Laboratorio ed. by Simon Barraclough

– Reviewed by Emma Lee

Simon Barraclough spent a year visiting UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratories in Surrey in 2014. Some of the poems in Laboratorio are Simon’s own, some written during workshops with scientists, some from two guest poets who are also scientists, and the book ends with “Observatoratorio”, a collaborative sequence which can also be heard online here. The book is split into parts, with a central section of photographs taken in and around the laboratories.

Julia Gaudelli offers “A Guide to the Solar System for Needle Crafters”, which has a self-explanatory title. The instructions for Jupiter are:

take a fat quarter of calico and a wad of polyester stuffing.
Form an oblate sphere
for the Burger King of the gods,
an obese double-whopper
dripping Ketchup stains,
swinging his moons in a slow-motion
Newton’s cradle.

A fun way of using a sustained metaphor. She also collaborates on “Silverfish” with Tom Kitching and Matt Hills, which ends,

We know we are obsessed with current taste
And live on strict diets
Our low-fat ones and zeros
Replace the fatty longhand
But in our eagerness
We have been guilty of neglect
We gorge on the polysaccharides
Of inky stars
The dextrin of the cosmos
Tastes divine.

Simon Barraclough includes three from his Sunspots sequence and the quote is from the second:

it’s reminding you
that the energy of love you expend
is so much solar wind which your dear friend
stares off because it’s all too much for her.
Your love’s a furbelow. An aurora.

Tom Kitching’s “Cold” looks at mountain climbing, even during an avalanche:

You climb for the sake of it, yes?
For the view.
Yes the view.
For the glory, for the recognition, for the reputation.
For the repetition, yes?
To find the truth?
Yes, to find the actual truth.
Did you capture that view?
Get back in the snow.

This could easily be as much about writing poems as undertaking scientific study. There are some experimental poems that play with typography, use a pseudo computer program and/or include equations which are difficult to reproduce, but are nonetheless successful, and introduce humour. The computer program takes a list of words and randomly produces variations on that list to create a poem called “words_feelings_that_rattle_round_a_mind”.

Observatoratorio contains the refrain “Close your eyes and observe”, which sounds paradoxical but is really about using all senses and memory to study, recollect and think around a subject, exploring all angles.


Inside the dome of the sky; the dome of the skull can model the dome of the sky.
Inside the dome of the skull, the models are too complex to run.
Inside the dome of the skull, the computer was devised.
Inside the dome of the computer, the dome of the sky is conjured.
Inside the dome of the skull, simulacra construe the dome of the sky.


Close your eyes and observe.
Remember the oranges and reds through the lids?
No name for them, no objects to pin to them,
no apples, no leaves, no Sun, no sand, no rust, no words.
Did you turn away from the light or towards?
Did you know the light was plucking you? Tempting you
From the cave, the parade of phantoms and dreams?

Overall, a worthwhile project, and full marks to Sidekick Books for their thoughtful presentation.