Poetry and Pop Culture

I’ve been warned before about using pop culture references in my book. I suppose it’s true – refer to a walkman or record albums and it’s a pretty dead giveaway that the story was written in the 80’s. It dates the story, and then I imagine that some readers are left wondering if the rest of the book is dated too.

I’m guilty of this sin, of course – I refer to things like iPods and musical bands (i.e. Black Lab or James or Rilo Kiley) in my manuscript. It’s mostly flavor, something to flesh out the moment. I’ve certainly seen it in other books, particularly other Urban Fantasy/Paranormal romances. Most of the time they’re subtle – a reference to South Park, for example – but I suppose you do run the risk of alienating someone who isn’t “in the know”, or who might not be an obsessive Aliens/Terminator/Silence of the Lambs fan, for example.

“They mostly come at night. Mostly.”

*cough*

And no, I don’t have any Aliens references…yet.  But I almost did.  😉

Still, I’ll pull up my tired Tom Jones reference once again, just to prove I can’t win. First chapter has Abby listening to him on her iPod – and I even made it clearly noted that it was “retro” at the time, so it should be fairly obvious that it’s not taking place in the 60’s. Some readers get that…some say she’s too young to listen to him…and at least one person completely missed the boat and thought I was referring to the book Tom Jones. You know – the one written in 1749. Turns out she was a history buff, and loved the older classics, so that’s immediately where her mind went.  She didn’t actually know who the singer was at all.

Funny, but a little sobering, all the same.  Fortunately, I don’t think it makes or breaks the story.

Another thing I tend to drop is lines of poetry. I love e.e. cummings, for example.  LOVE him. Fav poet of all time – so, of course, I’d like to add a little bit of that into the story.

“First things first,” I agreed. The mist was shedding around us, sloughing away like the fine tufts of a dandelion’s late bloom. “Anyone lived in a pretty how town, with up so floating many bells down,” I quoted, glancing down to see the house. We hovered above it for a moment, and then the roof grew larger, expanding as we descended. “There’s more here now.” I gestured at the edges of the yard. And there was – where before the clearing had been empty, now the darkness retreated. In the distance, the beginnings of what looked to be wild rose bushes sprouted up between towering willow trees.

The above bit is from a part of a dream sequence, which isn’t really the point.  Just that I liked the concept…but I’ve had a comment or two from contest readers who didn’t get the quote. I dunno.  Maybe I need to fit in something about the fact that it’s from a poem.

On the other hand – I’m a wiki-freak.  If I come across something in a book I don’t get, I tend to google it and see what pops up, but maybe that’s just me.  (Or in some cases, I’ve facebooked the author and I ask them directly.   W00t!)

I’d be interested in hearing what others thing of the pop-culture references.  Do you run across them in the books you read? And if so, what do you do if you don’t grok them?

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2 Responses to Poetry and Pop Culture

  1. Snowangel says:

    I've read some books that had pop culture references. Some obscure which I tend to go for obscure so it doesn't bother me. I can see how some people get picky about it because mostly people don't want to think about things anymore, they just want instant gratification. (Personally I think we get lazy, which makes us boring) 🙂

  2. Jeffe Kennedy says:

    eesh — meant to comment on this the day you posted, but it all just got away from me.

    I totally disagree with this advice — which, yes, I've gotten also. It's kind of like avoiding adverbs and not beginning sentences with a conjunction. It can be a useful guideline, but not a hard and fast rule.

    I think about it this way: Jane Austen makes fascinating references to her culture. What makes something "pop culture?" Just because someone has contempt for it now won't make it fascinating later.

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