A Twist of Lime Street
A Twist of Lime Street is a 2014 poetry book by Eddie Gibbons.
Eddie Gibbons writes about Liverpool constantly, as you can tell from the title of A Twist of Lime Street (Red Squirrel Press) and he cares for the city and knows it as well as any writer I can think of.
But he is not one of those Liverpool poets. Eddie's poetry may not come with a capital 'p' and it sits as happily within the pop-movement, as neatly as it caters for more high-falutin' tastes.
The critical use of such terms as ‘The Liverpool Poets’ means that Eddie Gibbons will always be judged therefore against his immediate contemporaries, who are Scottish poets, or at least poets like himself who are working in Scotland. Confused? Don't be, no matter how much we try and bracket writers, it always lets them down.
In their heyday, the Liverpool Poets brought a new energy and change of direction to British poetry, wheeching it out of the ivory towers and placing its creation at the disposal of ordinary and often working people, who used it with great playfulness and invention. Effectively, by the 1980s by the time of Pete Brown, this mission had been accomplished, job done as it were, and poetry had been democratised, debased, improved, politicised and revitalised, and was available for all and in many different forms.
Before this time, the greatest manifestation of popular poetry in the country was in the form of Pam Ayres, a figure who still haunts Eddie Gibbons to this day.
Gibbons is correct to be haunted by Pammy however, because for him Pam Ayres represents the ridiculous pinnacle of a lifelong debate he has had with poetry, and the constant fact of its unpopularity. There have been few famous poets in our time, or at least poets that have been household names, and again, there are still few who make a living from it.
In the case of Pam Ayres, the mystery is thickened still by the threatening possibility that maybe she was not very good; certainly not in the class of Wendy Cope, Seamus Heaney, or any other of the few poets you might have heard of. It's a strange fact, but nowadays it's the poets at the top of the trees who aren't any good, but at least they get work on Radio 4 which more than makes up for it. And they have their New Year's Honours too, but they barely have an audience.
The creation and reception of poetry — it is clear — are of great concern to Eddie Gibbons. Gibbons has made it plain in his writing that he is not a full-time paid poet, and so unlike Pam, Wendy and Seamus, he is perhaps more obliged than most to ask what it is he thinks he is doing.
In What They Say About You (Leamington Books) Eddie Gibbons in fact considered the poet’s trade in detail in many poems, including: In Place of Poems, Because I am a Poet, The Downside of Knowing a Poet, A Perfect Poem and The End of Poetry.
The themes are taken up again in closing the sixteen new poems that feature in A Twist of Lime Street, in a witty roster of one-liners called Understanding Poetry.
A further life-long task of Eddie’s is revealed in A Twist of Lime Street, in the merging of football and poetry, no mean task. This harks back once more to the origins of the Liverpool poetry scene, because in taking poetry from the snobs to the yobs, Eddie Gibbons tackles another continued interest, which is that thing they call the beautiful game. Possibly Eddie Gibbons’ finest hour as a poet is the complete marriage of the art of poesia with the sport of footballia, which he does to huge applause from me at least in a book called Game On! (Thirsty Books) which is an entire collection of football poetry. Eleven of these poems are included in A Twist of Lime Street.
Game On! by Eddie Gibbons was in fact as solid an achievement in poetry as Scotland has seen for a long time, although I may be alone in this view. Certainly, football isn’t the most popular subject on the literary circuit. At top literary events these days people don't talk about football; they prefer to stuff olives up their nose and try and discuss the latest academic appointments, and to appreciate the poems in Game On! it is sadly best to know the game, and many of its freakish foibles, and stars. Even so, the quality of the poetry in a book like Game On! is far superior to that which you’ll find in most similarly placed pamphlets and books, so it is yet something of a mystery why Eddie Gibbons isn’t better known.
Gibbons has written haikus on many subjects, and these include six from the football poetry collection. Consider these clever Half Time Haikus:
ten thousand lighters pass their flames to cigarettes a terrace inhales
and the less than savoury:
bursting punters face the wall
Moving on from football, there is also much more traditional fayre to be uncovered in Eddie Gibbons' work, such as the more mordant themes of exile, withdrawal, hurt and loss. I say mordant, because Eddie Gibbons usually tackles these themes with a sharp or critical quality, never lying down to his emotions. As if it wasn’t bad enough moving to Scotland from Liverpool, Eddie has spent most of the last three decades in Aberdeen, which to your average English person is like some freezing purgatorial bath, a land of doubt where there is virtually no hope for art, and where everyone (Eddie Gibbons included) is co-opted into working in the oil industry.
Another constant consideration is family, which is linked to football insofar as one’s family are often involved . . . and then there is of course the football family at large. Eddie Gibbons may be at his best when writing about his family. I mentioned above that he had written an entire book of football poetry, but more potent yet, and possibly his best work, is the book of poems he wrote about his father, titled The Republic of Ted (Thirsty Books).
Taking a poem like Vernacular, it is a joy to see Eddie Gibbons work.
What you notice first About my father Is his spectacular Vernacular.
It is not unlike Eddie Gibbons at all to introduce surprise rhymes, which keep everything flowing. In very little space, he throws down potent word images:
That night he sang Please Release Me At the Labour Club Is karaoke folklore,
and this still leads into a discussion of the nuts and bolts of poetry, concerning his father’s vowels, diphthongs, aitches and ‘syllabic slabs’.
This carries with it an idea of how much fun Eddie’s father was, but as is quite common in this collection, and in particular any of the poems about his family, there is a note of beauty in closing, indicating that when the fun is done, it is love and belonging that are important.
His voice sounds like laughter. His voice sounds like home.
When not writing about football, family or poetry itself, other topics that pique Eddie Gibbons into poetic action, are medical treatment and work. Treating the work first, it seems to be a matter of amusement and even concern that when he was growing up, work to Eddie Gibbons meant factories and industrial yards. Scenes to this effect are evident in poems such as Wing Nut, although as time has moved on, and Eddie and the rest of the workforce have been coaxed indoors to sit at computers instead of greasing about in overalls in wet yards, there are many poems expressing this alienation, such as Love in the Time of Coreldraw and My Boss, The Sea.
In Don’t Phone from Work, the office is presented as the ultimate point of alientaion in dealing with the illness and impending death of a close relative, a place where your grimace at such news will be ‘wild, bewildered, raw.’
In terms of medical treatment, a reader may be forgiven for thinking that as a poet, Edde Gibbons has an unhealthy and morbid focus on death and illness, but nestling in the folds of this sadness, each time, there is humour. The Electrode Less Travelled presents medical examination in the surreal light in which it probably belongs, and Dire Morphine and Nil-Nil by Mouth drops the reader to a nadir of despair, agonisingly picturing in a few lines what it is like to be a relative waiting on a dying loved one.
Maybe by now, you’ll have a better idea of the breadth of Eddie Gibbons’ work, and the range of poetry in this collection. None of this is to mention the love poems, of which there are many, and which you should discover for yourself. A Twist of Lime Street therefore contains the work of decades, from a poet who not only has a natural ability and has plenty to say, but who has improved over that time. His poems make sense to virtually anybody, as they don’t suffer from any of the pretensions with which the art is perpetually saddled.
The new poems in A Twist of Lime Street kick off with a prose creation called Ringo Starry Rhymes, which takes as its leap-off a quote from Alan Ginsberg who visited Liverpool in 1963 and declared it to be the centre of the universe. Ginsberg’s comment is valid insofar as Liverpool in the 60s offered the world a staggering mix of culture, imported from its hinterlands and mixed with the always changing maritime scene. Liverpool has always been known for this, and is the destination chosen in Redburn, Herman Melville’s first novel.
The second poem Swarfega, captures a moment in the past and preserves it beautifully, evoking the poet's father’s post-work clean-up ritual, ‘his orange overalls smeared black with grease and oil, / his hair greased back with Brylcreem'. It exemplifies much of what Eddie Gibbon’s work stands for: family, work and memory.
The poet’s father is also much in evidence in the next two poems, Borderline and Long Ago with Giacomo, which are like mental wanders around Liverpool, showing off Anfield Road, the Mersey Ferry and the docks with its everlasting evocation of what he calls the ‘fellowship of the far Americas’. These are followed by Supine, a metaphorical hillwalk of a poem, and another medical poem Rosacea, which further indicates the possibility that the poet spends far too much time in one kind of medical treatment or another.
The next poem, Life is Like a Dragonfly will be quoted in full. It runs:
Days drag & Years fly
Eddie Gibbons is a master of this type of poem, the micro-thought or quick pun, and has in the past been able to create entire poignant thoughtscapes, generally relating to love, life or poetry, and in under ten words. Life is Like a Dragonfly is the only such example in A Twist of Lime Street, but Eddie Gibbons is renowned for this, and his other poems in this style are worth seeking out.
Whether this is poetry or not, is up to you. Eddie Gibbons and his publishers say it is, and although what you may perceive as a pithy thought or quip is not enough in certain critical views to constitute a poem, it’s important to realise the reach that Eddie Gibbons can achieve in his work. Always, Eddie Gibbons' mind is turning over, and when off the leash he is able to produce a baffling amount of puns, as he does in the closing poem of the book, Understanding Poetry, which includes such delights as:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery. The music in the piano stool. That vase. Philip Larkin has a garage sale.
It is a good thing that even if Eddie Gibbons hasn’t received the critical acclaim that he merits, Red Squirrel Press have at least recognised that the time is correct for an anthology of his selected work.
Literature is a world of divisions, and despite the fact that all writers are bracketed one way or another, I think Eddie Gibbons remains somewhat elusive. He isn’t a Scottish poet because he isn’t Scottish and doesn’t write in Scots, and yet he can’t be identified with the Liverpool set, or any other specific movement in time, place and style.
Best left it said as follows, then: Eddie Gibbons is a poet, and one of the first water. He is worth reading, because as with the best of them, his reach is truly universal.