Split Screen: Poetry Inspired by Film & TV Edited by Andy Jackson

splitscreenYoda’s Calling

Launched last March at StAnza, Scotland’s distinguished poetry festival in St. Andrews, Split Screen: Poetry Inspired by Film & tv collects poems about British media icons.

Edited by Dundee-based poet Andy Jackson, the anthology describes the beloved shows of Generation X’ers, beginning with the stop-motion children’s television show‘Camberick Green’ and continuing with ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’, The Sound of Music,‘Doctor Who’, and ‘Mission Impossible’. The punchy title derives from the book’s presentation as a divided screen, with both pages offering poems linked by name, gender or genre. Sometimes this works, other times less so. Notable pairings include Star Trek Captains Kirk and Picard, Bond Agents Q and M, the television programme ‘Hammer House of Horror’ and the works of Alfred Hitchcock, and the beautiful (and unrelated) Hepburns, Audrey and Katharine. When the pairings are clever and complimentary, they give the anthology an emotionally rich texture, serving as a gentle reminder of the actors and shows from our past.

True to the anthology’s star-studded manifesto, Jackson includes some of Britain’s most visible names. George Szirtes’s‘McGuffin’s Tune’ describes the oft-quoted shrill riff accompanying the famous Psycho shower scene. Jane McKie, last year’s Edwin Morgan Poetry Competition champion, contemplates Katherine Hepburn’s rogue femininity in ‘Bringing up Kathy’: “What must it be like to be a hunting, shooting, fishing, talking, skating, /golfing, smoking, / riding, horsing kind of girl?” Long lines and frequent commas provide a boisterous yet interrogative tone.

Other poems provide nostalgic giggles. In‘Mouse’, Jo Bell provides a witty rundown of the clumsy comedic violence in the ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons. Bell imagines Jerry could feel some guilt over cracking a frying pan over Tom’s head. She clucks reassuringly: “You only wanted cheese, / a taste of cream, a cherry as big as your head: / a rest”. Kevin Cadwallender provides a humorous take on Illya Kuryakin from the sixties spy series ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’. Witty one-liners and a defiant attitude characterises his five stanzas. As Cadwallender warns: “Not every man you meet will be/ Capable of communicating via pen, /Not every man you meet will /Protect you from Thrush.”

But it is Colin Will’s verbose masterpiece written in the style of Star Wars’ Yoda that deserves the Bafta. Simply titled ‘The last of the little green men’, Will fashions fragmented and philosophical verse. The allusion is so spot-on that one easily conjures the lime-hued, fox-eared creature. The poem is composed of Yoda’s characteristic aphorisms. In praise of Shakespeare’s enigmatic plots, Will chants: “From words of Shakespeare much knowledge/can be gained.

Difficult to see the future is/but these plays often insights contain”. Further comparisons are made between the battles of the Dark Side and the plays of Hamlet and King Lear. And suitably, Yoda offers a prophetic word of warning: “Whence we came, thereto shall we all/back go. Time backwards runs”. A nice touch in this anthology is the commercial breaks. Little poems which parody old and new adverts provide rest stops. In ‘Flake’, Ian Parks gives a sultry description of a woman nibbling chocolate in the bath. He merrily merges the pleasures of sex and candy, recalling a scene “just before she sighs, / brushing a crumb of chocolate from her lips”. In ‘Meerkat’, Jude Marr refuses to be sucked into the charm of the insurance-hawking creatures, branding them‘infant-killer cannibals’ and calling the way they hold up their paws ‘Tommy Cooperish’. Some adverts praise, other ironise. All in all, a very watchable and readable anthology.

P.I. Boots

Split Screen: Poetry Inspired by Film & tv
Edited by Andy Jackson
Red Squirrel Press, rrp £6•99, 86pp