Powerless Rangers, Jack McGowanThe jacket is white but a design of brightly coloured diamond shapes is grouped (in roughly a diamond shape itself) in the centre. So we have black, blue, pink, green, yellow and red diamonds (like the diamond shapes on the Power Ranger superhero suits), and the title appears in large caps over this. The author's name, in much smaller caps is low down on the bottom diamond. The logo of the press is at the foot of the jacket on the white area.

V. Press, 2022   £6.50

Caught by catchphrases

This pamphlet, says the author bio note, ‘is inspired by nineties nostalgia’. The nineties feel remarkably recent to me (possibly my age), but I am prepared to muster some enthusiasm for the memory of an age before online communication. 

When I reached ‘Couch Gag’, with its mention of ‘catchphrases before wifi’, I started to wonder when the term ‘catchphrase’ first came into popular usage. I think I started to notice it probably around the nineties, the period fondly remembered in these poems (pace Larry Grayson, whose ‘Shut that door!’ for me at least pre-dated the term). Of course, those things we now recognise as ‘catchphrases’ and identify with certain individuals, often comedians, are not new. 

And given that ‘catchphrases’ have always been around, there’s some mileage in the idea that this is because people like Jack McGowan have an ear for them, and are noticeably good at generating their own.

Some of McGowan's poem titles are in themselves not unlike catchphrases to my mind — for example: ‘We watched the box set of Friends until we weren’t’. And inside the poem thus titled, I particularly enjoy (and can find a regular use for) the line:

trying to find an end. Either.

As I made my way through the collection, more and more catchphrases, or at the very least catchy phrases, leapt out at me — ‘passive-aggressive wasps’ in ‘Battersby, 1999’; ‘haplessly human’ in ‘Familj’, and of course, ‘the IKEA couple’.

I specially liked the poem ‘Max: Mighty, Polly: Pocket’. Polly Pocket was popular in the nineties, certainly, but she’s back with a vengeance now. (Apologies: the ‘vengeance’ catchphrase just slipped in.) My great-granddaughter’s pockets are often stuffed with Polly’s accoutrements:

Larger than a child’s hand
to fix the illusion of a universe in microcosm.

For an adult armed with a hoover, yes, Polly’s tiny plastic world may indeed represent a ‘pre-packaged miniature of nightmares’. However, what delightful phrasing! ‘Polly’s pastel kitchenette’ evokes her small domestic existence beautifully, as does ‘the upstairs downstairs of it all’.

McGowan really does catch the ear with his phrases: ‘small as a thumbnail, big as a future’.

E. T. Michie