A note on: Reading in Beijing

The Chinese Culture Translation and Studies Support Festival & Conference – April 2016: A fascinating week spent in China on the invitation of the CCTSS in Beijing, who try to create cross-nation collaboration with a view to bringing more Chinese contemporary poetry to countries outside of China, and to collaborate in doing so. This was designed as a mini-festival and conference, with literary organisers, poets, translators and publishers from across the world coming to share their experience, expertise and approaches. Overall, it was admirably informal and open, full of frank discussion between the participants and with a host of adventures in and around Beijing in between readings and panels. 

I've written a kind of travelogue here www.stevenjfowler.com/beijing

A note on: Nemici, one of the finest Enemies, & the irrepressible Alessandro Burbank

I first met Alessandro Burbank in Venice, and did so under the auspice of his old world hospitality. To the restaurants without tourists, like me, to readings where Venetians made up the audiences. A man so Venetian precisely because others, because of his surname, that of an American father, marked him out as not quite Venetian. But if ever I’ve met a man who allowed me to rediscover, to understand for the first time, a city, it is Alessandro. And meeting him, through the Incroci di Voci project, curated by James Wilkes and Alessandro Mistrorigo, through chance operation and not a decided search is the way in which I met almost all the Italians involved in the Nemici project. All 12 of them, through readings, events, friends of friends. The plethora, the size of Italian poets, artists and writers doing interesting things across Europe, made itself known to me, and demanded an event to celebrate such intensity and variance. So the event itself proved, huge somehow, intensive, generous, hospitable, energetic. Over 100 people packed into the upper floors of the Rich Mix to witness 12 new collaborations from Italians and British based poets and artists, covering everything from performance, to video, to lyrical poetry and translation, to theatre. It was an event which almost precisely evidenced the reasons for Enemies, for its format – that collaboration pulls down singularity and subjectivity, makes people kinder, makes a community, that by celebrating a nation across nations in this way, nationalism dissipates and individuals true idiosyncracies and creativity comes to the fore, in structure as well as content. That people want to enjoy readings as events, as artworks, that they need to be curated as an exhibition would be, and that those involved should be asked on their attitude to the world as well as their work. The generous create waves of generosity through their work, and people leave feeling something special, but powerfully transient, has occurred. And that’s what happened on November 7th 2015, at the top of Brick Lane, where Alessandro and I took hold of the camera, translated each other through jargon and noise and I got to yell at him ‘you are a roman god’ with half-irony. You can check out all the videos http://www.theenemiesproject.com/nemici

Published: a blog for the Rich Mix on my play Dagestan

http://richmixlondon.tumblr.com/post/131017660468 Poet and martial artist Steven J Fowler writes about his first piece written for theatre:Dagestan. See it performed here on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th of October. 

“Dagestan is a real place, or so I might read, or be told. At the moment, in Britain, it might as well not be, for our relationship to that place is non-existent. So it has been for many nations, until we have a reason to know they exist. What if we found something in Dagestan we needed, or wanted? What if something happened there that led us to announce our presence, and so define our relationship to this new and exotic place, this idea of the place? How do we do our announcing in a world after Iraq and Afghanistan, after the 21st century has begun, and where private military companies, with their own internal cultures, their own ‘special’ checks and balances, might be the first boots to hit the ground?

This is the context of my first play, a hypothetical question. But just as all professions seem to have their own internal language and logic, so Dagestan is also really about a closed, internal world of physical training, through the martial arts, and playful, innovative language. It is a play in the tradition of Beckett, or Pinter, and as Beckett said, “a play is not a simulation of life outside, any more than football is, or the circus, or a game of chess, but an activity in itself.” So it is with Dagestan, not merely as a snapshot of the world, but a way to represent aggression and vulnerability, strength and weakness, expression and physicality through the material of the theatre, that is, with the audience acknowledged, and with the actors switching from exhausting performance to energetic dialogue.

“A play is not a simulation of life outside, any more than football is, or the circus, or a game of chess, but an activity in itself.” - Samuel Beckett

With my own background in martial arts, it’s been an amazing experience developing a work-in-progress version of the play, something both physical and literary, working with brilliant actors Robin Berry, Maya Wasowicz, Steve North and Gareth Tempest, director Russell Bender and producer Tom Chivers, to make something we hope is truly unique. A play where knives and chokes sit comfortably with paradox and poetry.

Dagestan has become a non-place in this play, an idea, with its own internal logic, its own presence, that isn’t really real, but perhaps closer to the truth of something for that, for it is not pretend. It is wonderful to have the chance to take risks in theatre, to build upon ideas not immediately obvious or easy to digest, and that are far richer for that fact.”

A note on: The Enemies project: Croatia - Zagreb, Grožnjan & the Wood Poets

The purpose of the Enemies project is to not only create the collaborations and the readings which accompany them across countries and generations and so on, but to also always acknowledge the context of how these things actually happen. That is they are created by people, and they really only work when generously founded. And this generosity tends to come from, or lead to, friendships. This is why I continue to do the Enemies project at such a pace, because, fundamentally, it is a way for me to know people from around the world, far beyond my own country, and for those people to become friends. This project in Croatia was so resonant because it was so personable, the character of the travel and the readings resembled the character of those Croatian poets who are so generous and open and enthusiastic – Tomica Bajsic, Damir Sodan and Maja Klaric. The Enemies project Croatia began, in friendship, in 2012, and since we have exchanged events and ideas, culminating in readings in London in July 2014, followed by this mini-tour of Croatia in August 2014. I was joined by Sandeep Parmar and James Byrne in Croatia, greater friends for it, and together, we were completely indebted to the Croats for an extraordinary week in Zagreb and Istria..

Day One: An eye bleed flight into Zagreb to discover a heatwave in the normally hot Croatian August, passing 35 degrees. Some time to explore the city again. A brutal run in the heat to Maksimovic park. Damir arrived and we all met together for the first time, James, Sandeep, Tomica, Damir and I, and we visited a gallery in Zagreb, run by an artist collective, in order to begin a discussion about collaborating with three young Croatian artists towards the publication of an innovative book that might lie somewhere between abstract art and poetry. Certainly a way for the collaborations between this brilliant generation of Croatian poets and those of us based in the UK to continue on in years to come. An evening in Zagreb, as ever, warm spirited and funny, the hospitality of Tomica, his family, Damir and the Croatian poets that keeps me coming back to this city.

Day Two: A massive bus ride, Zagreb to Rijeka on the coast with a quick stop over, and then on windier roads to Buje. 36 degrees outside. The time flew by when we were all in conversation. Then a minibus to Groznjan itself. An incredible place, mesmerising. High atop the seemingly endless forests of Istria. A walled town, tiny really, but a 1000 years old, and recently famous for its music, classical piano and drums can be heard from upstairs windows as you walk the cobbled sloping streets, yet it's quiet even in August, in the peak tourist month, as its hard to find, or reach, it seems. We have a few hours to relax and then again we are travelling, to the excuse we have to come here, to the Wood Poets reading, organised by Maja Klaric and her partner, the Forest Festival of Groznjan. We park up and follow candles through a small wood into a clearing where perhaps a hundred people congregate around a bonfire, with small torches littered around the landscape. It is lovingly put together, and immediately friendly. We meet poets from Hungary and Italy, and lots of local writers. There is music from Italy, percussion on something that looks like a barbecue. Readings follow that. I read some poems from my book {Enthusiasm}, maybe a bit harsh for the hippy vibe, but people are nice about them. James, Sandeep, Damir, Tomica read beautifully, the bonfire gets primed after each reading so it shoots up a flame when you’re done. After an hour goes by and no one else will read in English I retreat to the edge of the gathering, lie down in a field and listen to Italian and Croatian voices way past midnight, seeing the stars clearly in the sky for the first time in a year at least. The music follows, we don’t get back to Groznjan until 2am or so.

IMG_20150808_015128.jpg

Day Three: Morning in Groznjan, people are remarkably friendly, I go into a restaurant below where Im staying and they give me free coffee and food just because we talked while I ate, waving me away. There’s a reading in the centre of the town, all of the performers from the Wood poets the night before coming to join us underneath the Fonticus Gallery. There’s more music, some slightly strange audience participation, which I escape, and then a chance to read again and listen further. Great to hear Marco Fazzini read, he seems to have had and extraordinary life in writing. At the start of the poetry Tomica, Damir, Maja, James, Sandeep and I read our six way poem. Each of us provided a single line, then added a line to each other’s, making six poems written by six poets. Each of us then read one single six line poem. 

Dinner on the town, long afternoon conversation with James, Sandeep, Marco and the vast table of local poets and friends. Late afternoon I disappear into the hills outside the town for a few hours, first walking and exploring, then with a route, a chance to do some hill running. It’s not so hot so not so arduous as in Zagreb, but the chance to have the heightened experience of exercising surrounded by the immense panorama of these hills, olive trees lining them, a view unto the horizon, is exhilarating. We spend a long evening with pizza talking, to each other and the poets we've been lucky enough to meet in Istria. We return the next day, a bus ride down out of the hills, back to Zagreb and then London. An amazing, all too brief window into a truly beautiful place all excused by the chance of us all happening to write poetry, and more decisively, being open and enthusiastic to the friendships that can arise in that shared practise.

More on www.stevenjfowler.com/croatia

Published: Elit blog #2 - European poetry as representation of the modern nation

http://www.literaturhauseuropa.eu/?p=4078 "Every nation’s literature contains within it multiplicities. Not only are definitions of these traditions based on approximations, that which has been recorded, assigned, that which has had the fortune of being discovered, but the very concepts around what actually makes a poem or a novel is ever changing. In fact the very intransigence, and ever changing, nature of each language we utilise in Europe makes declarations and definitions fraught. That being said, I have come to realise, reading, writing and programming in many European nations over the last number of years, that certain social and political realities, certain modern histories, have an indelible effect on what kind of poetry a nation produces now, and what kind of literature a nation reads.

Recently I curated a project called Feinde, an Austrian themed Enemies project, which is all about collaboration and exchange between nations. In this case, supported by the immensely open minded and generous Austrian Cultural Forum in London, four contemporary Austrian poets came to London and collaborated, and performed, with British counterparts. In all we put on four major events in a week, heading up to European Literature Night in Edinburgh, via UNESCO City of Literature, to close out the programme.

A first difference, and a vital one. The Austrians poets, Ann Cotten, Jörg Piringer, Max Höfler and Esther Strauss, were all guests of the Austrian Cultural Forum, which isn’t just an organisation in name, but inhabits an incredible space, a building they have run for over fifty years in London. The value of this, in having a home, a locus for the project, in encouraging collaboration, and raising awareness of the iconoclastic post-war Austrian tradition of poetry is incalculable. I intend no vast conclusions here, but I know of few equivalents in London, and I know I have yet to stay in a British house in any other city outside the UK.

More importantly, and forgive my compression here, but the outstanding innovation, elasticity of methodology and range of practise the Austrian poets evidenced, while still being major figures in their nation, suggests a rather different tradition than here in the UK. It exists here, but it is not conducive to repute in the world of poetry. Why is this? Reasons are legion, but it is hard to look past what the two nations needed to face up to after 1945. Where contrarianism and a deep suspicion of language itself seemed necessary to a country who had think through its culpability, so tradition, fixedness and conservative methodology seemed apt to those who saw themselves wholly victorious or proper.

Still, now, 70 years on, my generation of poets, those encouraging consistent dialogue and collaboration across our continent, to build communities of writers and long lasting friendships in the creative act, must be aware and mindful of history, if they are not to repeat it, or be curtailed by it."

my first blog on Literaturhaus Europa

Really delighted to be part of this Europe wide enterprise, one whose concerns are so closely aligned to my own "The ELit Literaturehouse Europe establishes an observatory for European contemporary literature focusing chiefly on: research, discussion and publishing results concerning literary trends across Europe, as well as the inter-cultural communication of literature within Europe and the dissemination of literature among the diverse cultural spaces within Europe." 

As part of a regularly blog feature, edited by Walter Grond, literary practitioners from across Europe contribute short pieces for the organisation.. This is my first, and there should be a fair few over the next year or two http://www.literaturhauseuropa.eu/?p=3071 Thanks to European Literature Network, & Rosie Goldsmith & Anna Blasiak.

"....The fact is the tradition modes of ‘translated’ poetry are the bedrock of literature exchange across our nations, through festivals, readings and the tirelessness of translators, but this is no longer enough in a new age of easy travel and rapid communication technology. Beyond these rarefied remakings of literature across our continent’s languages, where some countries are open and some, more decidedly closed (I am looking to my own shores here …), there lies collaboration. New works, written over and under languages, in new forms, shapes and styles. Even if one rejected the aesthetic possibilities of collaboration for an artform not often associated with it, what cannot be denied is that collaboration succeeds in building human relationships that last. They create immediate dialogue, they bring communities of writers together and they build friendships. This, more than anything, is the aim of the Enemies project, a name for a project pioneering experimentation, innovation and collaboration, with its tongue firmly in its cheek, for what must we keep closer than our Enemies?...."

after the Fest - Camaradefest blogs & videos

Only a few weeks ago now, Camaradefest seems to resonated with the people who attended and performed, which is obviously very gratifying. Some lovely blog posts have been written detailing the day, from:

Aki Schilzhttp://akifreetheword.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/camaradefest-ii/
"...I wrote a few micropoems on Twitter throughout the day, taking bits from everyone else’s poems to compose a sort of ‘mashup’ collection/overview of the event https://akifreetheword.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/camaradefest.pdf"

Iain Morrisonhttp://permanentpositions.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/veni-vidi-lectiti-iains-london-visit-24-28-october-2014/ 
"We arrived at something, sounding like Steve Reich minimalism regularly interrupted by exclamatory words, via a poem by Brodsky called Elegy for John Donne. It’s an iambic pentameter poem. Most of the syllables in it we suppressed into the number 1 with a few words showing through to disrupt the typographic snow drift."

Holly Corfield Carrhttp://hollycorfieldcarr.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/bisect-dissect/
",,,and this incised extimacy with Eley Willams and Prudence Chamberlain and more things than I can try to cleverly word from more poets than I can fit in my car and drive around the Carr-Clegg coniunctio.  There was everything I could want: flip-charts, trip ups, rip-roaring laughter and pillows in swimsuits and sexy poems and power steeples and that was only the first hour.  It was wonderful and a bit messy and a lot good."

& this grand minidoc by the Czech centre marking the appearance of Zuzana Husarova & Olga Pek

Novi Sad Poetry Festival - a diary

Not 100% this actually happened. Not sure how to situate myself fresh off another near week away, this time in Novi Sad, in the north of Serbia. It did happen of course, but bracketed, as these things often are (lots of strangers, together, in a hotel of fading glory, in a place some find exotic, some intimidating etc..) but more so. More so than normal for me, and I often seek these things out, their intensity of exchange and potential for private experience and exploration very attractive to me. I can meet new and interesting poets, people local to the place, retire early each night, write a lot, and feel engaged in quite a profound way. But this trip was somehow more and less intense.
My 4th time in Serbia, and the first for poetry, the first I didnt pay loads to get there etc... and I'm older now. It made a difference somehow. Difficult to convey the subtle change in my perception of a place I was once very enamoured with. Silly of me to make generalisations, but I spent this trip seeking conversations and contact, and made them, and found many to be contradictory or even worrying in places. Moreover, while I had told friends this might be a trip that sits to the Right of my practise, an Old poetry festival, 9 years old (2005 beginning) and so starting just in the midst of a new era of Serbia, perhaps the reality of that being true did take me slightly aback. The grandeur of poetry and those who think themselves grand in that light is quite bearable, more funny for its absurdity than offensive, but still, not a cushion to my proclivities. And I enjoyed hospitality and kindness, but I also experienced a palpable sense of obstinate assuredness and martyrdom from young Serbs I had assumed to be the ideal liberal voices. Yet the whole experience was very joyful, I felt very present in Novi Sad, ate amazingly, ran the length of the Danube, spent a half dozen hours a day in conversation, and as ever a privilege to be invited and to engage with a new place and people, and travel, through the mad irrelevance of what I write.

I was delighted to be there with Mark Waldron, a friend through poetry, but how much do we know these kind people we meet at readings? I got to really know him in Novi Sad, for that alone, all was magical. We shared many meals, many British complaints as gentle shows of affection, many jokes, and wide ranging discussions on many things I don't often speak about. He is as humble as he is brilliant. I also got to meet some extraordinary poets from around the world, Mexico, Poland, Colombia, Denmark, and on. And some of those involved in the festival were hard pressed and lovely, overworked and bright and friendly and hospital. It was a human experience. Novi Sad itself looks beautiful to my eye, more Habsburg than Belgrade, and it was boiling hot. And I got to walk the banks of the Danube in yet another city. I climbed the hills to the fortress, perused the communist museum, rambled into the suburbs and housing estates. 
We read in a public square, under a massive chinese arch, to mixed audience, public and poets, small and large. I tried to entertain during my reading, but only between the normal miserablist / disjunctive poetry. It was gently, quietly received. On the final night, Mark read and then we were shuffled to the national Serbian slam championships, and I was slowly tortured before reading myself and deadening the crowd with my lack of emotion. It was a firm summation of the whole experience of the festival, a place too full of nostalgia that can't help but pass some of that onto you, and that's a vivid emotional experience, even if its one I often resist.

Reel Festivals in Iraq & Syria Speaks

Reel Festivals is a remarkable organisation that promotes events and programs of literature in areas of conflict to celebrate diversity, build solidarity and create dialogue with audiences internationally. They organise these events to explore alternative stories through direct interaction and shared experiences and last month, I had the extraordinary privilege to be a beneficiary of this work, as part of the Reel Iraq project in Erbil, Kurdistan. I was among four British poets who worked together with a group of contemporary Iraqi and Kurdish poets on translations and collaborations before reading at the Niniti Literature Festival, thanks to the British Council.
 
Next month, thanks to Reel Arts, leading Syrian artists will tour Britain throughout June to launch Syria Speaks, an anthology of art and culture from the Syrian frontline. The line-up will include award-winning Damascus-based novelist Khaled Khalifa, video artist Khalil Younes, writer and film maker Zaher Omareen, and authors Malu Halasa and Robin Yassin-Kassab. The tour begins with an event at the Rich Mix Arts Centre on June 11th, in the main space, from 7.30pm. http://www.richmix.org.uk/whats-on/event/syria-speaks-art-and-culture-from-the-frontline/
 
The book and tour, organised by Reel Festivals, aims to demonstrate how Syria’s artists are leading the country’s resistance against tyranny. Syria Speaks is the first book to provide a window on Syrian creativity since the uprising, showcasing the work of over 50 artists and writers.http://www.saqibooks.co.uk/2014/04/syrian-writers-artists-tour/
 
In the interim, while in Iraq I had the chance to write some blogs about the trip, which can be found here: http://blutkitt.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/reel-iraq-kurdistan-diary-1.html
 
& a suite of poems I wrote for the project have been published online by Reel Arts here http://www.reelfestivals.org/the-arbil-suite-a-history-of-erbil/ “The Arbil Suite is a poetic history of a city that rightfully claims itself to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth…”
 
& here are videos from the Niniti Literature festival: 
Ryan Van Winkle & Dan Gorman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SrNw5Q3WKI
Kei Miller & Ahmad Abdel Hussein https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15yI3trw7ks
 
& there’s photos online here & here, as well as a great interview with Nia Davies who also attended, and more blogs from Ryan Van Winkle and others on the Reel Festivals site.
 
Please attend the event on June 11th if you’re free, and follow and support the remarkable work of this extraordinary organisation. http://www.reelfestivals.org/

Reel Iraq: Kurdistan diary #6

More eye bleed, happy not to sleep in order to do everything I can do, knowing how precious this time in Erbil is, and that while in it, things are so hectic that I won't be able to appreciate it until I'm gone. I finally got a chance to visit the city proper, though the bazaar and up into the citadel. Whereas the bazaar was alive, defined by its use, and the friendly, approachable people who populate it, the citadel, this incredible centrepoint to an 8000 year old city, a place assailed by Hulegu Khan, Timur, Alexander, is in the last ten years, finally defeated, stripped bare, renovated out of its appeal. In an amazing move, and it would seem against Unesco's wishes, the local government has decided to relocate the active, thriving community of people who lived within the walls of the citadel, in their own city within a city, and place them in a community elsewhere (called Citadel!) so that the ancient walls can be a pure tourist attraction. Walls are plastered, knocked down, rebuilt, the roads are dusty and empty, most paths are barred. So innately counterproductive to be breathtaking.

We managed to find the one ray of the light in an otherwise depressing excursion, the textile museum in the citadel. Really a beautiful, careful and honest enterprise, Hoshang met the curator, and discussed the programs they have to support the traditional methods of textile production and support the education of the Kurdish women who are preserving this dying art. Yasmin and I shot a video of me reading in the museum, my poem about Alexander and Diogenes. And I bought some beautiful crafts, all the money going back into the museum that is hanging on like a bastion of authenticity, at the heart of a project that has lost sight of itself/

Another brutal, drenched training session in the carpeted basement gym of the chawarchra, weird scaling the stairs back to my room dripping while all the glad handed, white suits shake and loiter. In the post gym fog, I worked further on my translation of Ahmad Abdel Hussein, and his wonderful declarative poem against the Qu'ran and the destructive legacy of Islam in modern Iraq. I had then the chance to read my workings on Ryan Van Winkle's podcast, where Ahmad and I discussed our exchanges and his courageous journalism. The more I know Ahmad, the more humble, gentle and considered he seems.
We were then invited out to a glitzy restaurant on the British Council, and took minibusses, like a proper tourist party, heaving me with flashbacks to childhood coach holidays. A nice evening talking outside, distracted by a giant screen showing football, but really picking Yasmin Fedda's brain about her documentary work and her thoughts on the medium. Dina Mousawi joined us a little later, having met friends of hers who have just relocated from Baghdad to Erbil. By their account, the difference is incalcuable. In Baghdad, a man and a woman cannot walk down the street together without being married and covered, and the army shakes down houses to rob them while pretending to search. This is not even taking into account the sense of lawlessness, and hopelessness, you get from anyone who lives and or has recently lived in that city. Horrible to hear, and yet, where I was once 'careful' about visiting Erbil, now I feel an urge to visit Baghdad, a very powerful one. This foolishness was dampened further when speaking to the British Council staff who live in Baghdad, and reside only in the International Zone, the old green zone, and see that tiny crop of guarded land alone, unless they are in a convoy of bullet proof suvs.

Night book making dominated the increasingly tested Reel team, they had to prepare a pamphlet of the translations between the pairs that were being read in the big event the following day, and it kept them up (perhaps fueled by Arak?) late into the night, formatting, sorting, printing. Impressive dedication while I swanned about, offering to help, and chatting to the BC pros and some weird poets in the bar before sack hitting far too late again.

Reel Iraq: Kurdistan diary #5

Niniti International Literature Festival begins! From now on referred to as NILF (by me, perhaps only by me). Nilf is a collaboration between the British Council and Artrole. No joke. Art-role. Up, feeling like a giant sack of dying cats, early, for the press conference. Very spaced out today, no sleep. Lots of Turk coffee. Worth it to see the raconteur stylings of Ted Hodgkinson, and a ten year old Iraqi girl reading Choman Hardi in homage while Ted became a human mic stand, and then Ryan Van Winkle introduced as Dan Gorman, gave a lovely opening speech about the Reel project and its place in the wider literature festival. I then went to do some filming with Yasmin Fedda, a brilliant documentary filmmaker and generous companion on this trip. She couldn't be more generous with her time, and I've learned a lot about the middle east from just talking to her. The rare mix of humility, intelligence and talent that seems to make up the majority of those involved in the Reel Iraq week. I suppose an exceptional project will be peopled by exceptional people. Here is her beautiful doc Breadmakers, http://vimeo.com/m/21718544 & another about a boxer & a squatter in Rome https://vimeo.com/63646958; look for more of her work off the back of this festival, and a work on Syria imminent. Yas and I shot a small interview and some footage of me reading in the creepy subterranean gym in the hotel Chrwa Charw (?) which is low on equipment and high on mirrors. It looks like the final scene of Enter Dragon. It means my fat face will be refracted into eternity.

We then had a group meeting to prepare for our big reading at the fest, where I will be reading with Zhawen Shally. We talked over our performance, reading each others translations. Such a privilege to read with Zhawen, who is really wonderfully talented and kind, and who is the only Kurdish writer in our group. Hoshang Waziri really helped us again, not only translating but convincing Zhawen that my often radical translations were the right thing for her work in English. I found out Zhawen has seven siblings and Hoshang ten! Four of Zhawen's kin live in London in fact. Clearly the fertility stone is working.
no reason for this, I just liked it, found it in the hotel somewhere

I trained in the carpeted basement doom gym, grunting next to the weird massage parlour that also fills out the hotel basement in the chraw chaw, before attending the big opening reading event. It was a colourful affair, a real wild mix of stuff. Local writers, Iraqi's travelled in from Baghdad and the like, British Council writers and a few of the Reel Iraqers. I was prepared for the 'allah' wails of pleasure from the audience, but it wasn't really like that in the end. No need to open it up really, but I think with my events and art performances, I'm known for a pursuit of friendliness, authenticity and anti-pretension, whatever that means, in the face of stereotyped 'literary' poetry brouha, and I was prepared here for some crimping, lip biting and selfharm. It wasn't that bad, more wild west than ferrero roche, more a smorgasbord of real variation of style, delivery and quality. Nia, Kei, Zhawen and the ten year old girl were amazing. There were at least 20 readers. And someone came dressed as aquaman and wept uncontrollably as they read, which I thought was pretty hot avant garde. A good marathon sesh to set us off.

After that we got a bit creeped out by a super strange man in a maroon tuxedo who was touring the hotel, who was touching me a lot but professing his love for the ladies. It was worse than that but I won't blog it. It was as awkward as a really really long awkward silence, and I enjoyed that immensely. To escape we all met up to take a taxi to the christian area of the city for a big mesgouf fish barbecue. After a very long cab drive we were dropped off near the American embassy, strangely underwhelming and hidden and walked to find an open plan garden restaurant that seemed more a park than a restaurant. I had an interesting conversation with one of Dan's friends from SOAS, a Dane called Henrik, who worked for a charity in Kurdistan that provides psychological care for torture victims. He educated me on contemporary Kurdish politics and the work he's involved in, and once we started talking poetry (by his request) it turned out he knew and loved the work of Morten Sondergaard! Spending such lovely time with Morten in Copenhagen a few weeks back made the world feel small while making time seem slow. That feels a long time ago, reading in the literature house in copenhagen, as I write from Iraq. We sat for hours, til midnight, on a very mild evening, talking, eating coaly flayed fish and generally being merry. 

Baroque in Hackney - EVP & Enemies wraps up 2013

http://baroqueinhackney.com/2013/12/31/the-turn-of-the-year-darkness-light-art-enemies/ a poetry reportage / blogging phenomenon, Katy Evans-Bush's Baroque in Hackney has kindly mentioned my EVP performance at the rich mix in May 2013 and my book Enemies, and it's intro, in her end of year wrap up on what happened and what happened to her. Such a pleasure to get mention in such a widely read and esteemed put together, and she is kind enough to call back to when I was lung bedraggling into a bucket on stage in london, and really giving my whole whack to scare people up. That's me below, in my true form, my bear form.

The turn of the year: darkness, light, art, enemies

Steve Fowler bear
We keep doing it
The picture at the top represents a blog post I never wrote, back in the thick of things. It’s SJ Fowler, living Dada, on stage at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green, in an experimental mixed media spoken word show called Electronic Voice Phenomena. I was meant to review the show, which was brilliant and included a variety of pieces from people like Hannah Silva, Ross Sutherland, and others, but somehow got bogged down in the bog of life and – though I spent months feeling guilty and unfinished – never did. SJ Fowler was the compere, and came on in a different sort of persona each time. As the show went on his linking acts became more and more broken down, more and more unstable, more inaccessible, until – I think just after the break – he came on in this amazing bear suit and started reading in a stentorian chant. Symbolic communication only and WOW. It was a bit terrifying from below; you can see where I was. The show ended with Mr Fowler coming on and ranting in German, on and on, building in fury – and fury is the word – until he finally melted down and gave every realistic semblance of being violently sick into a bucket on the stage.
This isn’t sounding  appealing, is it! I asked him afterwards what he’d been reciting, and he told me it was a recipe. Full of eggs. (There, that’s better.)
The show, produced by Penned in the Margins and Mercy, was brave and exhilarating. It poked around in the idea of  what lies beyond, but left the beyond firmly in the beyond. Rather than the usual ghosts and gloating hints of the paranormal, it gave us shadows and fragments of meaning and perception. (What is ‘normal’, anyway?)
SJ Fowler has a book of collaborations put with Penned in the Margins, called Enemies. By ‘enemies’, he means those personal influences and interactions that spur us to action – I think – I mean, I think he means friends. He opens with a surprising epigraph:
We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only though our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.
- Orson Welles
The introduction is a very satisfying essay in its own right, and among other things he asserts that poetry ‘lends itself to collaboration as language does to communication… in the shaping of every fragment of language there is a response taking place’.

Where does creation spring from? What was that voice? These may be my questions for 2014.
 Happy New Year! 
Here’s to 2014. Let’s do it this time.

EVP Gateshead

Groups of men in tight t-shirts, and I say men, those in their 40s, stared at me aggressively because I was wearing light blue trousers. The Baltic is a wonderful gallery. To play at the Sage is an achievement for me http://thesagegateshead.org/ We passed Durham on the train up, where I went to study, and haven't been back since. Three years of my life between Durham, Newcastle, Middlesborough, Stockton, Sunderland, Hartlepool, Chester-le-street. The train journey becomes the centre of what I aim to take in, the company of others, the experiential focus which allows me to put my own experience first, to appreciate the opportunity at all possible moments, to utilise the unique and challenging nature of the performance and its demands, and the company of those demands, to put the audience second, in order to benefit them. Met http://www.hetainpatel.com/ for the first time, a deeply generous and warm presence.

How to write the month spent writing my piece, the month rehearsing it, the unexpected but welcome discomfort at essentially having to confidently perform a touring acting theatre piece on a national tour to major venues with a few months notice never having done so before. How does that affect my private aesthetic experience, permanently, in the face of the inexorable contradiction between the intense engagement of performance and the dreary low of inevitable dissatisfaction? Doesn't matter. Lots of tiny changes made, shavings, prepared the Ash, the Animus, the call, the musicality and imagery. New shoes on, cut my feet to ribbons. The show went well, looking up, into the bowl. I'm told, repeatedly, the first one is the hardest. Is it? Hotels begin. The room sits in the middle of a pool, friday night in Newcastle.