What They Say About You
by Eddie Gibbons
Eddie Gibbons’ fourth full length collection, WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT YOU, is a poetry book like no other.
Playful, thoughtful, inventive, and much larger than your average slim volume What They Say About You was shortlised in poetry for Scottish Book of the Year.
Eddie Gibbons was born in Liverpool, but lives in Scotland. He was a winner at the Inaugural Edwin Morgan poetry prize at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2008.
He is a founder of the Lemon Tree Writers’ Group in Aberdeen, and has read at StAnza.
"Portrait of Anna Dali is one of the best British poems of recent times – a masterpiece."
"I was delighted with Eddie’s poems. The changes from sad to happy, from downbeat to zappy, all one enriching tapestry."
"What a book. It’s like fast-forwarding table tennis match between a stand-up comic and a psycho-therapist. Or like Roger McGough on a bleak Sunday in 1965 unburdening to Pam Ayres."
The poems in ‘What They Say About You’ often made me chuckle as did ‘Peridiotic Table’ with witty spelling variations like 'Nightrogen = Darkness; Titanicum = Disasterousness'; and the parodies of Yeats and Masefield – 'Wrinkle cream of Nivea from fragrant Oprah'.
But there are tender moments too. ‘Helpless’ and ‘Countdown’ encapusulate in a few lines the changing relationship between parent and child from birth to empty nest. ‘Every Single Day’ harks back movingly to the poems about his father in ‘The Republic of Ted.’
Then there are the poems about the natural world 'On Birds' describes equally vividly the warbling thrush and the swooping hawk. One line of a haiku has a skimming pebble creating 'nine bridges of air.’
The book ends with a witty appendix of notes on 'what the poems are about'. They are about Eddie Gibbons' world and the world of anyone who appreciates his insight and language skills.
Marion Montgomery, Poet.
* * *
Turning his sidelong, bemused gaze on life, love, and the follies and vagaries of the human condition, Eddie Gibbons is funny, angry, despairing, and wryly hopeful by turns, and always humane. The term 'lateral thinking' might have been invented just to describe Eddie's poetry, which comes at life from totally unexpected angles, and is bursting with exuberance and delight as it plays with words and ideas, catapulting the reader into strange places. He can be formally elegant, devastatingly iconoclastic, and is is a master of everything he puts his pen to, whether pastiche or elegiac lyric. Drawing on a rough Liverpool childhood, he plays games and entices us in, always self-deprecating, refusing to take himself seriously, and yet he can be deeply serious and hilarious all at once. He seems more alive than any other poet I know to the endless possibilities of language. His pastiche of 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' is called 'Yeats, Shoots and Leaves' (Lynn Truss, eat your heart out), and begins
I will sit down and stay now, and stay and watch TV and a small pasty eat here, which has been microwaved...
This kind of thing is hard to bring off, yet here he is in 'New Cargoes', doing it again:
Wrinkle cream of Nivea, from distant Oprah,
flowing foam of Radox at frothy bathing time,
The vowel patterns replayed through the gleeful, shape-shifting processes of the Gibbons mind. His deeply affectionate poems about his father during his last illness pull no punches and bring a lump to the throat, and when it comes to childhood, we find that he is the master of melancholy: 'Flower Girls' opens lyrically with memories of his 'aunties, the Flower Girls of Williamson Square' who 'peeked like petunias from under their scarves', and goes on to catalogue the grim vestiges of Liverpool's slave trade, and the terrors invoked by 'the ghosts of Speke Hall...the Witches of Pendle: spectres that drove you to bolt your door.' It ends on a note of bleak, understated realism:
And over my shoulder, some thirty miles eastwards,
a girl the Echo described as vivacious met someone
called Myra while picking flowers on Saddleworth Moor.
For all that he is one of our finest comic writers – or perhaps because of that – he has the clown's vulnerability, the gift of revealing how ineptly we deal with the grimness of life, the dangers of childhood or parenthood, while letting us laugh at our own failures.