Fotchind, Babeth Fonchie. “Deze Captcha Code Is Niet Ontworpen Om Te Kraken.” Kluger Hans Algoritmes, no. 39, October 2020.
The Academy for Legislation is an educational institution and training programme in The Netherlands for legislative lawyers that promotes the development of selected professional graduates.
Lilith is a Dutch feminist media platform founded by Clarice Gargard and Hasna El Maroudi.
Bol.com is a Dutch online retailer similar to Amazon that hosts a wide array of items.
Babeth will be releasing her poetry collection in 2022. More details to follow.
Zuidas is a business district in Amsterdam also referred to as the 'Financial Mile', it can be compared to Canary Wharf in London and La Défense in Paris.
Sherida attended Ravensbourne College in London and has written about the conditions of design education in her online journal.
SK [Sherida Kuffour] I think that one of the most important ways of storytelling is actually body language. We discussed this in our initial phone call after your trip to Portugal, and you mentioned feeling the experience of writing in your body. When you said that, what exactly did you mean? What does that look like, mainly when you write something as digital and non-tactile as your poem 'Deze Captcha Code is Niet Ontworpen om te Kraken'  1 (Henceforth will be referred to as 'Captcha Code'), for example?
BFF [Babeth Fonchie Fotchind] Yeah, I agree that storytelling can be a very bodily experience. For me, the thing that happens when I write is that I feel a sort of gurgling, or cramping or like an antsy feeling deep in my belly, right here [Babeth points to the area signifying her stomach] it's not bad or anything. I just always assume that it's the urge to write or create something, you know what I mean?
SK I think I know exactly what you mean. When I sit down to write or design something that I love or feel strongly about, I feel a similar deep-seated anxiety. Only for me, it's actually in my chest. I get a bit restless, which means I need to walk around for a bit—shake it off, almost run away. Whereas you lean into that feeling, right?
"When I write is that I feel a sort of gurgling, or cramping or like an antsy feeling deep in my belly..."
BFF Yes, I do. For me, it's actually a good feeling, and it's warm and comfortable— I don't know if it's the same for all my poems, but that feeling is definitely present a lot of the time that I write, even if the topics are different from each other.
sK How was this feeling at the beginning of your writing career? Do you remember?
BFF I think this feeling has developed over time. You know, I've been writing for quite some time now. I started writing when I was around ten years old, and I had phases where I took it more seriously than other times in my life. But after I finished my studies and my traineeship at the Academy for Government Lawyers ended2, I really started seeing writing as something that I could not go without. So the process of wanting to write and then feeling it like an impulse was almost like breathing— I don't know, it always sounds weird, but it's really true.
SK Ha! yeah, no, it might sound dramatic, but I totally understand what you mean. And I guess this feeling developed the more you expanded and dedicated yourself to writing poetry.
BFF Yes, exactly, because at a certain point, I started writing for Lilith Magazine3. And that was one of the first times that I needed to write almost every month, so I had to challenge myself to write constantly. Soon after, I started experimenting with different topics, which was more of a cerebral experience. But I also connected writing to my body and my spirit. Sometimes I'd receive assignments that I'd think, "Oh no, this is not necessarily me", and so the goal became to ask before every assignment, "How can I stay close to myself?". Because what I want in the end is that after 100 years, someone could put all my poems together and see that this was me speaking. Obviously, I hope there is some growth and reflection but that you could always see that there was a human talking and that it was Babeth.
SK When I read the 'Captcha Code', it was fascinating how alive it was. CAPTCHA is this graphic device; it's static. I want to say that it's an inorganic thing that doesn't even really morph into something else, the page refreshes, and it instantly becomes something of a variation of itself. You were able to bring some kind of human relationality to this mechanical thing by using the same language it uses. How did you get there?
BFF It's crazy— like you said, a CAPTCHA is something mechanical, but this mechanical device is the thing you have to fill in to prove that you are human...and not mechanical like it is— that's a bit crazy to me. And I was walking around one day thinking about strained relationships, and I was wondering, like, you know how your phone listens to you when you're talking? So say I mention an orange jacket, the next day I will have advertisements trying to sell me an orange jacket. Then I thought, okay, well why doesn't my mother, for example, pop up in the same way when I speak of her? That's how this emotional story evolved into what is now the 'Captcha Code' poem.
SK The topic of a mother comes up quite late in the poem; towards the end, hearing what you said before, does this mean that you thought of the end of the text— I mean, people start writing in different places, right? So in your case, I guess you began where the narrative ends?
BFF Yeah, the thing is, I had the end image of how I wanted that poem to end. And that was the vision of a mother being delivered from Bol.com4, and then I worked backwards from there.
SK So in a sense transforming an emotional thing into something more technological signifies a particular strain in a relationship.
BFF Exactly. And in every sentence, I tried to make it so that you could feel the human in it. I tried to include the feeling of not being able to connect or reach someone and how the digital sphere plays into that.
"I don't think people have seen me angry. They've seen me sad, they've seen me curious, but they haven't seen all my emotions, especially in a very large scale manner"
SK Your poetry collection is due to be published soon5. Congratulations! Did you there also work with similar writing processes?
BFF Thank you, yes it should be coming out next year. For my poetry collection, I have all these different kinds of topics that I’m writing about, but they all need to come from the same register from where I'm trying to write. I need to write from, from a very specific place. When a poem comes from that place, that’s when I know, I’m on the right track.
SK And is it because what you're writing now is more personal in that regard, or?
BFF Well, yes and no, there are certain themes that I want to work through in this book. But it's personal in the sense that there are core themes that I want to talk about. For example, I don't think people have seen me angry. They've seen me sad, they've seen me curious, but they haven't seen all my emotions, especially in a very large scale manner. Everything in the poetry collection will still be the same Babeth; it'll be more encompassing of what I want to write about. I think my work so far has been more like getting a coffee with a friend, but now I'm asking you to come to dinner, sit down and have a five-course meal with me. Then I want you to be angry with me, but you can also be sad, you can laugh, and I hope you get to ask a lot of questions. That's the place I'm writing from for my [poetry] collection.
SK It's wonderful that you want people to have this embodied experience, especially since this fleshy quality comes across in your work a lot.
BFF I hope so! Because in my poetry collection, as big as it sounds, I try to ask myself what it means to be a human. That question is something that drives me. For example, you have poets that write about the climate, but I don't think you can write about the climate without talking about humans. Or, if I talk about this bike, I need to connect it to our human needs. That's my thing because I love connecting with people, so it's logical that I also do that within my poetry. And going back to the dinner analogy relating to my poetry collection, people might throw glasses during the dinner, but they will not be able to leave that room, but they need to stay and engage their frustration or believe that they might connect with someone.
SK I wanted to touch base with your profession as a lawyer. Do you feel as though your poetry incorporates the corporate side of you? Does it at all play a part in how and what you write?
BFF People have an idea of lawyers, I mean people have ideas about all kinds of professions, I think it's the same with artists and suffering or with doctors being a certain way. When I studied law, all the students around me knew they wanted to work at the Zuidas6, the place where all the big corporate law firms are located. They wanted to become judges or corporate lawyers, and I could not see myself doing that. So instead, I discovered an MA programme in childrens' rights, and that was the first time I found my group of people and something I could actually see myself defending.
SK Right, I totally see that also in myself, during my Bachelor's studies7, the whole thing was that you'd end up working in a big advertisement agency. The big prize was that you work for Nike, or BBH or Ogilvy, and you know that is the aspiration for many people. But then you do wonder if this is all that is out there.
BFF Yeah, exactly, and it's okay if that's what you want to do, but it's nice if you also get presented with other options so that you can make your own decision. And to answer your earlier question about if my corporate profession influences my poetry, I think, in that sense, I don't think my poems will save the world. But I believe that by choosing to be like a human rights lawyer, you can add some value to the core causes you work on. I see it similarly with my poetry, maybe one poem can make a reader or listener think about a certain topic more.
SK I'm interested in the language you use in your poetry and whether parts of that mimic your legal career. For example, as a graphic designer, when I write a poem or a short story and talk about margins, I also mean the physical thing of setting margins in Adobe Indesign. Words can have double meanings, so I mean in the metaphorical sense, might your profession also impact your writing?
BFF Well, I never talked about my poetry within my profession, and I kept those two worlds apart. I think it has to do with the fact that I didn't write a lot while studying. I was always busy reading and trying to figure out who I was as a policymaker. I was pretty focused on one thing to focus on poetry at the time, so I think my vocabulary had its world in each setting.
SK That is already interesting. I interpret that as there being two galaxies where law and poetry have their own spaces?
BFF Oh, definitely, definitely.
SK How does it make you feel to disappear into these other worlds? Especially when now you're not the only person in your own galaxies anymore. People are engaging with your work not only as a poet but also as a Human Rights lawyer. How does that feel?
BFF In some ways, it's weird for other people to read and dive into something that has been only in my head for months— even if they are kind of separate spaces. But I also see it as a good thing to engage with other people and include them in this bodily experience I had when writing. And when my poetry collection comes out, it'll be very exciting, but I also hope that I can disappear for a bit and go to a warm country or something and just chill.
SK Right, like how you did with Portugal after our last call. Well, you know, it's not Portugal, but you're always welcome to come to visit me in Switzerland.
BFF Oh, that's nice, but is it warm in Switzerland?
SK You know what, it actually is; it doesn't seem like it would be, but it's super lovely in the summer–especially in Basel with swimming in the Rhein, or even Graubunden, which I only discovered last year is wonderful for like writing and chilling.
BFF That sounds really good. I'd love that, thank you.