Books | Poems | News | About


The Sidekick Advent Calendar: Grand Finale Fight Special!

Christmas is a time for fighting. Why else would we do it with such regularity? In this spirit, Jon and K have engaged their respective champions to go at it in a charming vignette we call ‘Violent Night’. They’ll be doing this via the Beat ‘Em Up form from Coin Opera II. In this form, each player writes a couplet, the first line of which must ‘block’ their opponent by nouning the verbs in the line directly above. Have at you!

Jon’s Champion:

Jólakötturinn, the Icelandic Yule Cat, who eats lazy children who have not finished their work by Christmas.

K’s Champion:

Frau Perchta, Alpine spirit who takes her approach to festive child discipline straight from the school of Krampus, tearing out the guts of her victims and replacing them with rubbish.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

With special thanks to Mental Floss for a fascinating article on Christmas monsters.

RUN: A Battle Royale Memorial

I’m very excited to announce the scratch for my first live poetry show, RUN: A Battle Royale Memorial!

Thanks to a grant from the Poetry School’s Lo & Behold Fund, I’ve been able to complete writing for the piece, engage the fantastic Tamar Saphra as a director, and book a venue to try out the show.

(7.30pm, 23rd June 2015 at the Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon, since you asked. Seats for the scratch are very limited, so RSVP to if you’d like to come.)

Hang on. What is Battle Royale, and what does poetry have to do with it?

Way before The Hunger Games, Japanese author Koushun Takami wrote a novel in which schoolchildren were sent to an island by a totalitarian state, randomly assigned weapons and given three days to kill until only one stood standing.

Almost certainly influenced by Lord of the FliesBattle Royale was a controversial hit, and spawned a manga comic, as well as an acclaimed 2000 movie, directed by Kinji Fukasaku.

Now the tale has met page, art and celluloid, I want to introduce it to poetry. Run: A Battle Royale Memorial is my attempt to romp across genre and take both the movie and poetry to new audiences, through a fragmented, semi-interactive experience.

It will be red, black and dark as a moonless night. Also there will, in the spirit of the game, be party bags. PARTY BAGS.

Also performing new work on the night will be performance artist Rebecca Wigmore. More about her piece here.

More information about the scratch can be found at the dedicated site for the show. To read around the process and the movie itself, visit

Coin Opera II custom poems #5: Fallen London for Claire Trévien

As top-tier rewards during our Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of video games poetry anthology Coin Opera II, we offered backers the chance to have their own custom poem written on a game of their choice. In the run-up to our Seven-Player Co-op event on Thursday 6th November at Four Quarters Bar, Peckham, we’ll be revealing the finished poems, now in the hands of their wonderful backers.

Poet and storyteller Claire Trévien selected Failbetter Games‘ steampunk text adventure Fallen London. Kirsty used the familiar refrain of the game to bring the narrative swinging back around each time.

Here’s what a mysterious stranger dropped through Claire’s door:

And here’s the poem to read (simpler text below, as the author was a scrawler):

Hmm. This might be a bit easier on the eye:

Delicious Friend
For Claire Trévien

The Embassy is quiet tonight.
No lesser imps by sulphurlight.
You could go home and pour a tot.
Perhaps not.

No, you have business. Old acquaintance.
A scent of debt and smoking incense.
“I thought I’d have to have you caught.”
Perhaps not.

She welcomes you with blazing eyes.
“I do hope you can help,” she sighs.
“Perhaps you’ve never been this hot.”
Perhaps not.

She tells you that she’s burning up
and can’t be quenched by any cup.
Your legs are weak. The candle’s squat.
Perhaps not.

You hand her now the blotto youth.
“He’ll do quite well,” she purrs. In truth,
you nearly ask, “Do well for what?”
Perhaps not.

“Your hand is empty. Stay awhile.
I’d like to see that thieving smile.
You know, we both might learn a jot.”
Perhaps not.

“Well, I’ve jawed on for eons, kitten.
Tell me of your expedition.”
Rapt, she wants to hear the lot.
Perhaps not.

You tell her of the rubber men
who flubbled through the laudanum dens,
and nearly mention what they sought.
Perhaps not.

The Carnival. The iron knives.
You tell her you live many lives.
“With many souls? Now there’s a thought.”
Perhaps not.


Thanks once again to all of our amazing backers.

Coin Opera II custom poems #4: Civilization V for Helen Lewis

As top-tier rewards during our Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of video games poetry anthology Coin Opera II, we offered backers the chance to have their own custom poem written on a game of their choice. In the run-up to our Seven-Player Co-op event on Thursday 6th November at Four Quarters Bar, Peckham, we’ll be revealing the finished poems, now in the hands of their wonderful backers.

The fantastic Helen Lewis chose Civilization V for her custom poem, and the finished piece ended up being excavated by Kirsty from many sediments and centuries, with just a dusting of Coleridge left behind.

Here’s the readable text for you to enjoy.

Thanks once again to all of our amazing backers.

Coin Opera II custom poems #1: Ecstatica II for John Clegg

As top-tier rewards during our Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of video games poetry anthology Coin Opera II, we offered backers the chance to have their own custom poem written on a game of their choice. In the run-up to our Seven-Player Co-op event on Thursday 6th November at Four Quarters Bar, Peckham, we’ll be revealing the finished poems, now in the hands of their wonderful backers.

First up, it’s Ecstatica II, chosen by John Clegg. This piece was unique in being the only poem in the series written jointly by Jon and Kirsty as rivals for the protagonist’s attention. Here is the physical poem John received, in the form of a glorious medieval-style scroll (and here’s a video of him receiving it):

And here is the poem itself:

Thanks once again to all of our amazing backers.

Poems in Which

Jon and I have poems in the latest issue of new poetry magazine Poems in Which. The concept is simple but fantastic. Remember all those poems that begin in this way? So do editors Amy Key and Nia Davies.

The manifesto for PiW reads:
Poems In Which is an occasional poetry journal edited by Amy Key and Nia Davies. Poems published here share a common title, ‘Poem in Which’ and they must be new, written for this  journal, rather than post-titled to fit. Beyond that there are no constraints, nothing is true, everything is permitted.

As a challenge, writing a piece along these lines was at the same time was a free but focused experience. Given those three words as a kick-off, your brain immediately starts building scenarios. I worked with three possible titles before hitting upon ‘Poem in which I am captured. Again.’, and in the end I wrote something out of character/voice, which is always mighty satisfying.

Check out issues one and two here!

Camarade Poetry Reading: K v Ryan Van Winkle!

On Saturday 9th February, SJ Fowler presents the fourth edition of his collaboration project Camarade. 26 poets have been paired up and challenged to create something unholy incredible together. Kirsty will be joining forces with Ryan Van Winkle (investigate his book, Tomorrow We Will Live Here) on a very strange love letter.

The full line-up promises an impressive mixture of sonic, experimental, formal and free-flowing poetry. If you fancy something a little different to your average reading, get thee to Shoreditch.

Click on the flyer for more information.

Nearest tubes: Shoreditch High Street, Liverpool Street, Old Street.

Blowing on the Dice: On Competition Mentality

While we might wonder at the seeming arbitrariness of judgements in poetry competitions, the lure of winning still ensures a healthy number of entries. Upwards of 30 poetry prizes are currently active in the UK alone and in recent years publishers have begun to host competitions for whole manuscripts, the winners of which receive publication with the press and often a few hundred pounds to boot. The money for the richest poetry competitions may still be far lower than that for prose and factual writing but any cash prize is attractive, particularly for such a poorly funded artform.

And the money is simply the start. Should you be fortunate enough to win the UK’s National Poetry Competition, the initial effect must feel not unlike being plucked from the poetry workhouse and given a shot at becoming a gentleman. Furthermore, when entering such competitions, which are necessarily pay-to-play, you are also reminded that in doing so you are supporting the organisers and UK poetry as a while, so even if you don’t win, you can console yourself with the fact that you are supporting your artform. Everybody wins, right?

Not exactly. We can stake too much on the life-changing ‘lucky strike’, just as we can fall for the myth that Being Published will automatically mean everybody stops to notice our brilliance. The one-win-solves-all idea is very seductive, but the associated cycle of hope and disappointment can be very damaging to one’s self-esteem and capacity for courage. Worse yet, focusing too much on the gold medal can cause us to make unwise, desperate moves that ultimately harm us.

I wasn’t published as the result of winning a competition (that came about as a big surprise during the manuscript-mulling period), but partly because I co-ran Fuselit, which led to being invited to read when I moved to London, which led to discovering and supporting the work of others, which eventually led to my now-editor, who was the first person to give me a shot on stage, commissioning my book for Salt. Now that the book is a reality it’s amazing but it’s hardly been a question of “You’ve made it. Stop here and collect acclaim.”

The alternative is to do as many excellent writers do, and throw ourselves into improving and experimenting. It’s a slower process, but it pays more satisfying and sustainable dividends. Such writers produce work with tremendous character, which influences others along the way. Many have never won a prize or placed in a major competition and nobody cares one iota.

Competitions can be a very positive thing. They do raise needed funds and provide opportunities, particularly for those writers who don’t have access to London’s bustling poetry scene. But for each contest, there are a tiny number of winners, and often only one of these winners receives a financial prize. And unless you garner a whole raft of accolades at once, that glow can fade surprisingly quickly (how many past NPC winners can you name without looking them up?).

Rather than simply reiterating the statistical unlikelihood of winning in the first place, perhaps we should simply remember that prizes guarantee nothing. There are plenty of paths to success outside the awards circuit, and any endeavour which celebrates more than one person, more than once a year, and which carries as a reward something more than a single deal or clot of money, surely offers the best odds for success.

Some martial arts schools treat the gaining of grades not as a mark of achievement but as a test. Once you have been given the belt or grade, it’s up to you to work out how best to continue training and developing. Instead of thinking, “Awesome. Now I’m going to write another book”, it would be good to see more victors follow the example of one group of Foyle Young Poets and say, “Awesome. Now let’s start a magazine.”

The Next Big Thing

I’ve been tagged by the very talented Melissa Lee-Houghton to give this interview for an expanding blog project called The Next Big Thing. You can read her interview here.

The idea is I post mine and tag other writers to do the same on 2 January 2013.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The title for Never Never Never Come Back came from the Al Stewart song ‘Night Train to Munich’, which adopts the voice of a senior agent instructing their colleague on an operation from which they may not return. I wanted my first collection to have the combination of paranoia and loneliness that plague the classic spy figure; distrusting everyone, under pressure to deliver something valuable without knowing why.

What genre does your book fall under?

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Many of them are actually based on films and programmes anyway – ‘Supper’ focuses on a scene from Soylent Green, ‘Yokohama Shopping’ on the anime series of the same name and ‘Schoolgirl Shootout’ on the tragic lighthouse blitz in Japanese thriller Battle Royale. Maybe Tilda Swinton for the metal ex-assassin in ‘Roy’. I’d quite like to see Rutger Hauer play Armin Meiwes. Cillian Murphy would take on the more lovelorn, gawky characters, while the main role in ‘On coming out to your parents dressed as Dracula’ could only go to Sam Rockwell. I love that man.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Wheeling a broken bike through an embarrassing dream in which nobody else is naked, nobody else has forgotten their gift and everyone else knows the words to the song

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Very hard to tell, though I think only one of the poems (‘Splitting the ego with Mary’) was more than two years old when we put NNNCB together. Most of the poems came from NaPoWriMo 2011 and 2012, which tends to dust under the corners of the brain where the weird stuff lies. The putting together and sifting of the poems took about six months with editor Roddy Lumsden.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Everybody is under pressure to fulfill multiple roles at once, relating to this idea of a person they’re advised to become. I wanted to probe the idea of breaking down under this brick-filled rucksack, of the ludicrous rules that can quietly destroy people. Poetry, with its restrictions, concentration of language, repetitions and cycles, seemed like the best form in which to explore this.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

A good helping of robots and at least one German cannibal.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. Never Never Never Come Back was published by Salt Publishing in 2012. No agencies were harmed in the making of this book.


My writers to tag are:
1. Hong Kong-born poet, author of Summer Cicadas and Chinese translator Jennifer Wong
2. Leicester native, author of hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica and birdman Matt Merritt
3. Reportage poet, ukelele demon and Blake afficionado Jude Cowan Montague
4. International poetry evangelist, collaborative tinkerer and all-round alchemist SJ Fowler

Make sure you check them out on 2 January 2013!


contact [a]

Sidekick Books Site assembled by Jon.
Wordpress TwentySixteen theme used to power the news and books sections.