Cordite Books, 2023
Truth is, I don’t understand Secret Third Thing. There’s an elusiveness to the language, an uncanny and yet discombobulating common uncommonness that, for me, harks back to bongs with your mate’s dad in back sheds; to beach days when pulling grocery bags from grey sand was as good as finding jellyfish; to nicking twenty bux from your mum so you can buy a goon sack and swing it to a Hills Hoist and go all goose-eyed and star-swilling. A reckless contemplation of pending doom, perhaps—uncomfortable as it may be, and getting more uncomfortable by the second. So uncomfortable at times that the joke no longer sticks, and it’s just the woeful impossibility of staring down the apocalypse with a bunch of words falling from your pockets like lit dollars making us dance. Deer lights, printed emojis, ‘sad ropes for arms’, and some dude selling a suitcase. The thing is so distracting, I too want Indensifies to be a word. [Who can we pay to make this happen?]
In the introduction, Hogan talks about wanting to untie the alchemy of language, of learning that language ‘can be a resource when cornered by the traps and trappings of labouring under capitalism.’ For me, every line has a certain 6-Jim-Beams-deep bogan aesthetic that not only speaks my language but tells me to fuck off at the same time. The words deny my desire to consume, to assimilate them into a game of capital. Hogan calls it an argot; I call it labour arcing up from the sideline, screaming diatribes like keep ya consciousness, boxhead. That, or:
Be the counterfeit of the premeditated
argot you want to see in the world / Rupture
this / Rupture that / A Circle
[Nup—still don’t get it… what’s getting it anyway? There’s something beautifully elusive about the way it all slips through your hands.] Hogan’s work refuses corners. Refuses to be the object. It doesn’t dance when you open the box. It’s a living thing that hurts the longer you look; there’s labour in the object, labour in the craft, labour in the consumption. No spoilers, but it seems to me that language is the secret third thing on a very basic level: the agent of capital, and the bastard that can yank us out of the wreckage. The little red tractor that Hogan brings up in their intro. It’s little wonder then to me that this book is published by Cordite, who’ve backed a whole cohort of poets and writers doing whacky things with language, many of whom self-describe as Marxists. People like Harry Reid, The Snack Syndicate (Andrew Brooks and Astrid Lorange), Elena Gomez and Gareth Morgan are just a few that spring to mind. Undoubtedly, they’re part of a bigger movement, as well, with so many brilliant poets published in Cordite Poetry Review’s recent Pop! edition speaking directly and indirectly to class politics in Australia right now.
The first thing I want to say is that I’m glad we’ve started this conversation by talking about a lack of understanding. Secret Third Thing isn’t a book that can be ‘understood’. It’s not a ‘thing’ really either. It’s an event, a tangle of provocations, a playlist of frustration and queer resistance reconfigured as dark humour (or vice versa). As you say, it refuses to be an object.
The second thing that comes to mind is how weird it is that we’re using the epistolary form in response to a book so intensely (indensely?) grounded in the present. I mean, even using the word ‘epistolary’ feels wrong. Should we be texting? Sending each other memes? In fact, me saying this is probably an indication of how generationally-shaped any reader’s response will be to this book. Which is not to say Gen-Xers like me won’t ‘get it’. Anyone awake (and online), I think, will feel a shiver of recognition at how piercing these poems capture the psychology of living in this present, the sense of being cornered by crises and needing to carve out some kind of human space. Which sounds serious. And it is. But it’s also, often, wincingly, weirdly funny.
The poems that I loved the most here are the ones that are more focused, where Hogan keeps digging (not in a straight line, of course, in either sense, but deeper, persistent). ‘No Alarms’ has the feel of a landslide of sarcastic, ironic and witty aphorisms. ‘It’s always home time somewhere / but don’t tell anyone’. ‘Misery during the work shirt / donning process’. ‘The best part of being stuck in traffic / on your way home from work is being late to the work you have to do / for work after work’. Ouch. Indeed.
‘Creepypasta’ satirises the welfare state’s machinic interface with all the acid absurdity it deserves. ‘if you’re calling about something else, say ‘something else’. // Restrictions are easing but capital is not’. And ‘Non-binary as in’ is one of the smartest, most compelling poems on the subject I’ve read. ‘Not non-binary as in androgynous but a deliberate / pluralisation of holes. Remember: capture comes quicker to the rabbit who prepares only one tunnel’. ‘My gender is the bird with feathers on the inside / and crowbars on the outside’.
On the other hand, I didn’t know what to make of ‘Onceability’, ‘Foiseach’ and the ‘selling a large suitcase’ series of poems. Which isn’t to say they’re not successful. Only that they remind me that while poetry is always (I think) a linguistic artform that foregrounds human connection, such connections are rarely straightforward or unbroken. We certainly aren’t.
You mention the epistolary, which has gotten me thinking about the form of this… Or, perhaps, more broadly, form informing form informing form… [me-meta, huh?] I agree with you when you write that this collection so vividly captures the psychology of living in the present… Yesterday, I skipped out on *most* of a University Union rally so that I could write this. I couldn’t get the little tractor out of my head… I failed… The university is dragging their heels like I find myself dragging this out… Right now, I’m squatting over a shitty salad I made days ago, scribbling between an argument with someone on Marketplace, trying to work out if the $150 I’ve been offered for a piece that took me three months to write is money in the bank… bank rolled… should I accept the judging gig? Is the university a safe bed? Is everyone else neck-deep in tax repayments? Why am I so worried about dying of preventable diseases? Should I buy the book at the launch, or eat lunch tomorrow? Should we
stay till the end? A sausage roll like the credits roll. Sorry
for torching Notre Dame, it just looked so sexy on fire. The flame
emoji is depicted as a flame, the kind produced when something is
on fire. You say it as if the automatic door acts on instinct and not
The colossal win-over of the collection is that it makes you not want to do the assignment. Instead, I want to throw a tantrum… I’m sick of the illogicalness of poetry… I’m sick of its inability to both see and do at the same time… I want more lines like ‘The night is a line where memory are data packets’. I think Hogan is trying to say that the aside is the centre… I’m distracted… The world feels peripheral… so does this collection… I pick up the book, read one line and am depressed at angles. Like, what more can I say that ‘Oceanability’ hasn’t? Did it actually say anything? I like these poems ‘cause they don’t even seem to warrant a participation award.
In ‘We’re processing your direct debit’ Hogan writes, ‘it’s coldest in high definition, loudest in standard. Trumpet like a mop along linoleum before it’s too late.’ I feel like the mop, like the trumpet. Maybe I’m just having a bad week. I have 32 dollars so I’m free to grieve the dead.
You mention the dig… sometimes I wonder if the dig is distraction, as well. That immobility manifest in the capital C craft. How can anyone make poetry under labour that isn’t anything other than the sum of its part flexing? Dan Hogan seems so good at ‘craft’ [should this be max caps?] that there’s an artful slacking off.
I agree with you, in that I also like the poems where Hogan seems to be unfurling. But, similarly, I adore the poems where everything is static and near-to untranslatable (at least, intention wise, I suppose)… where the assignment is ignored… the suitcase saga is stuck in a loop… it starts absurd—remains there… the rat in the wheel made out of razorblades… sheer existence is ridiculous… To think we’re escalating gives us extra time to opt out… the time is nigh!… the apocalypse has been meme-fied… the person with the suitcase ends up at the Olympics as all good nights out do… it’s a blurring vision of a world exactly like ours… mystified, hyperbolic, indulgent, sad and largely non-eventful…
It feels like late afternoons when I leave The Muskeg but is not
late afternoon. Instead, it is the kind of Christmas that follows the
Every day like an unidentified flying sale pitch… A nondescript tagline… Some season of sales coming… Hogan’s power is in weaponising the slacking… it doesn’t always have to be poetic… poetry has a bad habit of making end-times bucolic… instead… ‘It begins with a petition to rename the void / Voidy McVoidface’ …
In all honesty, I’ve got to finish this… [is it good enough???]… too many unanswered emails… an unchecked WhatsApp Union group… a meeting scheduled between me and sleep… some brief note not to shit myself… No wait! The person I’m meeting in 15 minutes is late… they started weeding… such is live laugh love the system… ‘I’m not a cyborg yet//… Unless’ …
It’s not clever, but who wants to be, now days?
I saw what you did. Kicking the purple heads
Say what you will, I feel seen [even if I still don’t get it].
Well, Secret Third Thing really seems to have possessed you. It penetrated me, too, though differently. Apart from its barbed, slippery originality (yes a poem can embody contradictory tactilities), what the book encouraged me to think is that there is a particular contemporary mode of writing emerging, one I’m starting to think of as Precarity Aesthetics.
I’m still working it out, and maybe it’s always going to be an incomplete, evolving theory, but Precarity Aesthetics seems to be written in the shadow of climate crisis, the glitches of attention in our online–IRL lives, financial and housing precarity, the isolation of disability and trauma, nationalism and tribalism. I could go on. I can’t go on. I must go on. The sort of language we were using in our poetry in the past, even in 2015, seems not to quite cut it now. Or so it feels anyway. Disruption, contingency, despair, dark momentary joy, the impairment of the future, all seem to rub up against each other in such poems. I’ll elaborate another time. But Dan Hogan is part of this, doing something that reflects the times, painfully, but resists them at the same time, finding in their readers a resonating hum that might rouse us to continue, together.
I could also just point readers to Hogan’s own words—quippy, ironic and totally serious—in the poem ‘Condition Report_final_FINAL2_updated_FIANAL’.
Path to monstrosity? Yes please. Consider this
extra task part of your professional development. I believe
in an interventionist Santa. Mutation? I’ll shout ya a scratchie.
I mean, someone has to win, don’t they?
Andy Jackson is a poet, creative writing teacher, and a Patron of Writers Victoria. He was the inaugural Writing the Future of Health Fellow, and has co-edited disability-themed issues of Southerly and Australian Poetry Journal. Andy’s latest poetry collection is Human Looking, which won the ALS Gold Medal and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry.
Tim Loveday is a poet, writer, editor and educator. In 2022, he won the Dorothy Porter Poetry Award, and 2023 he was shortlisted for the David Harold Tribe Poetry Award. He has been the recipient of a Next Chapter Fellowship, Writing Space Fellowship and numerous residencies and grants. A Neurodivergent dog parent, Tim is the verse editor for The Creative Hub of Extinction Rebellion and the director of Curate||Poetry.
Relationship note: In late 2020, Andy was Tim’s tutor in Poetry and Performance at RMIT. Tim has recently taken over this role, after Andy was offered a full-time position at The University of Melbourne.