John Jordan (1930-88)


Life
[John Edward Jordan; pseud. ‘Stephen Renehen’]; b. 8 April, 1930; [Rotunda Hosp.] Dublin, ed. CBS at Synge St.; corresponded with James Agate and recommended by latter to Hilton Edwards as asst. stage manager at the Gate, but opted for university course; ed. grad. UCD, BA Hons in English & French (1st Class); contemporary of John Montague, whom he beat to the Laforcade Medal & Cup; MA in English, 1954; proceeded to Oxford on Studentship (beating John Montague);
 
he completed a B.Litt. on verse letters of John Donne, and was appt. asst. lecturer at UCD, 1959; appt. lecturer 1965; resigned from UCD in 1969; became involved with the Gate Theatre as an actor; acted as reviewer of novels for The Irish Times; wrote a column for Hibernia; included Patrick Kavanagh and Kate O’Brien among his friends; published poetry pseud. in Irish Writing and Arena; re-fnd. & ed., Poetry Ireland, 1962-68 [Nos. 1-8] (hoping ‘in the humblest of ways, to contribute towards the recreation of Dublin as a literary centre’);
 
Jordan was the inaugural speaker at the annual Patrick Kavanagh commemoration on the Canal bank (followed by Macdara Woods); championed the later plays of Sean O’Casey and wrote on Teresa Deevy; defended Gaelic literature (ed. Pleasures [...&c.], 1977), and translated Padraic Ó Conaire; a fnd.-member of Aosdana, 1983; his latter years were marked by heavy drinking; d. aetat. 58, suddenly in Cardiff, during a Cumann Merriman School, following minor strokes; his executor, Hugh McFadden, has edited his poems and prose (2006); the lit. papers & letters are now held in the NLI (MS List 15). DIL OCIL

[ top ]Works
Poetry
  • Patrician Stations (Dublin: New Writers’s Press 1971), 32pp. [ltd. edn. 500];
  • A Raft from Flotsam: Versifications 1948-74 (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1975), 5-55pp. [ltd. edn. 1000; 225 in cloth];
  • Blood and Stations (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1976), 42pp. [poetry & prose incorp. “Patrician Stations”];
  • With Whom Did I Share the Crystal? (Dublin: St Bueno’s [ John F. Deane] 1980), 18pp. [ltd. handprinted edn.];
  • Collected Poems, ed. and annot. by Hugh McFadden, with an introduction by Macdara Woods (Dublin: Dedalus Press 1991), 138pp. [incls. Bibl., pp.136-138];
  • Crystal Clear: Selected Prose of John Jordan (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2006) [q.pp.];
  • Selected Poems, ed. & intro. by Hugh McFadden (Dublin: Dedalus Press 2008), 138pp.
Fiction
  • Yams (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 1977), 109pp. [13 stories];
  • Collected Stories, ed. by Hugh McFadden, with an introduction by Benedict Kiely (Dublin: Poolbeg Press in 1991), vii, 377pp. [28 stories].
Criticism
  • Crystal Clear: The Selected Prose of John Jordan, ed. Hugh McFadden (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2006), x, 435pp. [pieces from  Irish Press, Hibernia, The Crane Bag, and Irish University Review].

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Miscellaneous
  • [essay on Teresa Deevy] in University Review (Spring 1956);
  • ‘Off the Barricades: Notes on Three Poets’, in The Dolmen Miscellany of Irish Writing (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1962), pp.107-16;
  • ‘Writer at Work’, in St. Stephen’s (Michaelmas 1962), pp.17-20;
  • ‘Illusion and Actuality in the Later O’Casey’, in Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, ed. Ronald Ayling [gen. ed. P. N. Furbank] (London: Macmillan 1969), pp.143-61;
  • ‘Collector’s Poet’, review of Collected Poems of Thomas MacGreevy, in The Irish Press (13 Nov. 1971, p.12 [see extract];
  • ‘Thing to Live For’, in Festschrift for Francis Stuart, ed. W. J. McCormack (Dublin: Dolmen 1972), pp.19-23;
  • intro., Irish Poetry Now: An Exhibition of Books, Periodicals, Broadsheets, Manuscripts, Recordings, Drawings and Portraits since 1939 [Project Arts Centre, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin, Feb. 29-March 11 Feb.] (Dublin: Project Arts Centre [1972]), 28pp., ill. ports.;
  • ed. Pleasures of Gaelic Literature (Cork: Mercier & RTE 1977, rep. 1978), 120pp. [incls. his own essay on Aogán Ó Rathaille & a piece on ‘Deoraíocht ’ (pp.13-24)];
  • ‘Off the Barricades, Notes on Three Poets’, in Dolmen Miscellany of Irish Writing (1962), pp.107-116;
  • ‘The Irish Theatre - Retrospect and Premonition’, in Contemporary Theatre, ed. John Russell Brown & Bernard Harris [Stratford-upon-Avon Studies, No. 4] (1962) [q.pp.];
  • ‘Writer at Work’, in St. Stephens (Michaelmas 1962), pp.17-20;
  • ‘Joyce Without Fears: A Personal Journey’, in A Bash in the Tunnel: James Joyce by the Irish, ed. John Ryan (Brighton: Clifton Books 1970), pp.135-46;
  • ‘Irish Catholicism’, in The Crane Bag , Vol. 7, No. 2 [Forum Issue: Religion] (1983), pp.106-16;
  • ‘Shaw, Wilde, Synge and Yeats, Ideas, Epigrams, Blackberries and Chassis’, in The Irish Mind: Exploring Intellectual Traditions (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1984), pp.209-26;
  • ‘The Passionate Autodidact: The Importance of litera scripta for Sean O’Casey’, in Irish University Review, 10, 1 (q.d.), pp.70-71; trans., ‘Nell’, in Padraic Ó Conaire, 15 short stories, with other writers (Poolbeg 1982); ‘The West Awake’, review of L’Attaque, in Irish Press (21 Lunasa 1980). [See also table of contents in Hugh McFadden, ed., Crystal Clear: The Selected Prose of John Jordan (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2006).]

[ top ] Criticism
  • Thomas Kilroy & James Liddy, ‘In Memoriam: John Jordan’, in Irish Review, 6 (Spring 1989), pp.95-97;
  • Paul Durcan, ‘Critical faculties’, review of Hugh McFadden, ed., Crystal Clear, in The Irish Times (15 July 2006), Weekend [see extract];
  • Robert Greacen contrib. a review of Crystal Clear: Selected Prose (2006) to Books Ireland (Sept. 2006), p.182. [see extract];
  • Fred Johnston, review of Crystal Clear, in The Irish Book Review (Summer 2006), p.7 [see extract].
 
Note: some autobiographical information of the period [1945-48] appeared in letters to given in letters to James Agate, published in Ego 8 and Ego 9. For a memoir of Jordan, see James Liddy, The Doctor’s House (Galway: Salmon Press 2005).

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Commentary
Patrick Kavanagh (verses ending Self-Portrait, RTÉ 30 Oct. 1962; Dolmen 1964): ‘Spread the news widely, tell all if you love me, / You who knew that when sick I was never dying / (Nae gane, nae gane, nae frae us torn / But taking a rest like John Jordan.’ (See Kavanagh, A Poet's Country Selected Prose, ed. Antoinette Quinn, Dublin, Lilliput Press 2003, p.316.)

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James Liddy, ‘John Jordan’, in Dictionary of Irish Literature, ed. Robert Hogan (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979), ‘writer of fugitive pieces […] archive of theatre productions […] as a writer of poetry developed well behind his criticism […] minimal elegance mocks itself and confession arises from repression […] ‘Patrician Stations’ thematically and linguistically a meditation on Austin Clarke, combining tenderness and vituperation […] splendid polemic against Robert Graves […] mannered life becomes cathartic material as he explores his chlorotic Catholic humanism […] self-heroism expiates, absolute self-heroism expiates absolutely.’ [See version in rev. edn., infra.]

James Liddy (‘John Jordan’, in Dictionary of Irish Literature, 1996 Edn.): On Yarns : ‘the book at its best captures the seedy student Dublin of the late 1940s and the 1950s; in this work, he exhibits a fine ear for the sentiments of fading, middle-aged ladies and unfading (as yet) young men.’ On Blood and Stations : ‘Thematically and linguistically a meditation on Austin Clarke, under the eye of eternity, it combines tenderness and vituperation, particularly the latter in a splendid polemic against Robert Graves. Jordan’s mannered life becomes cathartic as he explores his clhorotic Catholic humanism. Self-heroism expiates absolutely [sic].’ Further, ‘The early work combines pathos and charm, strong romanticism allied to a weak voice. Jordan’s translations shimmer ...’. In the wake of Jordan’s death - which is not accounted for - Liddy writes that ‘his life gave dignity to homosexuality in Ireland.’

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Fred Johnston, Books Ireland (December 1991), on Poetry Ireland, remarking that ‘Many of the poems published [or written] by Jordan hover around pubs and the quæsi-literary life therein, viz., “Pub Poem of the 40s”, “There are more things in life / Than brass tacks and a wife”.’ Also quotes first editorial [as infra].)

Paul Durcan, ‘Critical faculties’, review of Hugh McFadden, ed., Crystal Clear: The Selected Prose of John Jordan, in The Irish Times (15 July 2006), Weekend: ‘[…] Jordan was one of the first and the few to understand that Stuart’s Black List, Section H (I972) is “a major work of art” and the first to recognise “the new magisterial Cronin” in The End of the Modern World (1981). He was the first to publish Hartnett and to recognise Kinsella’s Downstream (1962) as “a major poem”. He was one of the first to salute the poetry of Seamus Heaney and the “admirably toned prose” of Tom Paulin. From before he met her, on December 5th, 1948, he championed Kate O’Brien; when he mentioned The Land of Spices (1941) to a Retreat Director in 1946, the Jesuit “gave a little moue of distaste”; a phrase which strikes the Jordanian note as do favourite words: “nincompoop”, “tentacular”, “gritty”, “corner-boy”, “hogwash”. [... &c.; for full text, see infra.]

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Robert Greacen, reviewing Crystal Clear: Selected Prose, in Books Ireland (Sept. 2006), p.182, quotes Jordan: ‘Only God could love the cods and wastrels and fly-boys who posture in the niches of that cathedral of fiction, Ulysses . God and James Joyce.’ Remarks that Jordan was friendly with both Kavanagh and Behan (of whom he said ‘he is not a great writer, but only a very good one, with glaring faults’) - implying that this was in itself a feat.

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Fred Johnson, review of Crystal Clear, in The Irish Book Review (Summer 2006), p.7: ‘Jordan was an all-rounder: actor at the Gate Theatre (MacLiammóir winced when I told him I was reviewing theatre for the Catholic Standard ); editor of Poetry Ireland in one of its myriad transmutations; books’ reviewer for Hibernia and a TV presenter and arts interviewer of the kind of intellectual stamina and resouces unknown in RTÉ these days. / Close enough to Patrick Kavanagh (he liked Austin Clarke’s work, which couldn’t have been more different) Jordan crossed the divide and was a friend of Behan also, who despised Kavanagh as “that Monaghan wanker”. McDaid’s pub, Harry Street, was High Court for literary and artistic process. Jordan had achieved legendary status, as McFadden remarks, by the time they met in the 1960s.’ Jordan wrote that ‘all our young men should open At Swim-Two-Birds, and it would not do some of the older ones any harm at all to re-open it’ (Hibernia, 1960), and contib. an article on G. M. Hopkins to the Irish Independent in 1969; also wrote on Pádraic Ó Conaire (overview of Deoraíocht ). Johnson speaks of Jordan’s close account of the Raven Arts poets [viz., Anthony Cronin, Pearse Hutchinson, et. al.] and concludes: ‘No one can hope to understand contemporary Irish literary history without reading the acerbic, witty, incisive Jordan […].’

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Quotations
Sean O’Casey: ‘Illusion and Actuality in the Later O’Casey’ [essay based on Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism lecture at Princeton Univ. in 1966]; rep. in Ronald Ayling, ed., Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, 1969, pp.143-61): Jordan emphasises the element of fantasy in the life of the characters but also the Utopian element in O’Casey; ‘Without detracting from O’Casey’s visionary aspirations, one may see that they are at least as insubstantial as the common Christian apprehension of “Heaven”. That can only be dreamed about, intuited, at best sensed fleetingly in the heterogeneous epiphanies of the natural, corporeal and intellectual planes of existence. and they must, these brushings with a presumed everlastingness, be treated as consolatory or nutritive illusions: no-one can gainsay the impossibility of relating finite experience to infinite being unless we are willing to go down and soar up with the mystics. [/.../] I do not think that it is possible to appreciate, let along love the later O’Casey, unless one accepts the aesthetic validity of his grand illusion as a standard by which he measures the conduct of the world. […] the prototypes of those who will march towards the New Jerusalem are, most of them, the least successfully realised as theatre-figures […]’ (p.150; for longer extract, see under Sean O’Casey, infra.) Bibl., further cites his own essay, ‘The Irish Theatre - Retrospect and Premonition’, in John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris, ed., Contemporary Theatre [Stratford-upon-Avon Studies No. 4] (1962). See also Rober Greacen, review of Crystal Clear [supra], quoting Jordan on O’Casey: ‘O’Casey broke down the tenement walls in Tassie: that in itself would have thrown Dubliners into disarray.’ (Books Ireland, Sept. 2006, p.182.)

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Joyce without Tears’, in John Ryan, ed., A Bash in the Tunnel (Clifton Books 1970): ‘There still exists in Ireland a body of opinion which tends towards reductive comment on the labours of foreign Joyce scholars. I have heard derisive comment even on Richard Ellman’s [sic for Ellmann] by now classic biography. These people pride themselves on their first-hand information on, and intimacy with, Ireland, with Dublin, with the Roman Catholic Church. Yet only three full-length studies of any aspect of Joyce have been written by Irish people to date. [Cites J. F. Byrne; Padraic & Mary Colum, and Constantine P. Curran]. The acknowledged Irish Joycean mandarins, Niall Montgomery and “Andrew Cass” [John Garvin], have not found it worth their while to assemble their findings in book form. It would be comic if it were not disgraceful that Maurice Harmon has had to say recently: “It is […] significant that the two Irish contributors to this collection of essays take Joyce seriously, concerned as scholars everywhere are with the literary achievement, its modes, relationships and sources” [n.]. Now, admittedly, there is a considerable quantity of shale in the Joycean academic machine. But on the native side there is also, I suggest, a burden of resentment that good American dollars, especially, should be lavished on a local who started off little better than many another middle class Irish boy, an education by the Jesuits and a B.A. from University College, Dublin as his equipment. My countrymen veer between extravagant praise and [136] snide depreciation of those of their fellows who have been successful by international standards. And a fair share of depreciation goes to the intellectual and the artist. / In fairness, half-baked attitudes to Joyce and his monument more lasting than gall have diminished, and diminished rapidly, over the last fifteen to twenty years.’ [Here he recollects a Christian Brother’s ominous remark, ‘He died blind’. (pp.135-36)]. […] Quotes the famous exchange between Stephen and the Dean of Arts, and writes: ‘Later Stephen explicit rejects the Irish language. Now whether I felt about English what Stephen felt before I read A Portrait, is not relevant. The fact is that Joyce planted in me his particular kind of [14] “unrest of spirit”. And I began to read Irish outside my school curriculum and I owe it, in fact, to Stephen that I can read modern Irish with genuine pleasure, and when necessary speak and write it with moderate proficiency. I often wonder whether this experience of mine through Joyce has been uncommon.’ (p.141.) Ftn.: ‘[…] the first scholarly book about Joyce to be published in Ireland.’

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Further (abnormal Ireland): Jordan quotes Stephen’s remark to Haines, ‘I am the servant of two masters […] an English and an Italian’ - viz, the British state and the Catholic Church - and remarks: ‘Commentators have not noted the abnormal emotiveness of that description of Ireland, for the Irish at least. […] At seventeen I had already seen the bomb sites of London. I had know guilt over neutrality, since the Brothers had failed to infect me with their singularly unpoetic brand of Nationalism.’ (‘Joyce without Tears’ [as supra], 1970, pp.142-43.)

Poetry Ireland (1962), First issue editorial: ‘We are committed to no school, no fashion, no ideology […] would wish […] to contribute towards the recreation of Dublin as a centre of letters’. (Quoted in Fred Johnston, Books Ireland, December 1991 [as supra].)

Thomas MacGreevy (review in The Irish Press, 113 Nov. 1971): ‘[…] Looking back to 1949, four years after the War and during its aftermath of uneasiness about our country’s abstention from Europe’s agony, I think MacGreevy satisfied our subconscious yearning for the ideal of a thoroughly Europeanised Irishman. Of course the poem most often on our lips was his “Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill”, even though it required some knowledge of Spanish. But the scrap of verse of my own was based on lines from his “Homage to Hieronymus Bosch”, and now, after over twenty years, reading these poems again (only five other poems complete the canon) I am astonished and touched to find how many of them have remained, like sunken treasure in my consciousness. And because one is older and presumably better educated, few of them seem obscure, even if few of them may be styled easy.’ (For further, see under Commentary, in Thomas MacGreevy, infra.)

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Thing to Live For’: ‘[Francis Stuart] speaks also of the waning of religious certitude, of the feeling of beingn outcast, damned[,] soiled and filthy. Of the failure and torture of human live. I knew of no Irish writer who had written like this, of no other writer in whome the Spirit of the Gospels as I read them seemed to breathe. For better or worse I have led my life according to Stuart’s declartion: “I will remain with those on the coastline, on the frontier. With the gamblers, wanderers, fighters, geniuses, martyrs, and mystics. With the champioins of wild loves and lost causes, the storm-troops of life. With all who live dangerously though not necessarily spectacularly, on the knife edge between triumph and defeat”.’ (Festschrift for Francis Stuart, ed. W. J. McCormack, 1972, p.22.)

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Irish Catholicism’ (1983): ‘When I went to school in Dublin, Elizabeth [I of England] was portrayed as the very type of Female Ogress. Visionary tales formed part of the staple diet of religious instructions in the primary scools of fity years ago, and I remember the profound impression made by the story of a priest informed in a vision by Elizabeth I that she would be in Purgatory for all eternity. The story was intended, presumably, to illustrate what Mr Graham Greene was to call “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God”: for Elizabeth was the Arch-Sinner, a primitive Irish Catholic equivalent of the Irish Orangeman’s Popel. Needless to say, it was never made clear to me that Elizabeth was a human being brought to the throne of England at a crucial period of her imperial destiny. I doubt strongly whether Elizabeth’s image has changed radically in fifty years. In Ireland, “history” is still an album of personal wrongs.’ (The Crane Bag, 7, 2 1983, p.109.)

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References
Peter Fallon & Seán Golden, eds., Soft Day, A Miscellany Of Contemporary Irish Writing (Notre Dame/Wolfhound 1980), selects poems and prose including short story ”Passion”.

Hibernia Books (1996) lists John Jordan, ed., ‘Kate O’Brien Special Issue’, Stony Thursday Book, No. 7 (n.d.).

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Notes
Patrician Stationsgiven as book-title Patrician Studies [sic] (New Writers’ Press 1971), in Michael Smith, ‘The Contemporary Situation in Irish Poetry’, in Douglas Dunn, Two Decades of Irish Writing (1975).

Borges/Shaw: quotes Juan Luis Borges on Shaw: ‘In Man and Superman we read that hell is not a penal establishment but rather a state dead sinners elect for reasons of intimate affinity, just as the blessed do with heaven; the treatise, De Coelo et Inferno by Swedenborg published in 1758, expounds the same doctrine’. Jordan remarks: ‘Borges adds in a dazzling footnote [which amounts to] ‘formidable conspectus of the Irish mind […] from Eruigena to Shaw’, and cites his own critical articles [as above]. (‘Shaw, Wilde, Synge and Yeats, Ideas, Epigrams, Blackberries and Chassis’, in Richard Kearney, ed., The Irish Mind, 1985, pp.209-226.)

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Francis Stuart: John Jordan wrote in homage to Francis Stuart, then in Frieburg (Germany/French Zone), on reading Things to Live For (March 1949).

Literary executor: The literary executor of the estate of John Jordan is Hugh McFadden, with an address at 29 Clareville Road, Harold’s Cross, Dublin, 6W, Republic of Ireland (June 2004).

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