Roger Horrocks is on a walk - a sort of cerebral pilgrimage, each stride a revelation. Stepping out on a morning constitutional, Horrocks walks us through the wonders of mind and body and world. ‘I celebrate myself, and sing myself’ writes Whitman in his ‘Song of Myself’. But Horrocks’ song is in a different key. ‘Self’ is excised and ‘consciousness’ implanted. This is a poem that goes beyond the confessional. Here we see the subject as embodied, and embedded in a world-system.
Nothing is too big for this poem – It will tussle with evolution and God, neurophysiology and artificial intelligence. At times, we are a Chihuahua picking fights with bigger mutts. At times we are Aunty Maude name-dropping at the cocktail party. At times we are that excruciating first-year in the front row of the lecture hall. Somehow, though, it’s worthwhile. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew but, boy, it tastes good.
‘Song of the Ghost in the Machine’ is a poem that talks big, but is still happy to take you to the Three Dollar Shop, walk you down an ‘ordinary street’, or kill time in a nursing home. It is at once smart and sentimental. A child is swept away from his mother by a crowd. An adolescent keeps ‘his cargo of darkness to himself’. There is a testimony of ‘anxieties, mistakes and regrets’. This poem snatches at matters of physics and metaphysics, but most of all it explores what it is to be human, with the vulnerability that entails.
Horrocks feeds us one long poem, in chapters. Each chapter is bookended with quotes pertinent to the topic at hand. He has pickpocketed from Nietzsche, Neil Young, Rilke and Damasio. Every body is an authority on the Ghost of consciousness, and the ‘dated equipment’ in which it resides – philosophers, musicians, scientists, poets and even the Pope.
But this is no dry philosophical dissertation, nor does it assume to be a manual of the soul. There is music here, and warmth, with some wonderful lines:
‘Sometimes the subject, often the object, always
the verb, we struggle to grasp the whole untidy
grammar of our existence, a sentence as long as the world’
‘Song of the Ghost in the Machine’ takes the risk of ‘sounding earnest and adolescent’, but presents something with a profound sincerity and curiosity. This is a poem that is willing to be a bit intense, to chew the cud while strolling through the suburbs.
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