The Elit article series runs very regularly from Literaturhaus Europa's base in Austria and always has some fascinating insights into the wider European literature scene from writers, organisers and journalists. I've written for them a few times before, and they asked me to pen a short piece on the CROWD Literature bus tour which I partially participated in this summer. I wrote about my experience of being at the Krokodil fest in Serbia during Britain's exit from the EU. http://www.literaturhauseuropa.eu/de/observatorium/blog/crowd-literature2019s-omnibus-project
The Forum Stadtpark in Graz is a unique place. I’d heard about it for a few years before I met those who mastermind the institution in 2015. Not a gallery or venue, more of a communal centre in the heart of Graz, for all arts and all kinds of discussions and meetings, set the idyllic second city of Austria, it has a reputation for supporting some of the most avant-garde work in Europe. The word they seem to use, the warm hearted, playful, endlessly hospitable people who seem to wander in and out of the stadtpark, is transgressive or provocative, alongside everything all else that might be interested in the now or the future. A chance to visit here, to speak and perform was granted to me by virtue of the CROWD omnibus project and a two day symposium called Text World World Text, bringing poets and organisers from all over Europe. The symposium was led by Max Hofler, a friend and a text artist I admire so much and was essentially about poetry and politics, and whether there was a connection between the two.
I've written a whole webpage dedicated to the trip with detailed travelogue. Please visit http://www.stevenjfowler.com/graz
Great to be part of CROWD's groundbreaking and ambitious European Omnibus tour across Europe this summer. It's a mad, brilliant project, huge swathes of poets in stints from northern Finland all the way down to Cyprus. Loads of wonderful people involved, and I get to travel from Graz to Belgrade over a week in late June. http://crowd-literature.eu/omnibus-2/
CROWD: A 3 month bus tour from May to August 2016, featuring around 100 authors from all over Europe in 15 European countries and more than 40 cities and about 24 associated organizers and dozens of local events.
Here's a feature on me on the CROWD site, with a short interview http://crowd-literature.eu/one-crowd-steven-j-fowler/
"There have always been interactions and disputes between the discourses of poetry and politics. Do you see possibilities of emancipatory strategies concerning contemporary interactions between poetic and political discourses and agendas? How can/should/do these literary strategies look like?
I think, often, these questions are answered by people who show a fundamental assurance I cannot relate to. I find most problems, most questions, confusing, and more complex than I can understand without serious consideration and time. Therefore the answers to these questions are way beyond me. That doesn’t mean I’m left inert in the face of very real challenges. In fact, by acknowledging my changing, confused perspective, a certain kind of pragmatism tends to come to the fore, and I am free to be active.
If I have to answer, and briefly, then I’d simply say there are interactions and disputes between politics and people, politics and culture, politics and language. Poetry is a tiny, all but irrelevant part of these interactions and disputes. Poetry has no more claim or power over these discourses than baking or gardening. People who write poems can be powerfully influential on politics and culture and people, but not exclusively because they write poems. There is nothing innately useful in poetry for positive change in political terms, apart from maybe a sensitivity to language (which might manipulate us), but you need not be a poet for that.
My opinion then, following from this, is that a strategy for change with literature is about people over poetry, process over product, context over content. That’s why I think organising collaborations with poets from all over the world, organising readings and projects – this is a political act that actually is inclusive and positive and makes changes. Others talk of being political with poetry, being liberal, with an ethics based on empathy, and then they isolate many humans who happen not to share their exact political opinion, and cause divisions and bitterness and fallout. So I’m interested in real space."
We arrived at our destination, a waterfall, surrounded by plastic animal dioramas, in stead of full taxidermy, and proceeded to marvel at Dan and Ryan who floated on a dinghy around the pool beneath the waterfall until it became strange and mesmerising, see below. There was a sharpened cleaver next to the water and the man who controlled the dinghys often picked it up. Again I had some lovely picture requests from friendly, shiny dudes, like I was the new Aziz Waisy. Back on the road, Hoshang showed us the remnants of the road the British cut into the mountain rock, which was once the only way through to Iran, and looked like a perch of doom above the river, before we turned back another 3 hours drive to Erbil. The camaraderie in the van was a beautiful thing, these people, as often happens when one finds oneself held in a kind of benevolent camp environment, have become friends, not something I'd easily say, and taking pictures of Ryan and Dina sleeping, or discussing the title of Hoshang's first autobiography are the small things that will stay in the memory.
Slightly dishevelled we arrived in Erbil, and the hotel Chwar Chra, or something like that, and the Niniti literature festival. Right off the bat I got to meet some of the other writers, the festival being a bridge point between British and Iraqi poets on the whole, and in Kurdistan of course, some amazing Kurdish poets, including Choman Hardi, whom Ive wanted to meet properly for sometime. We had a quick fluff and preen before heading down to the welcome dinner where we were roundly welcomed. It feels like there is real affection and appreciation for the Reel project, for its care of concept and execution, and it also feels like we are the cool kids in the room, at the end of the diner. After the mega buffet we sat around talking until late, the genuinely charming, hospitable and gracious Ted Hodgkinson from the British Council offered me an education on contemporary Iraqi politics in between gently absorbing my stupid jokes. For the Niniti International Literature fest, or NILF, as Im calling it, he flew in from a friends wedding in Fiji. That is commitment. I finished the day in Ryan's room, being regailed with stories as the arak (a local spirit, like aniseed vodka) flowed freely and I sat on, teetotal, as I had spent most of the day, in fits.