The Jewson Lot

I found myself wondering about the use of contemporary references and all because of an email—which in itself is a contemporary reference, possibly.

I wrote to a colleague to say I was sending them some topline findings from a research project as a) I didn’t think they needed it all and b) they didn’t need “the Jewson Lot”.

I don’t how I managed to drag a reference to an advert from the 1980’s out of the dark recesses of my brain. It was only after I pressed send that I wondered if the recipients would even know what I was banging on about*. After all, why would two people at least 10 years younger than me have a clue about something that may well have been off air before they were born?

* To be fair this is nothing new.

If for some reason you’re not familiar with it please watch this

The Jewson Lot

I did ask a colleague who has a couple of years on me and he remembered it, and a question on Twitter yielded at least 5 answers in the affirmative. Obviously the market researcher in me isn’t happy with the sample sizes at work here, but I’ll take it.

But it did get me thinking about the half life of these popular culture references. How much distance is too much distance? Is it too obscure? Does that matter if it works for the poem? Can you cover it all off with notes? Should you need to use notes?

Is a reference to a Jewson’s ad from the 80s and better or worse than say a reference to an obscure character from The Iliad. I don’t know the answer here, I’m more thinking out loud. My degree taught me that a text was a text was a text and that a text could be anything really – a Britney Spears song, The Wasteland, a painting, a chocolate bar wrapper, and so on…

I came back to these questions when I had my first initial scan of the latest issue of Rialto. I found a reference to Dr Martens in the first poem, Hannah Lowe’s ‘Pink Hummingbird’ and old school rave events like “Rain Dance, World Party, Fantasia” in ‘ ’89’, and “Marlborough (SIC??) Lights” in ‘Love’.

Each of these references work as a way of dating the time they are evoking, elsewhere in the mag Tom Paine’s excellent ‘Harmonium’ contains the line

‘Give everyone an orange popsicle, an iPhone, a garden,
and let’s go shoot some hoops? You won monopoly, okay?’

You couldn’t ask for a more contemporary set of references…well, you could, but hopefully you see what I mean. While I’m still trying to work out what’s going on in the poem, the iPhone dates it to within the last decade or so and therefore gives me some frame of reference.

What am I saying here? I don’t think I’m saying anything, I’m asking something.

I guess I’m asking what we, as writers, are thinking when we include these contemporary references in poems? Do we have half an eye on the now and half an eye on the future—both near and more distant? What will readers in eg 2120 make of a reference to iPhones or Jewsons? Should we even care?


39k running – Bumped into an erstwhile colleague at yesterday’s Parkrun. She was doing that as part of a 19 mile run…Eek!!! Managed to get out this evening, despite Storm Dennis.

0 Poems worked on – although, actually wrote notes for something brand new midweek and one line for something else. Feels like a long time since I’ve even managed that. Just busy at work, then running and life, so poetry is taking a back seat – for now.

1 lovely evening at Kings Place for the Poetry London event with Rishi Dastidar, Emily Hasler, Martha Kapos and Joe Dunthorne. All 4 were excellent.

1 Podcast up and available – The mighty Grandbag’s Funeral on films with War Crimes in

3 days without cigarettes. Fits and starts, yeah!!

1 review published

1 more week that I’m not having an affair with Eva Green


  1. Six Degrees of Strawmen
  2. Trust Exercise


Helena Nelson, Plot and Counterplot
Rialto, Issue 93

Love Island, Endeavour S4, E3.

Listened to: 
Nadia Reid, Preservation
Laura Veirs, Year of Meteors
Neko Case, Hell On
Bjork, Utopia
and of course, The Archers…

7 thoughts on “The Jewson Lot

  1. Pingback: Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 7 – Via Negativa

  2. Good question. I remember encountering Sam Riviere’s ’81 Austerities’ and was excited by its social media/contemporary culture references, it gave the collection a real energy and (certainly at the time) relevancy. But I’d need to read it again (8 years on) to see if that still holds. Some brilliant poems in it though. I know I have poems that reference cultural phenomena that felt really ON IT at the time but in retrospect I wonder if they were mostly for effect. I’m often tempted to pull in the odd reference to an old TV ad or song, but if I think it’s going to need a footnote to explain it then I get nervous. If you get the joke, the effect can be fabulous but if not it can be off-putting or just look gimmicky. Having said that, I’m quite proud of a ‘found’ poem from an interview with Eddie Van Halen which came to land in an issue of Obsessed with Pipework. I doubt it meant anything to anyone apart from connoisseurs of the Floyd Rose Bridge 🙂

    • I seem to remember hearing you read the Eddie Van Halen poem – was it at Rogue Strands..I’m sure I’ve seen it, but don’t appear to have that issue of OWP. I was talking to Chris Edgoose on Twitter early and it seems that there’s no way of knowing when is the right time to deploy such a reference. Footnotes as well, I was really anti-them for a while ( I was young and stupid)*, but now I think I’ve gone the other way, and possibly too far the other way.

      The point about 8 years is a really interesting one too…Should we be thinking in those terms or 80 years, 800 years???

      Maybe I’ll save a post for one on footnotes..

      * Now I’m older and still stupid

  3. I was thinking along similar lines the other day, Mat, when I was re-reading Edgelands, in which Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts instantly dated the book by making lots of contemporaneous references, e.g. to iPods and the 2008 crash. Somehow, though, it adds to the charm.

    I never shy away from using cultural references and I’d use notes where appropriate – though that’s much easier to stomach when the notes are tucked away at the back of a collection rather than as a footnote to a stand-alone poem in a journal. I always view notes as being generous to the reader as long as all they do is detail a fact.

    I don’t remember the Jewson’s ad though. Isn’t that the bloke who played Joe the neighbour in The Royle Family?

    • Oh mate, you’ve solved an issue for me. Yes, I think it was the neighbour I The RF..I was struggling to remember where I knew the face from.

      I loved Edgelands – although I’ve given my copy away to someone and haven’t seen it in years…*

      I was going to make a reference in the blog to something like song lyrics, and how someone like David Gedge of The Wedding Present fame has moved from letter writing on Bizarro to references to mobile phones, etc on later albums. I think adding to the charm is ok and you want to keep things relevant to when you’re writing about, I guess. I just don’t know when/how to use to well.

      I half-recall us discussing footnotes outside the White Hart recently, may be this has all been lurking in my sub-conscious since then.

      * NB Parcel going in the post tomorrow and this note is not relevant to that.

  4. Sometimes, when I read pop culture references in poems, I react in a slightly negative way, you know, “Oh, just trying to make the poem seem relevant.” And other times, the reference seems perfect, that anyone could read the poem and enjoy it and get something from it even if they miss the allusion. So maybe that’s what a good writer knows how to do? Achieve that balance?

    Then there’s cross-cultural pop references. I’m from the USA; the Jewson’s advert didn’t get over here, naturally. So, works for a blog but not a poem, if the poem in English is to cross the pond.

    I wrestle with references all the time in my own work. You’ve asked a good question.

    • Hi Ann, thanks for reading. When* I become a good writer I promise to let you know how to achieve that balance. If you know can you let me know.

      As for cross-cultural references, well, that’s a whole other post. I remember writing a poem that had gew-gaws and Tchotchkes in, but had to abandon them (and the poem in the end) as they’re not well known in the UK (I don’t think).

      * If

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