(A short review of a pamphlet/book I recently read and recommend).
A poem exists on its own terms; it is the reader who imposes meaning, makes of it what he or she will. The poems in James Giddings’ Everything is Scripted invite the reader in, they give space for interpretation. What they also offer is amusement, originality and surprise, after all, when was the last time you imagined your own father living inside a freezer?
The poems are full of vim and humour, but pathos lurks and sometimes sweeps in just when you think you can relax. There are several poems in which Giddings imagines his dad in some altered state or outlandish situation. There are feelings of loss and separation buried within the surreal moments, and thinking of your father as a parachute strapped to your back is a lovely metaphor, until you entertain the possibility that the parachute won’t open. In ‘My Dad the Politician’ we have a prescient mix of Putin and Trump presented:
The whole world waits on his word. / His charisma, though scripted, is undeniable.
He calls for a press conference and fights / A bull live on air,
The poem spins the media dream-machine of a polished politician until we reach the core of the man who confesses in a whisper “I can’t do this.” Perhaps this is what Presidents think in the wee small hours? Here we have one of the recurring ideas in the collection, the notion of doubt and how we deal with self-doubt. Even a marriage proposal is shelved because of fears about what might happen at the subsequent wedding, “you in a meringue dress chewing out the caterers/ over the width of the finger sandwiches,” (A Proposal).
There are a few alternative love poems in the collection, such as “A Proposal” and “Some Reasons For Divorce”, and we also have death within the pages too. One of my favourites where death comes knocking is ‘Butcher’ where we get the big questions flown in on the back of arresting visual images –
Have my hindquarters strung up in the shop front,
Parade them like the legs of can-can dancers.”
‘Killing You off on Public Transport’ captures much of the prevailing tone of the collection, a self-lacerating but tender tale of imagined killing that seems to me to chime with how many of the poems present uncertainty beneath the veil of bluff confidence;
It’s got to the point where I’m no longer sure/ why it is I’m crying
The poems reward re-reading, and the free verse is deftly handled (see ‘Our Love Shares’ for example). These poems are very much of the zeitgeist – there is irony, which seems increasingly to be the way we communicate, and there is a sense of bewildered detachment, bordering on a sense of isolation. But as I said at the start – perhaps that is my interpretation, we’ve just emerged from 2016, and you may read things differently.