Welcome to the POP! edition of Cordite Poetry Review, in which Gatsby’s green light hovers over this text to tell you we are °º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤º°`°º¤ø σηℓιηє °º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤º°`°º¤ø, baybee. As pop connoisseurs, we already had a sense of where our tastes diverge. (Bec, in Zen’s words, listens almost exclusively to gay club hits of the ’90s, huge soppy ballads and whatever the soundtrack is this week on Grey’s Anatomy. In Bec’s words, Zen’s diet is androgynous sad-girl belters, cult documentaries and Star Trek by way of Star Trek podcasts.) But we were surprised that our survey of submissions from nearly 400 poets resulted in zero marital barneys; generally, we agreed, and the shape of POP! came together as easily as the Babadook became queer culture.
In our call-out, we asked contributing poets to enter the ‘Meme Cinematic Universe’ — to celebrate the pop poem as a dank-memetic smashing together of the bold and the mundane, the low-brow and the archly ironic. Think of these poems as a contemporary textual soup can — Warhol’s instantly recognisable simulacra of culture remixed, reprinted, reinterpreted over and over and over. A full quarter of the poems you’ll read in this issue are prose poems (proems?) of some kind. There must be something in the four walls of the paragraph that invites wordplay, assemblage, mucking about — that already rejects our ideas of The Poem. (Good fences make good paras?) The map is not the territory — or is it, after all?
Of no surprise was the torrent of ekphrastic poems responding to artworks (Warhol, Lichtenstein, Bosch); music (from Shania Twain to Pulp to the Topp Twins); movies (from Shrek to Star Wars to the oeuvre of Keanu Reeves); and television (Kath & Kim, Star Trek: Voyager and a poem in which an ‘apoplectic’ Dr Phil ‘tears off his shirt and screams’). A category full of welcome surprises were poems written after games: a cento from reviews of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; a concrete poem in the shape of a Galaga spaceship; and a WORDLE ode in only five-letter words.
Some poets saw pop culture’s adjacence to consumerism — that is, fandom as conspicuous consumption. There is a poem in which the speaker eats a painting; another in which a painting, in turn, consumes an entire ’90s boy band. And we were delighted by work that made pop art of pop forms: a template for Instagram poetry; a poem capturing the sensory acuity of ASMR videos; an MS-DOS-esque text adventure asking: ‘What would you like to do? >Submit a terrifyingly germane and mundane text adventure poem to CORDITE POETRY REVIEW’.
These ekphrastic-ish poems form just over half the issue’s bulk. Each, in some way, reaches beyond the reference point — becoming more than the sum of its fandoms. From there, we found our way to poems that popped in other ways: that just sounded great; that came at some kernel of pop psychology; that celebrate nan and pop; that punch up the list poem; that had ‘whiter than white teeth’; that ‘parade … our many splendid genders’; that confidently roll from zombies to the ‘glorious rococo towers’ of a thunderstorm; that ‘paddle through syntax’; that ‘rip bongs at the bus stop’; and that mythologise cheese. These poems are ‘plastic autopsies’ and ‘ekphrastic obituaries’ — but are undead, too, rising from the fertile soil of yesterday’s algorithm to put their warm fingers right on your pulse.