A note on : performing at Phonica in Dublin

Dublin has become one of my favourite cities in which to perform. I’ve had three brilliant experiences, in 2015, 2017 and now, for Phonica, in 2018. Every time the audience has been alive to what I’m doing, always generous and inquisitive. Phonica itself is a grand achievement by curators Christodoulos Makris and Olesya Zdorovetska, who have brought together cutting edge contemporary musicians with poets and literary performance.

I went on last for Phonica 8, spending all night up on the very highest flooring of a spiral staircase within the gorgeous Smock Alley Theatre, lying down, peeking down to the performance stage, listening, waiting. There were some great discoveries for me, Alyce Lyons and Justyn Hunia presented a wonderful filmpoetry collaboration, many years in the making, subtle in that connection between those arts. Alex Bonney presented a sound piece that was immersive and made me want to collaborate with him. And Diamanda Dramm, a remarkable performer, a violinist singing poetry amidst her playing.

I had the chance to follow them and did so with a mostly improvised piece, one of my recent Powerpoint performances, where I have nothing planned really apart from some aberrant slides that respond to the specific event / place. It went better than I could’ve hoped, I think, I don’t know, I discerned from the feedback. The performance was about self-awareness I suppose, about the conflation of self-knowledge where things can become so true they are false. It was also about performance itself, and poetry’s place in that. We all decamped after the event to an underground speakeasy bar by the river before I skulked back to my Airbnb happy.

Published : my essay The Online Empire : on sex and poetry on Versopolis

Nice to have this essay on sex and poetry published, forever locked onto the internet, readable in perpetuity, appropriately, by Versopolis, and the european review of poetry books and culture. It was written for my book Aletta Ocean's Alphabet Empire, which is tangentially about pornography and will feature in an upcoming volume of my selected essays too. 

http://www.versopolis.com/long-read/604/the-online-empire-on-sex-and-poetry


"The whole business of eroticism is to destroy the self-contained character of the participators as they are in their normal lives.            Georges Bataille

You can never discover for yourself what you’ve been given. Bodies and knowledge, both. The primary purpose of this book is to worry about the division between the experienced and the perceived, and what is lost between that ever expanding gap.

Bataille suggests that you try to imagine yourself changing from the state you are in, to one in which your whole self is completely doubled. He means this to be a disturbance. He reminds us, you would not survive this process since the doubles you have turned into are essentially different from you. Each of these doubles is necessarily distinct from you as you are now, as while you’ve split into two new versions of yourself, you cannot be the same, twice over. A kind of procreation is what he is suggesting and the metaphor is about writing, I think. To mark the pages then release them is to indulge oneself, fundamentally, in a productive onanism. Cells dividing, with some of that division escaping you. No wonder it feels sad, a let down, to release things into the world......"

A note on: Austrian Illuminations Anthology (launch May 10th)

Austrian Illuminations Launch - May 10th at 7pm

Free Entry but booking suggested www.acflondon.org/events/austrian-illuminations/
Austrian Cultural Forum London - 28 Rutland Gate, Knightsbridge, London SW7 1PQ, UK

Bringing together over 15 new literary artworks made by the artists and writers commissioned for Illuminations events celebrating Elfriede Jelinek, Erich Fried and Peter Handke, this beautifully designed limited-edition anthology will be launched in London with readings and performances from contributors. The anthology is issue 17 in the ACF's remarkable Occasions series, a publication project celebrating the groundbreaking work they do, and was designed by www.polimekanos.com in London.

Featuring live works by David Rickard, Iris Colomb, David Fried, Joshua Alexander, SJ Fowler and more. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/illuminations

EPF2018 #14: Collaborating with Rike Scheffler

I’ve wanted to work with Rike since I saw her first perform in Berlin. She is an ideal of whom I wish to work with, poets who will force me, within a warm and enjoyable process, to grow. So it was, Rike and I had a grand time collaborating. We mooted loads of ideas, often around the notion of space and performance, movement and reading, and then decided to write together too, with me writing new works responding to her pair of beautiful poems What It Is You Love. And arriving in Middlesbrough together from Manchester, chatting the hours across the Pennines away with Inga Pizane during a really resonant day, we stumbled into our venue in MIMA to see what the space itself would give us. It gave us a chess board built into a table, a gorgeous ornament. We decided then and there to structure our exchange around a full game of chess, which I haven’t played since I was about 12. Rike basically taught me the rules and as we chatted we decided also to include improvised chat with the poems and the chess. On the night something unexpected happened, the intensity of the game, the focus it requires, took over, somewhat blunting the play, but growing the collaboration into something utterly new, and even more pleasing for that. It was a game of chess that happened to feature poetry, rather than the other way around. And I won through dumb skill. I had worried it might’ve got a tad too long but the audience were very generous, saying they became as engaged in the chess as we had. Rike has challenged me to a yearly performance game and I will stake my European Poetry Festival chess championship once more in 2019.

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EPF2018 #13: The Festival finishes in Middlesbrough

Such a resonant ending to a wonderful festival, one that exceeded all my expectations, which were high. Thanks to Harry Man, local to Middlesbrough, we brought a small band of European poets to the North East, to work with local poets, at MIMA, a beautiful art gallery in the heart of the city. It was an intimate event in the galleries beautiful café space, The Smeltery, and the collaborations were really powerful, and the pairings some of the best I’ve been responsible for. So great to spend time with poets like Tom Weir, Bob Beagrie and Julie Hogg, alongside my Norwegian friends Endre Ruset and Jon Stale Ritland, all of them warm people and brilliant poets. The whole group decamped to a local bar, which was very civilised for Middlesbrough on a Saturday night and once more we chatted through the night. I’ll miss the festival this time with friends old and new. Far from being stressful it has been an immense privilege to put together, a really joyous time, and I hope to do it again in 2019, the year the UK officially leaves its own continent.

EPF2018 #12: Collaborating with Tom Jenks

Tom is a brilliant mind for poetry. Vastly underappreciated. I’ve tried to collaborate with him every year for the last half decade and this 2018 entry in our exchanges was a good un. We wrote an addendum to our 1000 proverbs book, the Nigel Farage post-brexit poetic proverb archival reflections. We spent the minutes before our time slightly concerned we might have misjudged the tone, but in the end, following a video of the man himself, our mix of Nigel’s actual sayings and our own interpretations of his poetic vernacular seemed to be well understood in the Burgess Centre. When he is our supreme leader one day I’m sure we’ll be well rewarded for this tribute.

EPF2018 #11: Hitting Manchester with the European Poetry Festival

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The International Anthony Burgess Centre in Manchester is one of the best literary venues in the UK I think, I’ve only ever had grand events and performances there, audience and enthusiasm wise. It seems to distil the cities energy for more innovative work into concentrated form. This is in no small part to the staff there, and to the work of poets like Scott Thurston and Tom Jenks, and many others, who have led the decade long resurgence of avant-garde poetry in the city. I brought the European Poetry Festival north in the second to last event, after running 8 events in 8 days, nearly all of which involving over 10 performances 20 poets and sell out audiences. No one was flagging. Poets from Norway, Lithuania, Germany, Italy, France, Latvia and elsewhere in European travelled with us and were mostly paired with locally based poets. Everyone was kind, generous, full of life for the project of the festival. The positive feedback from both poets, supporters and audiences has been the most consistent of any project I’ve ever done. As ever the atmosphere in Manchester was friendly, unpretentious, and the performances were varied in tone, the collaborations ranged from the conceptual and satirical to the intense and reflective. Robert Sheppard’s The European Union of Imaginary Authors was celebrated alongside 10 brand new performances for the night. As has been the case for every event of the festival, the poets were buoyant afterwards and stayed out into the night. There has been a palpable sense the festival, beyond my control or intention, has created a community of sorts, transitory but concrete. Friendships have begun, and I’ve had the chance, through the poets and the audience, to meet so many new people I'd like to work with again.

EPF2018 #10: Collaborating with Robert Prosser

The first time that I’ve had the chance to work with Robert and it will not be the last time. We had a plan when we met on the afternoon of the day of the evening event to develop the piece. It went out the window. The notion was intersemiotic translation but the format was about disturbance. I think we created something that worked on multiple levels and succeeded when it failed. It began with a natural pretence about being pedestrian, or about the differences in our performance style, which is varied with us both, and so we embellished, building from the literary and comedic into the archetypal and symbolic, all way into the mindfully awkward. We share quite a few interests and this emerged organically into translations that included stomach punching, rap, google searches, lullabies, cradling, atonement and guilt. People said it stayed with them, which is nice, but maybe not in a good way?

EPF2018 #9: Austrian focus at European Poetry Festival

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I loved this event. A really strange and intense night, another packed house came to witness, in the salon of the Austrian Cultural Forum near Hyde Park, an event of solo readings and new collaborations. I owe the ACF so much. They were the first to really have faith in the events I put on, the risks I try to take, and their vouching for me has led to things like the European Poetry Festival itself. It was like coming home. And through them I have met so many brilliant contemporary Austrian poets and Robert Prosser, Max Hofler and Daniela Chana are three of the finest.

The opening salvoes from Ana Seferovic, Claudiu Komartin, Giovanna Coppola, Anastasia Mina et al set everyone back in their seats as one after the next the poets brought intense, powerful work. It was really a special atmosphere. Then Robert and I kind of muddied the water before Daniela and Phoebe Power and Max and Iris Colomb finished the night perfectly. I hope every year I get to do a European Poetry Festival we have an Austrian focus event, their scene is really one of the best on the continent. www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/austria

EPF2018 #8: Versopolis at London Bookfair for European Poetry Festival

Entering the belly of the beast I had the pleasure to put together an event for Versopolis, a huge EU funded cross continental poetry platform, as one of the editors of their European Review of Books, Poetry and Culture. At the back of the massive Kensington Olympia, in the subsidy section, the poetry pavilion corner, I introduced Versopolis poets Marius Burokas, Hannah Lowe, Ausra Kaziliunaite and Sasha Dugdale – all writers I’ve worked with before. All poets I admire. A slightly dodgy sound scenario was overcome with notable readings, which forced close attention, and we finished the event with a quick discussion, which was quite insightful and starkly honest. Versopolis also produced a great little publication for the event. Anja Kovac was a great producer to work with too, the whole thing was smooth and it was fortunate to be able to bring the festival inside the bookfair.  www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/versopolis

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EPF2018 #7: Collaborating with Ausra Kazilunaite

Ausra Kaziliunaite is a really remarkable poet. I had the pleasure of meeting her last year, for the 2017 European Poetry Night, and when we had an unfortunate / understandable last minute collaborative dropout her and we put something together in a day I am proper proud of. Ausra sent me her poem written for the night, a piercing, elusive, allusive poem about England leaving Europe and I responded, literally following her words (which she wrote in English) and making small nudges in tone and order. It really came together in the reading, and it served to remind me despite my forays into performance that a reading, when done well, can keep attention with effect. I hope we get to work again in the future, the work she is doing in Lithuania is really important and she is a perfect example of the kind of person I feel lucky to work with in these collaborative poems

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EPF2018 #6: Lithuanian focus at European Poetry Festival

To have people queueing down the stairs of the poetry café, the poetry society’s home in London, was gratifying, and a packed house was the right vibe within which to celebrate three brilliant Lithuanian poets who had come to London as part of the London Bookfair Baltic celebration. The Lithuanian Cultural Institute were so supportive of the fest in general and this was a really memorable night, pleasing for me to deliver an event that really gave the poets a proper platform to show their works. We had some solo readings from a mix of visiting poets and European poets living in the UK (this blend integral to the festival’s remit) including Muanis Sinanovic from Ljubljana and Theodoros Chiotis from Athens, before new collaborations were presented by poets I had met teaching for the Poetry School on courses, both in person and online, about contemporary European poetry. They did me proud, and produced some remarkable live works. The night was finished with three new collaborations involving the Lithuanian poets and then everyone decamped to a covent garden pub. It was a really atmospheric night, the best I’ve ever put on in that venue.

See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/lithuania

EPF2018 #5: European Poetry Festival celebrates Sound & Performance at Iklectic Artlab

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An extraordinary venue and a grand night of innovative live poetry, from the sonic to the electronic to the vocal to the conceptual. Eduard and the team (including Tony the Cat) at IKLECTIK are doing an amazing job and were so hospitable, we really felt like we were in someone’s beautiful living room. The place was nicely full, a good 70 people sat in to watch a real range of works. It was the first time I got to put on poets I’ve admired for years like Rike Scheffler from Berlin, Sergej Timofejev from Riga, and it was great to have back on in London poets like Robert Prosser from Vienna and Kinga Toth from Budapest. Range was the key element here, again, and the works complimented each other. It was a little nubache for me to run all the tech from my laptop while also filming but worth it, this movement of poets across Europe worrying about liveness and sound and time needed to be acknowledged in its own space and place.

See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/performance

EPF2018 #3: Collaborating with Max Hofler

I’ve known Max for a few years now. He is one of the poets I point people towards when I speak of my own collaborative practise being a form of autodidactic pedagogy. I saw him work, live, and realised his poetry was a permission. I too could work in the pocket, improvising around concepts which are complex and paradoxical but boil down to a dark awkward humour, which skewers pretension in poetry, which is too often pretentious due to a lack of self-awareness or self-righteousness which seems increasingly ripe. 

I always try and present collaborations at my own event which are satirical, to offset the perception of my hand in the shaping of the event, or to ironise the role of the host / curator. In this case I suggested to Max we do something around awards and poetry award culture. We worked up a loose structure and then improvised the rest. People believed more of it than I would’ve thought likely.

The poem I wrote, which I suggested was Max’s most famous poem, translated, was written that afternoon, on a scrap of paper, scanned here, when myself and all the poets met during the day for lunch and rehearsals.

It was written in response to conversation from the night before and is dedicated to Frederic Forte, whose rainbows are poetry and whose poetry are rainbows. 

EPF2018 #2: The behemoth : European Camarade

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Maybe the biggest event I’ve put on in London. Over 170 people came to watch 16 brand new collaborative poetry commissions from 32 poets visiting from over 20 countries. More than that it was a remarkable atmosphere of experimentation and humour, welcoming, engaging while maintaining the literary / avant-garde aesthetic that interest me personally as an reader / watcher and I think are increasingly necessary.

So many of the pairings seemed cohesive, the hours I’d spent pairing people very carefully, on an instinctually blend of their work and personalities bearing fruit and I think (and was told) beginning some proper friendships. This is the invisible and satisfying consequence of such a massive endeavour, so full of energy – it is a literal invocation of community against the solitary insistence of poetry culture which lags, still in 2018, behind other arts. This was a giant proof of concept for collaborative events.. To have people from so many cultural and linguistic backgrounds, like London itself, and such a range of ages and styles too, and to have these differences, like the works on show, be complimentary and uplifting for the performances that came before and followed after, this is my goal in all this. 

See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/camarade

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EPF2018 #1: European Poetry Festival 2018 begins at Writers Centre Kingston

The start of my first foray into festival directing ended my first foray into Writers’ Centre directing, whatever either of those things mean. In practical terms it began a remarkable 10 days for me, the most satisfying curatorial / organisational patch of my life. For this event, held in a slightly blanched upstairs room in the otherwise lovely Rose Theatre in Kingston, near the Uni I teach within, I was able to bring together around a dozen poets, some visiting, some local, some students. Old friends like Dublin’s Christodoulos Makris and Venice’s Alessandro Burbank read alongside soon-to-be-new-friends like Paris’ Frederic Forte and Amsterdam’s Erik Linder. I was particularly proud of the young poets I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my teaching like Olga Kolesnikova and Synne Johnsson, and the performances ranged from translated readings to performances, Fred Forte and Astra Papachristodoulou both presenting particularly entrancing conceptual live poetries. Everyone piled into the olde market square afterwards, talking late into the night.

See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/kingston
www.writerscentrekingston.com/europe

A note on: European Poetry Now, teaching at the Poetry School

Lambeth Walk is synonymous for me with the Poetry School. The city is a massive patchwork of associations, splicing my own experiences against the ground. I feel part of something larger in London, in small patterns, of walking, visiting places for a purpose. Getting the Bakerloo line to Lambeth North, walking down to the Poetry School, where I started teaching in early 2014, and where I really developed the teaching techniques I tend to use now, and where I met lots of poets whom are now friends, is a really positive memory. I learned so much in that building, that row of buildings. The Poetry School is about to move on, as all things must, but I was really pleased I managed to do one last course in the old building before I've no real reason, for now, to visit Lambeth Walk. It was as good as anything I've done for the PS, a weekend exploring contemporary European Poetry, that I ran alongside on online course, on the same subject, with poets from across the globe.

I woke up very early on both weekends days, in the snow, the tubes quieter than normal, and was joined by a dozen really brilliant, positive minded poets. They couldn't have been more engaged and enthusiastic, it was just one of those experiences where the human mix makes it resoundingly positive. I shared some poetry I've never taught before, most especially around the notion of a new european lyric tradition, with poets like Max Czollek, Ann Cotten, Tomica Bajsic and many others I've been lucky enough to meet. This complimented explorations of sound, visuality, materiality, performance, new surrealism and pretty essential ideas that drive a lot of european poetry. Some of the participants will read on an upcoming European Poetry Festival event and it seems already that the contact with others that really motivates me to do these courses has begun once more, anew, thanks to what the poetry school does. www.stevenjfowler.com/poetryschool

Addendum, added April 12th 2018 - here are four of the participants on the course performing as part of the European Poetry Festival - Lithuania