Poetry habitually takes its inspiration from the great themes – love, loss, beauty, the human condition. All noble concepts, but sometimes you just want to write about the silly fripperies of life that please and excite you. Dancing. Chocolate. Uma Thurman. Yet, somehow, unless your poem reaches for some deeper ideas that address the spirituality of chocolate or the universal language of dancing, you sometimes feel you’ve written about…well, nothing of much importance.
I was born in the 1960s, and I therefore grew up knowing the presenters of Blue Peter (in order), the names of the crew of the Trumpton Fire Engine and all the words to all the songs in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I should have been out playing in the dubious Manchester sunshine, but I was usually glued to the box or fidgeting in the darkness of my local single-screen cinema.
About eighteen months ago I observed a conversation on Facebook between Salt Publishing’s Chris Hamilton-Emery and Yorkshire’s suavest poet Tim Turnbull, who challenged each other to write a short poem about a cult TV programme of the 60s or 70s. Chris chose US series Mission Impossible while Tim went for Lew Grade’s espionage thriller The Champions. This was the kind of poetry I’d been writing in my own head since childhood, but here were two fearless and savvy writers who weren’t afraid to publish their poetry on these most populist of topics. And I mean proper poetry!
I felt there must be more poets out there who longed to write about the TV or the movies they loved, so after discussion with Red Squirrel’s Kevin Cadwallender, the idea for Split Screen was born.
I drew up a list of sixty themes, pairing up the likes of Camberwick Green with the Clangers, Ealing Comedy with Bollywood and Walmington-on-Sea with Weatherfield. I invited poets I knew and respected to pick a theme on which to write a poem of up to 30 lines. Word travelled around and I found poets contacting me asking, and occasionally pleading, to have a go, even suggesting their own themes in some cases. The resulting poems from the likes of Ian McMillan, George Szirtes, W N Herbert and Annie Freud were as diverse they were entertaining.
To keep with the TV & movie theme, I decided that we could punctuate the book with short poems inspired by adverts included as ‘commercial breaks’. This part of the book was an open section, and I selected 10 advert poems from the 50 or so which I received. Add to this a couple of poems at the end about the Closedown and the White Dot, and you have Split Screen – poems inspired by film and television.
Split Screen will be launched with a multimedia reading on the Sunday afternoon of this year’s StAnza festival, with a stellar cast of poets (and some reading in public for the first time). Compiling and editing it has been the most fun I’ve had in poetry. Why not come along on Sunday 18th March at 2.15pm and listen to poetry that unashamedly wears its cultural influences on its sleeve.
Our thanks to Andy Jackson: www.soutarwriters.co.uk/andyjackson/