Enemies, recently published by Penned in the Margins is a collection of twenty-nine collaborations – ‘a record of friendship’, as SJ Fowler puts it himself in the introduction – that spans across all fields of language and poetics, from photography to illustration without limit in means of expression, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself searching videos on Youtube (Videodromes with Clare Potter) or reading (well trying to read, for some) a musical sheet ( see collaboration with Philip Venables, The Revenge of Miguel Cotto).
More importantly these twenty-nine pieces are an incredible collage in their own right. A collage that sweeps away all expectation by throwing you around from one experience to another without much time to breathe, but it’s worth it.
They are a testimony to the importance of sharing, taking risks, communicating and experimenting while pushing the boundaries that define poetry and even, the notion of collaboration itself. In Enemies we go from ‘simple’ poetry block exchange (see The Mechanical Root, or The ‘Burbs…) to referencing historical folklore with a contemporary twist like in Gilles De Rais where a parallel is created between the 15th century Breton knight and Jimmy Saville. Rich in intertexual and cultural references all over, it is literary poetry meet avant-garde linguistic disjunctions like in David Berridge’s collaboration, 40 feet, or the piece with Tim Atkins, entitled Secretum Meum, a re-writing of the Petrarch text which sees a dialogue between Petrarch and Saint Augustine; here the classic philosophy form is kept and yet subverted to create an amusingly awkward contemporary vernacular.
Amidst the sense of playfulness and inventiveness that this collection conveys, there are some pieces that stand out not just because of their innovative form and/or syntax, but also for their striking performative element, I’m talking of 1000 Proverbs, a collaboration with Tom Jenks and Long Letter, Short farewell, an exchange of emails between the poet Sam Riviere and SJ Fowler. They are amusing, clever and highly accessible compared to the mysterious connections that some of the other collaborations set within each other and the reader.
Enemies is an ambitious and ground-breaking publication where disciplines mingle in conversation with each other, finding new contexts; In SJ Fowlers’ words ‘experimentation and innovation is not a stance, but a pattern of behaviour, not a philosophy of theory, heavy with beneficial and smug associations of rebellion and kudos, but a specific reaction to a specific need or notion – a philosophy in action.’
The unnerving feeling that comes from this type of poetical assault, can only be seen as inspiring and, hopefully, as the spark igniting many more collaborations within the realm of the arts.
SJ Fowler is a poet, artist and performer. His books have been published by Veer, KnivesForks&Spoons, Red Ceiling, AnythingAnymoreAnywhere and Penned in the Margins. He is the curator of the Enemies project and the
Enemies book is published by Penned in the Margins.
Reviewed by Milou Stella.
Milou Stella is an artist, writer and co-founder of Witches of Odd. Her pamphlet, Meander is published by Annexe.