One component of contemporary poetry is the breaking down of assumptions about language: how to use it, what it can be used for, what it should look and sound like. Remake and renew. I’ve always been puzzled by how this natural instinct among poets to challenge convention more often than not seems to stop at the boundaries of the page. We expend vast amounts of time and energy radically restructuring the written word and are then content (thrilled, even) to have it bound up in a conventionally sized book or pamphlet with our name on the spine and rave reviews on the back.
A simple question then: is the single author slim volume really the most conducive medium for increasing poetry’s readership? Or, speaking as an editor setting up a small press: are more single author slim volumes with a new logo on the back really what the world needs? Is there room for one more pair of upstarts publishing such things?
The answer to these question isn’t necessarily ‘no’, but when every other press seems to answer with a resounding ‘yes’, the alternative begins to look like rather a rich country, ripe for exploration. So in starting Sidekick Books, we decided we would concentrate on all the alternatives to the single author volume. To date, this has meant four micro-anthologies and (imminently) a mega-anthology, but we’re also starting work on team-ups (poets and illustrators working together from the inception of the project) and A-Zs (teams of six poets working in tandem).
After all, the most popular and lucrative mediums of the day – films and computer games – each depend on huge teams of people to deliver a single product. True, it already takes a group of professionals or dedicated amateurs to publish a book, but most go unsung – invisible stagehands who pull ropes to make the poet fly over the audience. Poetry has traditionally given primacy to the concept of the Artist, the individual genius, or the Movement, groups formed for political or philosophical purpose, and we need to question how relevant these concepts are to the cultural battles we engage in today. Are we really still a mob to gather round a figurehead, or are we ready for a little more egalitarianism in our literature? Are books precious and bountiful objects, as we keep claiming in our defense against the e-book, or mere conveyances for the personal documentation of a person’s life?
Consider also the potential for rooting out new audiences. Our first book, COIN OPERA, was featured in two internationally distributed computer games magazines and the popular Rock, Paper, Shotgun blog. Why? Because we published it as a book of poems that engaged with a particular subject (in this case, computer games) not as the work of a poet who dances through a range of topics the reader may or may not be interested in. Information overload is the default setting of contemporary poetry collections, whose authors take in the full panorama of modern life and attempt to digest it. That is still an invaluable occupation – but there’s a case to be made for a different system of organisation, for giving readers a choice of how to move through poetry and for letting poetry be the process by which a reader travels, say, from an interest in computer games to an interest in nature via Ted Hughes (specifically, Simon Barraclough’s poem ‘Examination at Doom’s Door’, which pastiches Hughes by reference to iD’s classic first person shooter).
Sidekick Books is making that case. Will it succeed? Let me get back to you in a decade.
Jon Stone was born in Derby in 1983 and currently lives in Whitechapel, which is flatter and murkier. If the creative arts were a fantasy roleplaying game, he would be a red mage, because he does a little of everything. For a short time, he was poetry editor of the now-defunct roundtable review and since 2005, he has been the main production editor and designer of Fuselit, the journal edited by Kirsten Irving, for which he also provides almost-competent artwork.
He likes collaborative writing experiments, and conceived and put together the supplementary booklets that have been packaged with recent issues of Fuselit, including Chimerium, which allowed you to mix and match parts of poems by Luke Kennard, W.N. Herbert, Roddy Lumsden, Jack Underwood and others, and Telemorphics, in which Hugo Williams, Kathryn Simmonds, Emily Berry and others all ‘translated’ each other’s work. With Kirsten Irving, he has also run several events in London, including Mixtape, where poets read a selection of other poets’ work, and (co-organised with Declan Ryan) a Leonard Cohen tribute night.
Towards the end of 2009, he decided to start putting together multi-poet anthologies under the Sidekick Books inprint. He also reviews books and pamphlets, both at Sidekick Books and for Sphinx, and occasionally writes full-length articles, as well as short reviews of games, comics, films and anything else at the Cut Out & Keep online journal.
But poetry is where he’s really put the hours in. His writing has evolved rapidly over the last few years, from being characterised by playful conceits to emerging gradually from carefully accumulated nests of notes, a deep affection for off-beat pop culture and some funny ideas about 16th century alchemy as a metaphor for how to make poems work – ‘solve et coagula’, the breaking down of elements and their coming together!