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
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.
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.
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
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.
To be launched on Monday July 10th in London and Wednesday July 12th in Dublin : http://gorse.ie/gorse-editions/subcritical-tests/
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 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
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.
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
Lovely to have an event at Brick Lane’s most beautiful bookshop, Libreria, to give the many visiting poets for my European Poetry Night a chance to read their work solo. Designed as a small affair it ballooned into 14 readers, performances and a packed shop. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/libreria
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.
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.
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.
After publishing a selection of my poem bruts online, the brilliant Hotel journal has featured three of my poems from The Guide to Being Bear Aware in their latest hard copy issue, which has been produced beautifully. Really happy to be in some impressive company for their second issue.
You can pick it up here http://partisanhotel.co.uk/Hotel-2
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.
Mayakovsky : a play - Tickets on Sale : Rich Mix Theatre - 35-47 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6LA
Tickets now on sale for Mayakovsky, a play commissioned as part of the Revolution 17 season, marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Mayakovsky is part of a night entitled Land of Scoundrels, which features new works of innovative and post-dramatic theatre, intertwined and overlapping across one evening, from the likes of Viennese theatremaker / director /dramaturg Petra Freimund and Belarus Free Theatre member and dramaturg Larry Lynch, amidst a stunning original set designed by material engineer and artist Thomas Duggan.
The beginning of the Illuminations project, a new initiative Im curating with the Austrian Cultural Forum in London, to bring light to some of the most important European writers of the 20th century, who aren’t known as they should be in the UK, in my, and many others, opinion. We began with an event around Elfriede Jelinek, and I commissioned five artists / writers to create new works responding to her, however they wished to, however obliquely. Jen Calleja, David Rickard, Patrick Coyle, Esther Strauss and Hannah Silva, all of them are genuine originals and some of the most generous and decent people I’ve worked with, all friends. We had a grand day on Wednesday April 26th, spending the whole afternoon in the rarefied and beautiful Cultural Forum just off Hyde Park, coming up with final details for the performances, improvising them on the day in many cases. Petra Freimund. Tunde Huber and all the staff at the ACF couldn’t have been more supportive, the ACF remains arguably the most progressive and interesting nation based cultural institute in all of London.
It was a great beginning to the series, as all the videos of the performances attest, available here www.theenemiesproject.com/illuminations . I took special pleasure from David Rickard’s performance, with the assistant of Lena Trost. A squid was compressed beneath a grand piano, as Lena and Patrick Coyle dueted, a video showing slugs mating was screened and David read a redacted scientific paper about the slugs. It was a beautiful and aromatic multifaceted performance, completely memorable and like all the works on the night, respectfully subtle, ambiguous and oblique, as is appropriate, in its reflection on the work of Elfriede Jelinek.
My friend Tom Raworth died recently, so I’m reading his poetry. He was somewhat of a mentor to me. One of my first meetings with Tom was at the last reading Anselm Hollo ever gave, an event I helped organize. After Anselm’s death I felt the urge to seek out every single one of his books and read them from first to last. That experience utterly changed my perception of my writing, and the books I publish. When I read Anselm’s earlier work, when he was in London in the sixties, it felt as though he had lived exact elements of the life I am living now, but just fifty years removed. And tracing his life through his poems I realized these books were a palpable record, a concrete legacy of his life in writing. I knew then I wanted that, and not a big readership, or critical success, not to unleash the “perfect” collection every ten years. Just a quiet record of my life in poetry would be fine. So I decided to publish whenever I felt the urge, or whenever a publisher would support me, which is why I have six collections after eight years writing. I did the same when Tomaž Šalamun died, followed his life in poems, he had been very kind to me too. But Tom was a light to me, he taught me the most, and so I’m in the middle of this journey now, reading him book by book, remembering him this way.
The only other poetry I’m reading is that of my current and former students at Kingston University in London. Like many poets, I support myself through teaching. I think the quality of their work is indicative of a unobtrusively brilliant time for poetry in the U.K., there is so much talent around at the moment. Molly Bergin, Zakia Carpenter-Hall, Matt Navey, Dacy Lim, Julia Lewis—all names to watch. There is also something inevitably poignant and powerful about reading young poets coming into their own alongside the works of a great poet, just departed. A sense of my own place on the wheel is palpable, that I’m still rising but soon to drop off.
I've said before that I think Gorse to be one of the finest literary journals in the world. I read their impeccably produced issues cover to cover and feel the journal to be edited as beautifully as it made. To have some of my art brut poems, from my upcoming I fear my best work behind me book with Stranger Press in the latest issue is wonderful, not only to share that work, aberrant as it would be to most publications, but also because I knew how beautifully they would present the works. They look amazing on its pages, I couldnt be happier.
You can pick up issue 8 here http://gorse.ie/book/no-8/
Very excited to appear on The Verb once again this week coming. Here is the page for the show : http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08n24fc
I've written a new piece about the concept of originality, authenticity and fake-ness for the show, as this is the theme. I'll be appearing alongside poet Ira Lightman, novelist Delphine de Vigan and comedian Mark Steel.
The last commission I was lucky enough to do for The Verb, The Worm in its Core, actually began a whole new series of texts and so with this piece, An Incident of Originality, I've happily kept a certain aesthetic connection to this piece, which can be heard here https://soundcloud.com/sjfowler/theworminitscore
The commission will be a collaboration too, with a small group of poets from across Europe whom I admire. I've asked them to contribute short bursts of new text, like a dialogue. My text is literary but quite computational too – abstract at times, using more common speech but also quite disembodied. I think modernist theatrical writing has been influence, as I’ve been writing more theatre – Pinter, Beckett, Churchill certainly. It is written for a kind of monologue delivery, addressing an abstract other.
It’s about the impossibility of originality, or something like that. It was in earlier drafts about literal thinking, how that is the root of nearly all ethical malignancy, on both sides of debate nowadays certainly – the false binary that drives the left and right, the death of complexity and ambiguity in discussion and often in poetry too, and how this is connected to the myth of the original poem / poet, and the traditional, formal, metaphysical and romantic notion of the poet as producing original work, as though they invented language itself.
But with further edits, its become more about me burying this commentary in strange tonal and conversational shifts, though it is still about authenticity being a fundamental acceptance of authenticity’s impossibility and the paradox at the heart of that.
Listen in this coming Friday night! 10pm BBC Radio 3.
A beautiful room to launch my latest collection within, and in generous company, I turned out a performance with increasing levels of bear awareness, from a bear poster, to collaborating with my friend Emanuel the Bear, to bringing the room's bear to human ratio into line, to transforming myself into a bear. Very grateful to see so many friends there, to have Tony Frazer do such a fine job on my book and to read alongside the great John Hall. www.stevenjfowler.com/bearaware