Poetry Book Society article

Huge thanks to Peter Hughes

Article ImageI hope Alec Newman and Steven Fowler are having a relaxing break this summer. They have been busy.

Earlier this year, Alec Newman's Knives, Forks and Spoons Press was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award for outstanding UK publisher of poetry in pamphlet form. It is easy to understand why. KF&S has been putting out an amazing range of innovative poetry at an extraordinary rate. There is a buzz and an urgency about the whole project which has made it a particularly welcome addition to the British poetry scene. The website is riddled with unpredictability - as well as some enticing offers, such as three books for £10.

The first KF&S pamphlet I can remember reading was by S J Fowler and was the first in his fightsseries. There are now at least twenty of these, each one inspired by a different boxer. The first fifteen have been assembled and published in a single volume by Veer books, in July 2011, under the title fights cycles I-XV.

Maggie O'Sullivan describes this as a dazzling, visceral, proficient, kinetic work. Tim Atkins agrees, saying there are not many books of poetry where you turn the page not knowing what is coming next, but this is one of them.

Steven Fowler was born in Cornwall in 1983. He studied philosophy at Durham, then at the University of London. Somehow he finds time to edit the Maintenant interview series for 3 am magazine, write extensively, study for a PhD in contemporary poetics at Birkbeck, and hold down a job at the British Museum. He has been an employee of the museum since 2007 and its vast holdings inform his recent volume Red Museum, (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2011).

It is difficult to convey the breadth of reference in this book. Perhaps listing a few of the titles will give some idea: a cubic mile is sufficient to contain one hundred billion souls, provided they are packed tightly, 'like anchovies'; the Crusaders treacherously Crucify those taken at Odessa; William of Orange; how to shorten the yard; Tamerlane harvests horses; how to enlarge the Pudenda; Porphyria; The Hospitalier grand master Guillaume de Villiers or Guillaume de Clermont defends the walls of Acre without enthusiasm; Blue cocoon; Pagan depression; the sixth fiddle; Oswald Spengler has a go; Jesus wept; I leave my meals to Neseus.

I feel that this should whet your appetite. Iain Sinclair is impressed too:
A tremendous and persuasive surge of the red and the black: conflicted doctrines, scorched paper. Gothic scripts and plague-year screenplays for an apocalyptic cinema. Death chess. Heretical crusades. Hurt flesh. Fire angels. Madness. A grimoire for a haunted river-city. The poetry lies in the interpretation of malfated woodcuts. It is sinewy, knotted, persistent. And true.

So it has been a year of formidable achievements by Alec Newman and Steven Fowler. Red Museum is just one of their accomplishments, but it is the most startling book of poetry in English to appear this year. I hope they are sitting somewhere sunny, nursing chilled drinks, enjoying well-deserved breaks. But something tells me that they're not.

Peter Hughes' poetry publications include Paul Klee's Diary, Blueroads, Nistanimera, The Summer of Agios Dimitrios and The Pistol Tree Poems. Nathan Thompson writes of it as ‘flickering, intense, innovative and utterly mesmerising'. Peter also runs Oystercatcher Press, based on the Norfolk coast, which has published more than 40 poetry pamphlets over the last three years.

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