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
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?
THE WEEK IN STATS
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
- Six Degrees of Strawmen
- Trust Exercise
READ, SEEN, ETC
Helena Nelson, Plot and Counterplot
Rialto, Issue 93
Love Island, Endeavour S4, E3.
Nadia Reid, Preservation
Laura Veirs, Year of Meteors
Neko Case, Hell On
and of course, The Archers…