Review: Double Bill edited by Andy Jackson

Shoot the Canon?


Double Bill is the sequel to 2012’s successful poetry anthology, Split Screen, incorporating themes such as; film, television, sport, art, dance, and even adverts. The editor, Andy Jackson, has a stellar line-up which includes; W.N. Herbert, Helen Mort, George Szirtes, Jo Bell, Tony Curtis, and Helen Ivory. The anthology’s structure is akin to an old-fashioned visit to the cinema; three distinct parts interspersed with short poems about adverts. Jackson presents poems in pairs; the links are sometimes amusing, for example ‘Crossroads Motel’ and the ‘Bates Motel’ from Psycho. This strict pairing results in blank pages which can be jarring. However, Jackson is to be congratulated on achieving a gender balance, and poets from Northern Britain are well-represented, as are those published by Red Squirrel.

Many poetry collections rely on a foreknowledge of the literary canon or assume a classical arts education. Consequently, too many potential readers pick up that important first book of poetry and put it down again sharpish, bamboozled by the contents. I defy anyone to pick up Double Bill without finding something to charm or disarm. The literary canon is not to be abandoned, but vibrant alternatives are necessary as a way in for new readers and for the occasional book to read by the pool. I haven’t had so many laugh-out-loud moments from a poetry book since Henry Normal’s Nude Modelling For The Afterlife: and that wasn’t yesterday, or even this millennium. Special plaudits go to Kevin Cadwallender for his take on Eric and Ernie and Sheila Templeton for revealing her surreal passion for Thing in ‘The Addams Family’, “I wanted him, the way he beckoned, the way / he crooked that long forefinger…”

Comedy is counterbalanced by poignancy.  ‘Benny’s Crossroad Blues’ by Martin Figura starts with an amusing look at Crossroads and leaves us at Nick Drake’s gravestone. ‘The Black Tapestry of Amy Winehouse’ by Janette Ayachi is beautifully woven. There is also critical commentary on popular culture; Joan Hewitt provides an affectionately scathing account of Woman’s Hour; Tim Turnbull sends up Strictly Come Dancing and McGuire takes on Judge Judy.

Some subjects may be unfamiliar to readers,  however, fortunately Jackson has included subject headings so you have something to Google if you’ve never heard of Pearl Jam, Les Kellett, Prince Buster, the Hacienda or Madchester. ‘The Ghost Train – a Twinned Sonnet  by John Glenday brilliantly describes the complex bond between the Boulting Brothers; “When you looked into my face, you looked into a mirror, / and smiled, and took my shoulder, held me safe, then pushed me over.” This poem works even if you don’t know these identical twins from the films. However, this is not true of all the poems. Irene Hossack’s excellent poem, Fairy Liquid, does lose some of its emotional charge if you haven’t watched those excruciating 60’s adverts with their remorseless exploitation of an idealised mother-daughter relationship.

In his introduction, Jackson flirts with the possibility of a third volume. We need an anthology of popular Scottish culture. There is so much scope: The One O’Clock Gang; The White Heather Club; Take the High Road; Taggart; The Steamie; Chewin the Fat; Still Game; Scotch & Wry.  It would be amusing and culturally defining to read poems about Rab C. Nesbitt, Elaine C. Smith, the Proclaimers, Lulu, Sean Connery, Billy Connolly and Karen Dunbar. And how about Tunnocks Tea Cakes and Irn Bru in the interval? Come on Andy Jackson!

—Kanga Kangaroo

Red Squirrel Press, RRP £10.00, 192pp