Split Screen: Poetry Inspired by Film and Television
Edited by Andy Jackson. Stannington: Red Squirrel Press, 2012. £6.99
As the new accessions shelf (where I found this volume) at the Newcastle Lit and Phil made clear, poetry is the realm of the small publisher; and from Northumberland, Red Squirrel Press bids to reign. Though it defines itself largely as a fiction publisher, its drey includes a flourishing nest of poets.
It has been a long time since I was any sort of poetry reader, but I was drawn in by the subject matter of this anthology. Split Screen: Poetry Inspired by Film and Television reflects the experiences of the viewing generations of recent decades, when professional promotion and performance were brought into the domestic environment on a scale never before possible.
The emphasis in this collection is on the specific and personal rather than the general, albeit appealing to an expectation of shared individual experience. Ian McMillan's musings on the influence exerted on a developing sexuality by Diana Rigg's Emma Peel (in The Avengers) doesn't break new ground ('There'll be a cloudburst soon...'), but relies (as one former television writer-producer once said) on cliches being cliches because they work. Less sure-footed is Alan Buckley's 'Walmington-on-Sea', which in its interpretation of Dad's Army as 'the old England, where each man / must know his place' obscures Jimmy Perry and David Croft's deft observations about interwar social mobility and the limits of hierarchy.
Other voices ring more sure: Liane Strauss's 'The Dark Days are Done' weighs audience expectations of Italy alongside those which shaped The Godfather's Corleone family, and sees Sonny Corleone's death as that of an Icarus born from the Medici. It's twinned with Luke Wright's mordantly concise study of Michael Corleone's character development, 'Godfather'. Where these poems about cinema engage with their films as texts, it's those on television personalities which make the case for the box in the corner as maker of the most enduring myths: Paul McGrane's 'And the doctor says' adopts Tommy Cooper's sense of rhythm to turn the story of his televised death on stage into a routine, though the reader is left to imagine what conjurer's props would be most appropriate. Angela Topping's 'Doctor Love' claims Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who as a sex symbol for adolescent girls and as a model for teenage rebels, even as the poet's maturation causes her to leave the Doctor behind. There was, as Naomi Woddis's 'Always Ours' argues through the career of Diana Dors, always a pragmatic end to British postwar fantasies.
This is a collection about time and place and personhood, and in closing with 'The White Dot' by Andrew Philip, it suggests that the age of the LCD and plasma screen and multiple channels is a death of sorts. When television closed down, when the device itself had to be switched off, it died and was brought back to life the next day. In an age of perpetual standby and twenty-four hour broadcasting, it is still not simply a machine, but instead undead, drawing greater and greater masses into communication with it. The old order mourned in much of this volume is lost in a depersonalisation as sure as that felt by the last survivor in some televised conflict. The contemporary hero of these poems is perhaps Jude Marr's Meerkat - but the choice between that of 'blood and sand realities' or the comforting comic figure advertising insurance is for the reader.