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Opening Nights – Ian McLachlan on entering the Spoken Word scene

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.
Image by Tyrone Lewis
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.
Image by Tyrone Lewis
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.
Image by Tyrone Lewis
Listen Softly London (The Royal George, Soho), Speak Easy (Phoenix Artist Club, Covent Garden) and Heartspoken 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.
Image by Tyrone Lewis
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

Big Sidekick 2017 Roundup! Big Sidekick 2018 Preview!

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.
Image by John Canfield, 2017
Image by John Canfield, 2017
Image by Abi Palmer, 2017
Enjoy more of poet John Canfield’s photos on our Instagram channel. And you can find Aquanauts right 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 Catullus right here.

Headbooks exhibition

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.
Instagram /ianjmclachlan
Instagram /ianjmclachlan
Instagram /ianjmclachlan
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!

Advent Calendar

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. Like so!
Julia Rose Lewis opens a window for us.
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! Ahem! 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

Sidekick Aperture Poetry Advent Calendar Day 21 – James Midgley

Day 21 of the Aperture Poetry #AdventCalendar and we’re going deep-sea diving with the godfather of the aperture poetry form, James Midgley! Peep through the porthole, or between the fronds and see what treasure you find in the depths

For more things Midgley, visit his Facebook page.

Sidekick Aperture Poetry Advent Calendar Day 14 – Lesley Sharpe

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?

Follow Lesley on Twitter @lesleyksharpe

Sidekick Aperture Poetry Advent Calendar Day 11 – Roberta James

Clank, rattle, creak! Something is firing up, stirring its cogs and rumbling into action. It’s Day 11 of the Sidekick Aperture Poetry Advent Calendar, and Roberta James is our resident engineer, keen to show us her latest contraption. Read her pistoning poem here.

Follow Roberta on Twitter @RobertaWriter to see more of her fantastical inventions!

Sidekick Aperture Poetry Advent Calendar Day 5 – Andrea Mbarushimana

Day Five, and the Aperture Advent Calendar sees our guest poet Andrea Mbarushimana tiptoeing through – what – a hotel, a boarding school, a convent? We can’t say for sure, but we know we can’t linger. Take what you can learn and scurry on. Yyou are being watched.

Talking of learning, to find out more about Andrea, follow her on Twitter @andymba24 or sneak across to

Sidekick Aperture Poetry Advent Calendar Day 4 – Linda Black

We’re looking up and squinting into the sun today as the intrepid Linda Black takes over the Aperture Advent Calendar!

Something is shifting before our eyes in this aperture. Just as clouds change from dragons to cranes, this pinhole-camera poem gives us fragments drifting in and out.

Follow @LindaRoseBlack to learn more about today’s glass-gazer.

Sidekick Aperture Poetry Advent Calendar Day 2 – Peg Duthie

Day Two of our Aperture Calendar and it’s the turn of the wonderful Peg Duthie!

So it’s a slightly more heated drawing room we’re glimpsing into today. There’s a somewhat scandalous argument taking place. If only we could linger a little longer outside…

Find out more about today’s Advent Gallivanter at and on Twitter at @Zirconium.

Enjoy Day Two!

ACE news, Headbooks and making a splash!

Sidekick Books is extremely happy to announce that Arts Council England have given us funding to produce our first four Headbooks! This thrilling and unusual set of titles aims to introduce poetry to new audiences through play, rich visuals and interactive elements. Huge thanks to ACE for their generosity in supporting our work. Sidekick’s collaborative, multi-author focus means our titles fall outside the guidelines of many prizes, so ACE’s support enables us to carry on mixing, meddling and commissioning strange creations. The Headbooks series is a genre-busting set of gift books blending visual poetry with games and activities, and bringing poetry out of the corner of the bookshop, into the light. Our first Headbook, due out next month, is Aquanauts, a twisting, turning journey under the water. Featuring calligrams, colour pages, exercises and creative prompts, it’s a deep dive into the unknown and a feast for the senses. Here’s a taster:
Aquanauts cover, featuring enigmatic model El Aguador
Aquanauts cover, featuring enigmatic model El Aguador
We’ll be following up this aquatic adventure with a journey through time to the Roman empire, to meet Bad Kid Catullus, an explosive set of new Catullus translations, riffs and reactions, mixing collage with frottage. That’ll be due in September. Finally, in 2018, we’ll be issuing open calls for submissions for The Sidekick Book of Sidekicks, a tribute to the shadows that follow heroes and villains, and No, Robot, No!, an updated, multiplayer version of K and Jon’s debut joint pamphlet.


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