Popular culture clings. It aspires to immortality, presenting itself as an essential part of social existence. And we readily acknowledge it as such. This is precisely what is explored in Double Bill, an anthology of poems about popular culture as a thing that survives history and becomes ageless. But it is not just agelessness that characterizes the book’s take on the genre: it is also memory, forgetfulness, repetition, multiplicity, regret, immaturity, angst, synchronicity, sacredness, and many other things that urge us to go back in time to renegotiate the various meanings of life through movies, sports events, comics, and TV series.
Double Bill is the sequel to Split Screen (2012), an earlier anthology of poems inspired by film and television (edited by Jackson as well). The collection is divided into three parts, separated by two “intermissions”. Now, each intermission is interesting in its own right. They are presented as aperitifs, bite-sized beats of poetry which prepare the reader for another brush with the things we grew up watching, reading, and playing. But they are deceptive in their form. They take on beer, chocolate, and bread as markers of identity, as unconscious points of reference for things that give us a sense of being. Take the opening lines of Roy Marshall’s Guinness, for instance:
Not so much a pub as a place of smoke and mirrors.
Not so much a request for a pint as the saying of a prayer.
Not poured as much as a sacrament unfolded in lace.
Not a wait for settlement but a suspended state of grace.
Guinness turns alcohol into a sacrament, a thing that makes acolytes out of heavy drinkers. It invites the reader to approach life’s smaller details with a new, more existential perspective. Other intermission poems follow suit. Pop culture icons are not passive here. They are very strongly-intentioned and are usually successful in validating certain life experiences. As if naturally inclined to, we look to this easily accessed sphere of entertainment when trying to explain the complexities of life, if only for a moment’s indulgence in wishful thinking.
It is of no wonder, then, that the book caters so much to a sense of belonging, and that is evident in the way the book is organized. The poems in Double Bill are ordered by a loose sense of association. There is a purpose to this. Their pairing challenges readers to link poems by principle of personal experience. The more knowledgeable the reader, the more sense each pair of poems will make. When a poem about Pearl Jam is paired with another about Nirvana, the intention is to create a dialogue between them—but that dialogue also needs to include an audience that at one point struggled with grunge as a social definition in 90s America. Upon a closer and more informed reading the pairing becomes devious, resisting that imposed connection. Pearl Jam and Nirvana always caused a sort of divide between the alternative rock community, with one group claiming to be more genuinely grunge than the other. And so it goes with the poems of Double Bill.
Each diptych of poems both celebrate and struggle against that association, and that editorial-styled juxtaposition creates a more compelling and challengingly interactive reading experience because of it. A Judge Judy poem is teamed with a Judge Dredd poem. DC Comics is paired with Marvel comics. Les Kellet with Rocky Balboa. The Boulting Brothers with the Coen Brothers. It is the reader’s cultural baggage that matters here. The anthology is all the more personal because of it. And yet, they all belong together. The loose association actually plays to the collective mythology popular culture creates. And in reading Double Bill we indulge in that myth.
Ricardo A. Serrano Denis