'Sidekicks' by Ronald Koertge

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Life on the Edge of the Continent1982They were never handsome and often came
with a hormone imbalance manifested by corpulence,
a yodel of a voice or ears big as kidneys.But each was brave. More than once a sidekick
has thrown himself in front of our hero in order
to receive the bullet or blow meant for that
perfect face and body.Thankfully, heroes never die in movies and leave
the sidekick alone. He would not stand for it.
Gabby or Pat, Pancho or Andy remind us of a part
of ourselves,the dependent part that can never grow up,
the part that is painfully eager to please,
always wants a hug and never gets enough.Who could sit in a darkened theatre, listen
to the organ music and watch the best
of ourselves lowered into the ground while
the rest stood up there, tears pouring off
that enormous nose.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Sidekicks: A Masterful Exploration of First-Person Narratives in Poetry

Ronald Koertge’s Sidekicks is a collection of 16 poems that revolve around the lives of fictional superheroes and their sidekicks. Published in 1998, it offers a fresh approach to the superhero genre by focusing on the often-ignored companions of the heroes. The collection has been praised for its innovative use of first-person narrative and its nuanced portrayal of the relationships between the heroes and their sidekicks. In this literary criticism, I will explore the themes and techniques employed in the collection, and argue that Sidekicks is a masterful exploration of first-person narratives in poetry.

First-Person Narratives and Empathy

One of the most striking features of Sidekicks is its use of first-person narratives. Each poem is narrated by a sidekick, offering a unique perspective on the superhero world. This technique allows Koertge to explore the emotions and motivations of the sidekicks, who are often overshadowed by their heroic partners. By giving voice to these often-ignored characters, Koertge creates a sense of empathy and understanding that is essential to the success of the collection.

In “Robin”, the narrator reflects on the moment when he first met Batman: “He was all muscle, that one, but I liked him/ because he was always in pain.” The vulnerability of the hero is highlighted through the eyes of his sidekick, who sees beyond the mask and the costume. This moment of intimacy and understanding is repeated throughout the collection, as the sidekicks reveal their fears, doubts, and desires. In “Aqualung”, the narrator confesses to feeling betrayed by his lack of recognition by the public: “I want you to look at me/ when we walk down the street/ and say, ‘Hey, there’s Aqualung!’” The desire for acknowledgement and validation is a universal human experience, and by placing it in the context of a superhero story, Koertge creates a powerful sense of identification between the reader and the narrator.

Relationships and Power Dynamics

Another key theme in Sidekicks is the complex relationships between superheroes and their sidekicks. The power dynamics between the two are often fraught with tension and ambiguity, and Koertge explores these dynamics in a nuanced and thoughtful way. In “Harley Quinn”, the narrator reflects on her complicated relationship with the Joker: “I hate that I love him, but I do/ and I hate that he knows it, but he does.” The sense of powerlessness and dependence is palpable in the poem, as the narrator struggles to reconcile her love for the Joker with his abusive behavior.

Similarly, in “The Boy Wonder’s Lament”, the narrator struggles with his role as a sidekick, and the expectations placed upon him by Batman: “He never lets me drive/ the Batmobile, even though/ I’m seventeen and have a license.” The frustration and resentment of the narrator are palpable, as he struggles to assert his independence and prove himself to his mentor. These themes of power dynamics and control are common in superhero stories, but Koertge’s use of first-person narratives allows him to explore them in greater depth and with greater nuance than is often seen in the genre.

Poetic Techniques and Style

In addition to its thematic depth, Sidekicks is also notable for its poetic techniques and style. Koertge’s use of free verse and colloquial language gives the collection a sense of immediacy and intimacy, as if the narrator is speaking directly to the reader. The poems are often structured around a central metaphor or image, which is used to explore the emotional world of the narrator.

In “Wonder Woman”, for example, the narrator compares herself to the superhero: “I’m no Amazon, I’m just/ a girl who wants to be/ loved by a man who wears/ a gold lasso.” The metaphor of the lasso is used to explore the narrator’s desire for control and intimacy, and the vulnerability that comes with it. Similarly, in “The Bat-Mite Speaks”, the narrator reflects on his own role as a supporting character: “I must be doing something right/ or else he’d never let me stay/ around, right?” The use of rhetorical questions highlights the uncertainty and insecurity of the narrator, and the sense of isolation that comes with being a sidekick.


In conclusion, Ronald Koertge’s Sidekicks is a masterful exploration of first-person narratives in poetry. By giving voice to the often-ignored sidekicks of superheroes, Koertge creates a sense of empathy and understanding that is essential to the success of the collection. The themes of power dynamics and relationships are explored in a nuanced and thoughtful way, and the use of poetic techniques and style adds depth and complexity to each poem. Sidekicks is a must-read for fans of both poetry and superhero stories, and a testament to the power of first-person narratives in literature.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Sidekicks: A Masterpiece of Literary Artistry

Ronald Koertge's Poetry Sidekicks is a collection of poems that explores the lives of fictional characters from classic literature. The poems are written in a conversational tone and provide a unique perspective on the characters' lives. Koertge's work is a masterpiece of literary artistry that captures the essence of each character and brings them to life in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

The collection is divided into three sections: Heroes and Villains, Lovers and Other Strangers, and Sidekicks and Second Bananas. Each section contains poems that focus on a particular theme, and the poems within each section are arranged in a way that creates a narrative arc.

The first section, Heroes and Villains, contains poems that explore the lives of iconic characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Frankenstein's monster. The poems in this section provide a fresh perspective on these characters, showing them in a new light and revealing aspects of their personalities that are often overlooked.

For example, in the poem "Dracula's Guest," Koertge imagines a scenario in which Dracula invites a human guest to his castle. The poem is written from the perspective of the guest, who is initially excited to meet the famous vampire but soon realizes that he is in grave danger. The poem is both suspenseful and humorous, and it provides a unique perspective on Dracula's character.

The second section, Lovers and Other Strangers, contains poems that explore the lives of characters who are often marginalized in literature, such as Ophelia from Hamlet and Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby. The poems in this section are poignant and emotional, and they provide a voice for characters who are often silenced.

For example, in the poem "Ophelia's Song," Koertge imagines a scenario in which Ophelia sings a song to herself as she drowns in a river. The poem is haunting and beautiful, and it provides a glimpse into Ophelia's inner thoughts and emotions.

The third section, Sidekicks and Second Bananas, contains poems that explore the lives of characters who are often overlooked in literature, such as Sancho Panza from Don Quixote and Watson from Sherlock Holmes. The poems in this section are humorous and lighthearted, and they provide a fresh perspective on these characters.

For example, in the poem "Watson's Complaint," Koertge imagines a scenario in which Watson complains about his role as Sherlock Holmes' sidekick. The poem is witty and clever, and it provides a humorous take on the relationship between Holmes and Watson.

Overall, Poetry Sidekicks is a masterpiece of literary artistry that captures the essence of classic literature in a unique and entertaining way. Koertge's poems are both humorous and poignant, and they provide a fresh perspective on iconic characters from literature. The collection is a must-read for anyone who loves literature and appreciates the art of poetry.

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