose." They have too much emotional charge and imply a confident selfhood in which modern poetry has lost faith. The prose-like style of much modern poetry is also a prosaic sense of being. A lot of the writing here is what you would expect from a short poem in the modern mode. The problem is, that as you read you're aware that the lines have to carry forward or refer back over pages and pages. There is a fatal disjuncture between the unit of energy of the short poem and the drive needed in a long poem. Perhaps some of the sections of this book work best if you read them as self-contained, and there's no reason why not. Jordan certainly can invoke the alienating force of power and the overriding theme of the work is the "manufacture of consent", that creepy sense modern life is permeated by that we are being serviced and duped. One section of the poem deals with Mary Millington, the porn star. Jordan writes: She embodied freedom without, politics/and that was why she had to die. I'm not sure if this is intended ironically but in a footnote he says: "In being a revolutionary without conceit she was unique." I'm puzzled as to how a porn star can be a revolutionary or how she can embody freedom. Pornimagery seems to me to embody the exploitation of capitalism at its most crude and cruel. It's produced for money and only for money. Everyone involved is in it for the money and without that, it wouldn't exist. I can't think of anything which represents more fully the degradation of human relations to mere cash transaction. Just what Jordan is getting at in the section I'm not sure, but the suggestion of a celebration of pornimagery seemed incongruous to me in a work whose essential thrust is in opposition to dehumanisation and alienation.