‘Barotrauma’ describes tissue damage resulting from changes in air and water pressure, typically rupturing the lungs or ears. It is a notable cause of death among bat populations due to them flying close to wind turbines, and Chris Kerr and Daniel Holden reach deep into the physicality of such a violent end for this short interactive sequence. It begins with a stuttering, choppy poem that documents the death in close-up, then digs into a three-way visual metaphor – corrupted data as broken body, but also as haywire psychogenetic programming. What happens when technology outpaces the evolutionary development of organic species? We misfire. We struggle to evade suffering.
The code poem at the heart of the sequence begins with a pun: ‘.bat’ is the file extension of a Windows batch file, and the poem is written in this style of scripting. Like all code poems, it plays on the tension between language as information and language as visual architecture, but here that tension has an additional significance – the code executes the animal it embodies. In living, it dies. The fleshy pinks and purples of the text against a black background are a subtle echo of the bat’s physical form, and the asemic cascade of punctuation produced by running the file resembles the fading pulses of a brain.
The final part of the sequence tasks the reader with defining the functionality of various command prompts to help the bat avoid this fate – in other words, a kind of beginner neurosurgery. How would you edit the mind of an animal – or a person – to enable it to better survive?
This sequence is part of Battalion, a compendium of meditations on bats and human—bat relations. Contributors will be reading from the book and inviting audience participation at a special event on 12th December at the Walthamstow Wetlands Centre, as part of their Wetlands Lates series. Tickets can be booked here.
Chris Kerr and Daniel Holden have previously collaborated on a collection of 12 code poems, published online and in print. These can be seen here.
National Poetry Day has been and gone and delighted us all once again. We were thrilled that Bad Kid Catullus (thus far the only Sidekick title to receive a Parental Advisory sticker) was featured in the Guardian as one of their top 10 anthologies!
Here’s what they said:
Stone and Irving, the two poets responsible for Sidekick Books – a tiny publisher specialising in irresistible anthologies that double as compendia of jokes, puzzles, teases, weird lists and doodle pages – outdid themselves last year with this anthology of new and old poems inspired by ancient Rome’s filthiest wordsmith, Catullus. Certain concrete poems are X-rated, but if acrobatic acrostics and saucy experiments with form tickle your fancy, this is just the book for a weekend of Latin love.
To celebrate, we’ve extended our National Poetry Day sale until the end of the day on 5th October 2018. Get in quick and get four Headbooks for the price of three! Just £30 for four fizzing, bubbling interactive treasures!
Lastly, Sidekick’s own Kirsten Irving was chosen to represent her home county of Lincolnshire in the BBC’s Local Poets celebration. The project, organised by the Forward Arts Foundation in collaboration with the BBC, saw 12 poets from across England writing on the theme of Poetry for a Change.
Here’s the video for K’s poem, ‘The Lincoln Imp’s Birthday’.
AND FINALLY! The fun doesn’t end just because NPD is over. Stay tuned to our Twitter @SidekickBooks and our Instagram @sidekickbooks over the next few days for a robotastic competition. We can say no more for now…
Salve Citizens! We are thrilled to announce that National Poetry Day, the biggest annual event in the UK poetry calendar, organised by the Forward Arts Foundation, has selected Bad Kid Catullus as one of its recommended poetry books!
Here’s what they have to say about Our Kid:
“The scabrous, self-contradictory poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus (84BC-54BC) have been revisited many times before, and it’s always been a messy affair. But this collection throws the concept of the faithful translation to the wind, allowing poets to create their own weird, wild and shaggy versions. Readers too are challenged to write in this book, until “it’s full of vice and voluptuousness”. There’s no better way to summon and entertain the spirit of Catullus. Rude and beautiful!”
Busy month? Didn’t quite pull together your proposal in time? We’ve decided to extend the submissions call for No, Robot, No! to Monday 26th March. (We will also be putting back the final deadline for successful proposals accordingly).
Consult the full briefing here, and read about our thinking behind the submissions procedure here.
The submissions call for Sidekick’s next title, No, Robot, No!, breaks with the tradition of asking writers to send in completed individual pieces. Instead, we’re looking for proposals – an idea of what you would do with 3-5 pages, your own little slice of the book. Here are a few words on our thinking behind this.
From its inception, the idea behind Sidekick was to publish collaborative books. ‘Collaborative books’ is almost a tautology – a book is nearly always a collaborative effort between artists, editors and designers, to say nothing of those people thanked on the acknowledgements page for their varying degrees of influence and judgement. But in terms of poetry – as well as other leading genres – the writer is generally credited (and marketed) as sole author. The single author collection is by far the dominant form in poetry publishing, and this makes the poetry ‘industry’ extremely reliant on the celebrity and saleability of individuals.
(As a side note, the fact that publicity leans so heavily on author identity is one cause of the lack of diversity at the top layer – since it’s easier to pass off older white men as having the authority required of the ‘eminent poet’ archetype. It’s true that recently, there has been a shift toward celebrating alternative perspectives and experiences, particularly those of women and minority groups, but the emphasis on identity is unchanged, and this carries with it the danger of reducing non-white-male authors to cyphers.)
Beyond the single author collection, the second most dominant form in poetry publishing is probably the ‘survey’ anthology – in effect, an instrument of categorisation and organisation. Then there are celebratory or occasional anthologies, and therapeutic or self-help anthologies. With the exception of Bloodaxe’s Staying Alive and its sequels, books in the latter two brackets are critically ignored, regarded as purely commercial exercises.
So the somewhat ambitious remit behind Sidekick was to try to find or forge a new form of mainstream poetry book, one that emphasised the collaborative aspect of book creation and avoided emphasis on the figure of the poet. What if poetry was the mode, rather than the genre? What if, instead of all poetry being confined to the Poetry section of a bookshop or online marketplace, it was found in all the other sections – one of the ways in which any topic might be explored, or any genre realised?
To this end, we’ve published mainly themed, multi-author compendiums of newly solicited writing, mixing poetry with prose, illustration and graphic arts, questing for the right balance between charming and unruly, orderly and idiosyncratic. We tried to make our Birdbook series a kind of catalogue or ornithopaedia as much as a poetry collection, and we tried to involve as many different poets as possible across the various projects – driven in part by the notion that more poets can reach a wider audience if they aren’t fighting over the same few pulpits. (Or crowns? Pistols? Whichever metaphor suits).
One disadvantage of this approach is that a poet who has written one or two poems for one of our books isn’t likely to feel very well represented, or like they’ve had much influence on the overall shape or feel of the book. It also makes compiling and editing particularly fiendish – imagine trying to make a complete jigsaw out of dozens of pieces from different jigsaw sets, but without being able to choose exactly which pieces.
So we came up with a new plan: offer poets (and other experimental writers) a little patch of land. Book-land. Space for a sequence, or micro-pamphlet, or something substantial. Ask them to describe to us what they would do with it, based on a broad idea of the theme of the book. Then select a number of those ideas to commission in full and put together the skeleton of the book from there. The process is intended to be less top-down, more generative, with the work of individuals given a little more space to breathe. It should also streamline the production process, since we can start on the layout before the final components arrive.
Undoubtedly, there will be downsides to this approach as well, and difficulties we haven’t foreseen. But we thought it was worth experimenting with. As with other aspects of our unconventional approach to publishing, the results should be, at the very least, rather interesting.
Our new submissions call is live. We’re looking for writers to help us build No, Robot, No!, the third in our headbooks series. We want proposals – what would you do with 3-5 pages of this book? Collages and collaboration, calligrams and rewirings, interactive and game poetry, situationist, experimental and lyrical writing all encouraged. Please read the full brief on our Submissions page.
In the Logan’s Run world of spoken-word poetry it can feel like most of the opportunities are targeted at young poets, with 25 being the cutoff point or time of “Carousel”. If you’re over the age of 25 – a “Runner” – you’ll probably need to attend open mic nights if you want to develop your performance skills.
Luckily, London’s open mic scene is flourishing, with events in all quarters. Entry prices vary: plenty are free or pay-what-you-like, while cover charges are usually in the range of £3-£8. Vibes are also variable, some nights running as fluently as a bicycle, others more like a brainstorm in the mind of the Incredible Hulk.
The first open mic I ever attended was Poetry Unplugged, which runs weekly at the Poetry Café (Covent Garden). One advantage of this night is that no matter how many poets sign up, you’re assured of a slot. How Poetry Unplugged’s host Niall O’Sullivan finds time for sometimes 50+ poets to perform in the space of a couple of hours is a mystery to me. One tactic he employs is to shorten the five-minute length of performance slots to four minutes per reader once more than 25 poets have signed up.
Slots at poetry open mic nights are usually five minutes long. At some events you can read as many poems as you like within this time frame. At others, such as Word Up (Mason’s Arms, Kensal Green), you’re asked to keep it to just one piece. (Word Up is currently on hiatus, but expects to make a triumphant return later this year. Sibling writing group Words Down is active, though, and runs weekly sessions at Rubio London, Harlesden).
Some nights are more serious about time-keeping than others. At Spoken Word London (Vogue Fabrics, Dalston), host Hannah Gordon will ring the “Princess Diana bell” at four minutes 45 seconds to let you know you’re coming to the end of your slot, before turning on the sound system and blasting you off with loud music at five minutes. The three hosts at Boxed In(Box Park, Shoreditch) will converge on a performer, sometimes creeping forward on hands and knees, and staring at them until they stop. Boxed In currently offers the shortest slots I’m aware of: 1min 30s. Even so, slot demand often exceeds availability, so it’s worth arriving a bit early and getting ready for 7pm, when host Sean Mahoney opens the sign-up list.
Regular attendees at open mic nights often cite as a minor annoyance poets who overrun their slot; it’s a good idea to time your poems in advance so you know how long it takes to deliver them. Another well-documented peeve is “poet voice” – delivering your poem in an artificial tone. A personal bugbear is the poet who announces at the start of their piece, ‘I just wrote this on my phone on the bus here,’ thus acknowledging that it hasn’t been edited (which is fundamental to good writing), or rehearsed (which is fundamental to good performance).
Popular open mic nights often select readers by lottery, with would-be performers queuing up to put their names in a hat. Boomerang Club (Rutland Arms, Hammersmith) operates a double lottery system, with an online draw for those who sign up on the event’s Facebook page, and a second draw for those who sign up on the night. Worth noting that Boomerang Club founder Jake Wild Hall has recently teamed up with Amy Acre to launch Bad Betty Press.
Spoken Word London operates a first-come-first-served policy, with 20 slots up for grabs, as well as a lottery-based reserve list. Unusually, at this event you (rather than the host) get to choose your performance slot from those available. Sign-up is at 7.30pm but the queue often starts an hour in advance. Come Rhyme with Me (Ovalhouse, Vauxhall), Spoken, not Stirred(The Broadway, Barking), and Word on the Street(Boondocks, Shoreditch) also operate on a first-come-first-served basis. At Come Rhyme with Me, you can order French-Caribbean food to go with your poetry. Spoken, not Stirred has a welcome relationship with the Poetry Translation Centre: in 2017, I saw both Sarah Howe and Daljit Nagra performing translations of Turkish and Somali work as part of the evening’s entertainment.
The Chocolate Poetry Club(Brockwell Blend, Brixton) is another popular first-come-first-served event. In addition to its regular night in Brixton, it has recently introduced a new night at The Camden Eye (Camden Town).
It’s always encouraging to see open mic nights expanding, and this doesn’t just apply to London events. In 2017, Danny Pandolfi (recently listed by Rife Magazine as one of the 24 most influential Bristolians under 24) brought his successful Bristol-based night Raise the Bar to London for a limited run of monthly events at Brick Lane’s Café 1001. On top of this, both Raise the Bar and Boomerang Club took open mic shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Listen Softly London(The Royal George, Soho),Speak Easy (Phoenix Artist Club, Covent Garden) andHeartspoken Word(Ziferblat, Shoreditch) encourage would-be performers to sign up on Facebook/by email in advance. This obviously requires you to know about the night in advance, and for this purpose I have found the Facebook group Poetry in London very helpful for alerts about upcoming nights.
Events are usually monthly, and last for two or three hours. Of course you’re free to leave once you’ve read, but if you stay and listen to those who have listened to you, it’s greatly appreciated. There’s nothing more dispiriting than spending several hours waiting to perform, going onstage, looking round the room, and finding the audience is now composed solely of the host and the bar staff.
Spoken word nights are often photographed and filmed, which is, in my view, very necessary if the scene is to expand and attract a wider audience. You can find Tyrone Lewis photographing at Boomerang Club and Word Up, and Anthony Adams taking snaps at Spoken Word London. Tyrone Lewis’ Process Productions also films at Boomerang Club, while Abu B. Yillah’s BlaSpheMe (Black Supahero Media) films at Boxed In, and Thomas Owoo’s GhettogeekTV is at Word Up. The night I attended Come Rhyme with Me, Muddy Feet Poetry were on hand to capture the action.
More information about the London open mic scene can be found by watching Tyrone Lewis’ film NEW SHIT! – The Open Mic Documentary, or by listening to some of the open-mic-related programmes on Lunar Poetry podcasts. It’s also worth checking out the Young Poets Guidebook, which includes a list of London open mic nights. You’ll notice this site contains a link entitled “Old Poets Guidebook” which is inactive; in the Logan’s Run world of spoken word poetry, “Runners” technically don’t exist.
Ian McLachlan is a “Runner” on London’s poetry open mic scene. His pamphlet, Confronting the Danger of Art, co-created with Phil Cooper, is available from Sidekick Books. He tweets @ianjmclachlan and Instagrams at /ianjmclachlan
Happy New Year everyone! 2017 was fantastic for us at Sidekick Books, and we’d like to say thank you to everyone who has supported, hosted and read our work this year.
Huge thanks in particular to Arts Council England (ACE) for funding our next run of alchemical misadventures – thank you for supporting us!
Here’s a whistlestop rundown of our 2017 highlights, and some things to look forward to in 2018, including calls for new poetry:
Aquanauts was the first in our Headbooks series: a set of interactive, highly visual complete-me-yourself books aimed at taking poetry out of one corner and inviting readers to become collaborators.
To launch Aquanauts, we joined forces with live artist and poet Abi Palmer to host Aquanautica, a deep dive into a post-flood world. Participants followed the signal of the mysterious Captain Nautilla to find a cavern of merbartenders, scientists, sirens, signs, sceptics and sculptures.
Enjoy more of poet John Canfield’s photos on our Instagram channel.
And you can find Aquanautsright here!
Bad Kid Catullus
Bad Kid Catullus, aka Headbook #2, takes Rome’s filthiest bard as its starting point, but this is no ordinary series of translations. In BKC, an orgy of poets transports Catullus through genre, time and form: sashay from noir to high fantasy to western, spy some pointed graffiti or study a sex position calligram of those famous carmina…
Get down and dirty with Bad Kid Catullusright here.
The Headbooks launch took place at the Poetry Café, Covent Garden, included wine, grape, figs and honey cake, as well as fauns, fornication and a forum of toga-clad poets.
Visit Ian McLachlan’s Instagram for more decadent photos (Ian was the faun in question!).
The Headbooks exhibition features art from Kid Catullus and Aquanauts, and is on for free at the beautifully refurbished Poetry Café until 31 January 2018.BUT ALSO! Got some poems hanging around that need a good Frankensteining? Come and join us for Sidekick Remixathon, a workshop to go along with the exhibition, in which Jon and K will show you how to make gold from “gah!”
More information here!
Finally for 2017, we invited poets to send us aperture poems for our Advent Calendar. The aperture poem was invented by James Midgley, and involves taking an existing text (or inventing one), and placing an imaginary window frame over part of it, leaving only a portion visible to create a new micro-poem.
View all 26 (yes, we got carried away) aperture poems here!
That was all dandy, but this is the exciting bit. What comes next?
Do your resolutions include writing more? Then get yourself in a mechanical or echolocatory frame of mind! We’ll be issuing calls for two new Sidekick Headbooks! Follow us on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our mailing list at the bottom of the page to get the first alerts!
1. No, Robot, No! will be a celebration of real and fictional robots. Philosophy, ethics, mechanics, automation – choose your mode!
2. Battalion will explore the dark and delightful world of bats. We’re after biology, ecology, myth and movement – keep your ears open!
Have a Happy New Year, one and all – look forward to playing with you all in 2018!
Jon and Kirsty
Day 14 of the Aperture Poetry Advent Calendar, and Lesley Sharpe is taking us into the heart of the beast: Bluebeard’s castle. As we wander the catacombs, listening to his footfall overhead, what horrors might we happen upon and wish we could unsee?