A note on: Mayakovsky, my play, has been something else

What I've tried to do, with this play, is fulfil the dictum that a good work of art can only create the opposite effect of its intention - that is I set out to lie based on truth, so that the audience would feel truth based on lies. It was a generous process - ground up, collective, energetic, exciting. And I think, amidst the obvious density of the play, people to get the gist. 

The experience of writing and directing Mayakovsky (for the Land of Scoundrels night of theatre, at Rich Mix Cultural Foundation, for the Revolution 17 season, which opened this past Friday June 9th) has been a privilege, especially to be commissioned to do so. And It has not yet worn off, the experience of having good actors perform words I’ve mangled, and there is something undoubtedly intoxicating about theatre, as a practise, way beyond poetry and something before performance. It is so fundamentally collaborative, reactive, uncontrollable, inaccurate … it’s entirely alive and human, and the smallest change or development or gesture – be it physical or linguistic or intellectual – can shift entire narratives of meaning. It is a playground in that sense, in begins in failure and needs trust. These are things I am attracted to.

This play is modernist in its dialogue, it uses poetry and found text and slight disjunctions, but has a more theatrical, playful, physical tone - its definitely the most accessible thing I've written for the stage.. It’s about death, a very certain kind of nostalgic, faux romantic death, the death of a poet, who like the martyr he became, might not have needed to actually exist to serve his purpose. I’m always sure of what kind of writing I want to do for theatre, I feel confident in my purpose, but every time I do notice some in the audience sag under the weight and intricacy of what I'm trying to do, I do feel conflicted, if not saddened. There's something not quite there yet, I've not yet written anything brilliant. I just find realism and exaggeration and melodrama so offputting, so frightening, that I suppose at times I must be overcompensating.

Petra Freimund, a very experienced dramaturg has been a great person to share a double bill with, her experience invaluable, and my old friend Thomas Duggan has produced the most incredible set. His work has made my play. It is a spectacular sight, fitting for any theatre in the world.

The actors have been amazing, all of them generous and insightful, all of them taking the characters to the point I imagined and often beyond. Really it’s one the very best experiences I’ve had with a group of actors – they have worked so hard, so mindfully, with a real energy and dedication. Simon Christian, Edie Deffebach, Rebecca Dunn, Alec Bennie. They all have engaged with my text with great respect and on the final night, which was the best of three very good performances, I felt a sure sense of comfort that the characters had reached past what might’ve been expected. That perhaps there was some moments of brilliance in this work, and it was thanks to them. 

Overall a grand thing, these three days of performances, and the short time in preparation, no more than a few meetings really, in what has been a production of extremely limited resource. Perhaps it has been so resonant because of this fact. Everyone is in it because they wish to be.

A note on: The South Korean Enemies project was very cool

Such a great group of people to work with Seryu Oh, Chaikwan Lee and all the folk from the WOW festival who will host myself, Hannah Silva and Luke Kennard in September following this duo of events in London at the start of June. Check it out proper here http://www.theenemiesproject.com/southkorea

Friday night was a panel talk in the very jazzy Korean Cultural Centre in central London. It was crazy at times, 2 hours or more of winding chat, swearing, funny questions, in a hot basement without a break, but the discovery of the poets from South Korean in the project - Kiwan Sung, Minjung Kim and Hwang Yuwon - was fantastic, so talented and sooo funny all three of them. Such a great vibe immediately upon our meeting, a great laugh, and Kiwan and I worked out our collaboration that night.

Saturday night was the big event at Rich with loads of pairs. Kiwan recorded my heartbeat live, then his own, merged them with a live coding programme the audience could see before I sounded out the consonants our our alphabet and he did the vowels, while I held the camera. Was peachy. All the pairs were great in fact and we went out afterwards to solidify our new poet friendship over tapas. What more can one ask for?

A note on: performing at the institute of psychoanalysis in London

I had a blast performing in Sigmund Freud Lecture Theatre at Institute of Psychoanalysis! It was for The Poetry and Psychoanalysis Conference: Creative Borders and Boundaries brilliantly organised by Kathryn Maris, Catherine Humble and Susanne Lansman. Much to say about my performance, it was a conceptual satire on conference papers perhaps and the normative urge in poetry and psychoanalysis to 'fix' or to begin a discussion about these fields with the assumption that such 'fixing' is possible. Anyway I had fun and people seemed to enjoy my tomfoolery. https://psychoanalysis.org.uk/civicrm/event/info?id=531

A note on : Illuminations - Erich Fried - July 6th

July Thursday 6th : 7pm : Free Entrance
Kensal Green Cemetery Dissenter's Chapel : London

Illuminations II : celebrating Erich Fried

Thursday July 6th / 7pm doors for a 7.30pm start / Free entry
391 Ladbroke Grove. London W10 5AA
Entrance via Cemetery door on Ladbroke Grove. Free entrance
www.theenemiesproject.com/illuminations

New performances, readings, artworks and films by David Fried, Robert Prosser, Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen, John Parham, Stephen Watts, Joshua Alexander, SJ Fowler and more.

Erich Fried, one of the great political and love poets of the post-war era, whose strikingly beautiful and immediate poetry found no contradiction in those themes, is celebrated on the grounds of Kensal Green Cemetery, where he rests. Fleeing Vienna to make his home in London during WWII he left a profound impact on both places, celebrated by readers through his life and into the current day in Austria especially, this event aims to shed new light on a great poet of Europe.

The illuminations series is supported by Austrian Cultural Forum London and curated by SJ Fowler. .... Watch this TV Documentary from 1988 featuring the Austrian born Poet Erich Fried: 6 May 1921 - 22 November 1988 who fled Nazi occupied Vienna for London in 1938.

A note on: an invitation to Mayakovsky's funeral

Very pleased to be deep in rehearsals for my new play Mayakovsky, with Tickets: June 9th / 10th / 11th available now, to be on at the Rich Mix Theatre : 35-47 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6LA. 

There's more information on the production here www.stevenjfowler.com/mayakovsky 

And a wee blurb - a new play exploring the life and death of one of Russia's greatest poets. Mayakovsky was commissioned by Rich Mix Arts Centre as part of their centenary commemoration of the Russian Revolution, #Revolution17, in cahoots with the brilliant Dash Arts. Mayakovsky is part of a night of new theatre entitled Land of Scoundrels which features a unique sculptural set design by Thomas Duggan and new music by The Dirty Three.

A note on: On Monocle 24 radio discussing poetry

Had a fun burst of gab chatting with the folk at Monocle Radio about internationalism, collaboration, poetry and stuff that's done wrong / right to change people's perception of poetry in the UK, if that's even desirable. Broadcasts 7.30pm on May 29th 2017 and then available as a podcast after that

https://monocle.com/radio/shows/culture-with-robert-bound/294/

A note on: Mayakovsky for Dash Arts dacha at The British Library - May 28th 2017

A brilliant project by Dash Arts, to erect a moveable Dasha outside the British Library, something they've done a fair few times and for this occasion, as part of the #Revolution17 season, I had the chance to be Velimir Khlebnikov for an hour, talking about my peer Vladimir Mayakovsky, in the summer of 1917, between the revolution's Russia faced that year. A really remarkable setting and atmosphere, the playful dictum that we were all from one hundred years ago, experiencing the momentous events of 1917 was a lovely conceit, it lended itself perfectly to mixed tenses and humour. I followed a rendition of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, pictured below, and began my guided conversation with Josephine Burton with a reading of Mayakovsky, stomping about the dacha. We then settled in to a long and fruitful discussion about the poet and the period, much of my research for my upcoming play, Mayakovsky, also for the #Revolution17, stood me in good stead. As ever Dash Arts doing fascinating work.

A note on : Bucharest International Poetry Festival

Blown away by this trip to Romania, a place that seems to be undergoing a palpable shift into a new generation of poets and curators who are seeking a more dynamic, innovative understanding of what literature can be. A country that was the subject of my first ever international Enemies project, and one that I think it’s fair to say is steeped in formalism with poetry post war - beyond the explosive tradition of Tzara, Janco, Ionesco, Cioran, Fondane, Brancusi, Celan, Braga etc etc -  due to its recent traditions and history, this visit for the Bucharest International Poetry Festival, thanks to poet and curator Simona Nastac, completely subverted my expectations. www.stevenjfowler.com/romania

I had the chance to spend a number of days in Bucharest before and after the performance I gave, my first time in the city, and I was able to travel in the country after that. So I had to really think through the work I was to present, and to make it completely new, as I’ve managed to do for every performance over the last few years. The city was immediately attractive to me, the grand fading architecture, a whole slew of what seemed new and open restaurants, cultural centres, and beautiful weather, and a general energy and unpretentiousness that made the kind of open, unplanned walking and exploring that I so often do when travelling, deeply rewarding.

My work was part of a night curated by Simona called MetaMorph and it brought together ten artists from across the world. A lineup that at any place and time would be considerable. Ten of us each given ten minutes, on one night, no intermission, with what ended up to be around 150 people crammed into the beautiful Point theatre, with space for perhaps 100. Friends and peers I admire so much like Maja Jantar and Max Hofler alongside Romanian talents I’d long since read like Claudiu Komartin and Razvan Tupa and even really considerable talents from as far as Canada and the US in Christian Bok and LaTasha Nevada Diggs.

I planned my work to initially be an slightly improvised conceptual performance, a meta talk, revolving around a subversion of the gross ads the British government had taken out in Romania to dissuade Romanians to come to the UK for work. Having lots of ties to the Romanian cimmunity in London at first this would be anti-these ads in a direct way, and then later, assuming the mantel of a copywriter of these ads, so pretending to be in favour of them. Both seemed too favourable or too provocative. I ended up evolving a kind of TED talk satire, with slides full of ambiguous poetic statement and some pretty straight on jokes. I then used this as a spine to improvise around on the night. This open space did make me nervous, as is often the way nowadays, I use this fear to produce something that I do believe the audience can feel is alive, unscripted, being made for them and before them. I watched the 9 performances very carefully before me, as I was last to close out the evening, and used much of others work as inspiration / material too. In the end, I think the individuated, tailored nature of the work did resonate with people, they seemed to like it. I was glad too I didn’t try to match the likes of Maja, LaTasha, Max and Christian in terms of force and skill. The playful, humorous, conceptual was the strength I should’ve leaned into on this night and it worked well for me in the end.

A grand achievement on Simona’s part, it really felt that afterwards enjoying some beautiful evenings in the city with the other poets, talking for many hours, sat in some really wonderful restaurants and cafes, that her work here included Romania firmly in the collection of new hubs for showcasing a new understanding of what poetry might be in Europe. I’ve found this all over the continent over the last few years, I’ve tried to do this myself in London, and it’s a genuine flowering of a new way of working, of a new community. Hearing of similar enterprises in Brasov and Sibiu too, it’s clear Romania has something happening.

A note on : National Poetry Library Special Edition - Shearsman Books

I'm excited to return to the national poetry library reading from my new book in an event celebrating Shearsman Books and the work of Tony Frazer.

DATES & TIMES 5 Jul 2017 : 8:00 pm
WHERE National Poetry Library, Level 5, Blue side, Royal Festival Hall
https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/123048-celebrating-shearsman-books-2017

Hear authors from across the generations that Shearsman Books represents, as they read and discuss their work. Speakers include SJ Fowler, Elisabeth Bletsoe, Siriol Troup and Peter Riley, in discussion with Shearsman editor Tony Frazer.

Shearsman Books have been a driving force in British modernist poetry for 35 years. Their global list has championed the work of some of Britain’s most important, and often overlooked, modern poets. With a reputation for exploration and considered experiment, Shearsman has provided a prolific and invaluable contribution to our understanding of what poetry might be.

 

A note on: Subcritical Tests coming soon from Gorse Editions

To be launched on Monday July 10th in London and Wednesday July 12th in Dublin : http://gorse.ie/gorse-editions/subcritical-tests/

ISBN: 978-0-9928047-8-7
May 2017, Paperback Original with French flaps, 96 Pages www.stevenjfowler.com/subcriticaltests

About the book: The nearness of nuclear holocaust, always just one clumsy accident away, forms an entry point into this record of a friendship. The poems in Subcritical Tests stubbornly make connections, ever conscious of the impending threat of annihilation. Oblique, modern, lyrical, humorous, these poems represent the range of Ailbhe Darcy and SJ Fowler‘s individual practices, modulated and melded through the collaborative process.

A note on: European Literature Night : Amsterdam - May 10th 2017

A brilliant few days in Amsterdam thanks to the British Council and the myriad folk behind Amsterdam's ELN. A city I love, a cousin to my home London, with friends abounding in poetry, decent, serious poetry folk. I arrived and rolled right into the amazing Lloyds Hotel, one of the nicest places I've ever stayed, a cultural venue and landmark in and of itself before going to the Brakke Grond venue and meeting the 10 others writers who were part of the night. Guido Snel curated and moderated the evening, placing small groups of writers together, each of whom would have a discussion panel on the theme of home. An essay was commissioned beforehand, translated into Dutch and published in Erik Lindner's Terras magazine. I was paired with the Syrian writer Rasha Abbas. Naturally her conception of home was so powerfully juxtaposed against my own but we had both written in similar ways about the concept, so we were paired and it was the best thing could've happened. She was magnificent, darkly funny, generous and deeply intelligent. We had a really energy in our conversation on stage, to a sold out house. She read some of her diaries, about her arriving in Germany after leaving Syria. I talked about London being the only home I've truly felt I've had because it is populated by those who are not at home there and therefore at home in that sense of being without a home. I also talked about my own background, Englishness, paradoxes, semantics, and together we worked up some fine ideas while the artist Sarah Yu Zeebroek live illustrated it all. More at stevenjfowler.com/epn

The next day, a full day I had given myself in the city, I was interviewed by Mylene van Noort of Lloyds Hotel and cultural embassy, getting the most hospitable welcome, with a tour of the incredible rooms, all of which were designed by artists and tie into the building's storied history. Then I explored the city, the highlight of which was a tour of Perdu bookshop by Frank Keizer, a fine poet and a hub of experimental poetry action in the city. A beautiful few days. https://www.brakkegrond.nl/en/agenda/eunic

A note on : European Poetry Night London 2017

One of the best events I’ve put on for awhile, one of the best Enemies ever by all accounts. Over 130 people packed into Rich Mix, 13 new collaborations from 26 poets from over 12 nations across Europe. It was intense, energetic, original and still open, welcoming, engaging. Having organised two events the two nights previous on the same continental theme, taken everyone visiting London to dinner the night before, to show a wee bit of all too rare London hospitality, and then having a collaboration on myself, it would be fair to say in the buildup, I was busy. In the end it was smooth as you like. www.theenemiesproject.com/epn

My collaboration with Ásta Fanney SigurðardóttirAsta was one my favourite performances I’ve done. We worked on it very sporadically, so much of it open to improvisation just moments before, much of it fleshed out in a stairwell in the venue. This kind of liveness and intensity gave the piece something, and the control of tone, the pace, the balance and rhythm of delivery really seemed to work. The big turn at the heart of the piece, and the satire driving it seemed to surprise / resonate with the audience. Always something special working with Asta.

By the end in the bars of Brick Lane, many new friendships had been made and there was the distinct payoff such endeavours occasionally provide – the feeling something special, something small and transitory, but none the less special, had taken place.

Published: Who'll Guard the Horse? on The Learned Pig

A journal I’ve always read and respected, I’m very pleased to have a poem in The Learned Pig, as part of their Wolf Crossing series. The poem was written on a flight back from Bangladesh last year, after meeting the amazing Tim Cope and reading his book, which he generously gifted me at the festival where we met. Tim’s writing is wonderful, as is his humble and understated demeanour, given his almost unbelievable achievements. His is a book about stoicism, about endurance. I was very inspired by it, so it makes this poem all the more meaningful to me.http://www.thelearnedpig.org/wholl-guard-the-horse/4412

A note on : European Poetry Night Norwich 2017

As part of three days of European poetry celebrations last week I had the pleasure of accompanying four Scandinavians poets to Norwich, to read at an event I organised, which also drew in local Europeans, in the camarade model, in pairs. The night was brilliant, full of energy and warmth. I met lots of poets new to me, and reconnected with many friends. We had a grand turnout thanks to the Nordlit seminar on translation which had been taking place that day, hosted by those who had kindly hosted us, Writers Centre Norwich and the International Litcase Showcase. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/norwich

I collaborated for the fourth time with Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir. We’ve only known each other for just over a year, but our collaborative magic feels many years deep. We put on a kind of Eurovision Poetry Contest, or hosted something to that effect. As ever, Asta’s rare energy and invention told, it was a weirdly beautiful piece of poetry theatre.

We were shown great hospitality too, with Dan, Endre, Martin, Asta and I taken to dinner, and then out on the town for many hours after the event. Always wonderful people to work with, Jonathan Morley, Sam Ruddock and everyone involved made sure the beginning of EPN was memorable.

A note on: South Korean Enemies Project - June 3rd in London

This is a project I am delighted has come off the ground, it features a second leg in South Korea too, which will be my first time there and a grand privilege.

www.theenemiesproject.com/southkorea

Three of South Korea's most brilliant and innovative contemporary poets visit London for a dynamic new collaborative project, where they will present new live works created in cahoots with British poets. Introducing South Korean writers Yuwon Hwang, Minjung Kim and Kiwan Sung, all three remarkably original poets and artists, to a British audience this headline event at Rich Mix London will feature new works for the night, as well as new collaborations from multiple pairs of locally based poets .

Hannah Silva and Minjung Kim / Kiwan Sung and SJ Fowler / Luke Kennard and Yuwon Hwang plus Edward Doegar and Anna Selby / Dacy Lim and Cheryl Moskowitz / Dorothy Lehane & Elinor Cleghorn / Joe Turrent & more

With a program visiting both nations, Beyond Words will explore the 21st century international avant garde which has seen poetic pracitioners engage in performance and collaboration in a way never seen before.

Beyond Words is part of UK/Korea Creative Futures series, sponsored by ARKO (Arts Council Korea) and ACE (Arts Council England). Curated by Seryu Oh, Hyounjin Lee, SJ Fowler and Chaikwan Lee.

A note on: An Incident of Originality for BBC Radio 3's The Verb

A new commission on The Verb, for a programme exploring the notion of the fake, in poetry and beyond. I had the best time visiting the studios in Salford once again and the producers of the show, like Ian McMillan himself, are the nicest and most generous people. The other guests couldn't have been cooler to hang out with too. This show is really one of a kind in the UK, a must listen.

My text also features cameo contributions from brilliant poets and artists Maja Jantar, Zuzana Husarova and Prudence Chamberlain. You can read more about the piece here www.stevenjfowler.com/theverb and listen to it clicking the link above. For the full show, below.