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.


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

The Enemies Project: Croatia - July 31st at the Rich Mix Arts Centre

A collaborative poetry event where the best of a vibrant contemporary Croatian poetry scene present brand new works written with their British counterparts. Celebrating the potential of collaboration to create dynamic new poetry that transcends style and language, the Enemies project: Croatia, with events in both Britain and Croatia, has its crescendo at the Rich Mix Arts Centre. Fourteen poets in seven pairs present their collaborations, for a unique evening of Anglo-Balkan poetry.

Featuring new collaborations from: Damir Sodan & James Byrne / Tomica Bajsic & Sandeep Parmar / Maja Klaric & SJ Fowler / Tamar Yoseloff & Justin Hopper / Harry Man & Kirsty Irving / JT Welsch & Nathan Walker / JR Carpenter & Mary Paterson

The Enemies Project summer program: without doubt the most ambitious run of events we've put on. A thanks to all who attended, or participated. The links below contain video recordings of all the readings.

Feinde: Austrian Enemies - May 1st to 14th www.theenemiesproject.com/feinde
A exhibition and readings at the Rich Mix, the Hardy Tree Gallery and the Austrian Cultural Forum, over 30 new performances celebrated the visit of Ann Cotten, Jörg Piringer, Max Höfler and Esther Strauss.

European Literature Night Edinburgh - May 14th www.theenemiesproject.com/eln
Five readings in one night with poets from over a dozen European nations for UNESCO Edinburgh: city of literature's 2015 European literature night.

Gelynion: Welsh Enemies - May 19th - June 5th www.theenemiesproject.com/gelynion
Hugely successful tour of Wales, visiting Newport, Cardiff, Swansea, Aberystwyth, Bangor, the Hay-on-Wye festival & London, with over 60 poets reading across both nations.

Mahu: an exhibition - June 6th to July 14th www.theenemiesproject.com/mahu
11 events over three weeks in the Hardy Tree Gallery, Kings Cross, London, each curated by a different organisation, press or theme.

The Berlin Camarade - June 23rd www.theenemiesproject.com/berlin
14 brand new collaborations, a celebration of the depth and vibrancy of the contemporary Berlin poetry scene. Hosted and supported by Lettretage.

Zagreb & Split : a poetry blogdiary

A rare privilege to spend ten days in Croatia, at the closing of the summer season, at the invitation, and enjoying the hospitality of, the Croatian Writers Association, and my friends Tomica Bajsic, Ana Brnadic and Damir Sodan. I managed to spend real time, not whisking through, in both Zagreb and Split, and meet a whole new bunch of poets and artists.

At the centre of my visit was a reading I gave at the Café u Dvoristu in Zagreb, where Tomica and I chatted, doing a Q & A of sorts, before I read from my new book and some translations were read. Thanks to Damir Sodan, I have dozens of things in Croatian, and it was good to see my poems are depressing and weird for even the most enthusiastic audience across languages.
Tomica and the writers association did a great job of getting actually interested people to the reading, the room was really all poets, students, artists, people who really came to listen and engage. And as often happens, there is the perception when I travel that I am doing so because of a sort of poetic meritocracy, as though I must be known in England by virtue of my leaving it. This is obviously, and enjoyably not the case. So there was no falseness to the modesty of my responses against Tomica extremely generous questions and statements about the Enemies project and Maintenant. Never more than in these energetic, humorous, deeply enjoyable live moments, do I feel happier to feel like a stowaway, or a pretender, or a parasite. All the better, and more so as my work is clearly too dense for people to be supporting me because of that. The other reasons I prefer.

Moreover, the conversations I was able to have in Croatia, to really get to know Tomica, who really is one of the most extraordinary men I’ve ever met, let alone a fine poet (I urge you to look him up, to save me from adding the remarkable biographical details here, his) were inspiring. The spirit of Croatians, perhaps just toward me, but it seemed in general, was generous and open. I took much, learnt much from chatting to dramaturges and sculptors and journalists, some in their teens, some in their fifties.

I then headed south to stay in Split at the generous invitation of Damir and had real writing time in the 30 degree heat and intermittently thunderstorms. It is a beautiful place. Much has come of this trip, not least the excellent possibility of an Enemies project: Croatia in 2015, with readings in both the UK and back in Croatia. Hard not to be excited at more time with such brilliant poets and generous people.

Zarez interview in Croatia with Marko Pogacar

MP: For the last couple of years you are very active in finding, elaborating and persuading new and original, or at least not very common and worn out methods of presenting poets and poetry. The effort seems to be rather efficient – a couple of projects with high public visibility had emerged out of that. Tell us a bit more...

SJF: A lot of factors led up to me doing this. The fact I didn't have a literary education as a child, and my rather late beginning to writing, and that I perhaps was able to see quite clearly, with fresh eyes, what was working and was not with contemporary presentations of literature was certainly the main one. So it seems natural to me to have poets explore collaboration with each and across the arts as a fundamental mode, to have them write to commission or responding to an idea, to make readings rapid and intensive, to borrow from performance art and so forth. I have also always emphasisedthat readings should be decidedly open and welcoming, that that effects the experience on the most originary level. So far, these ideas have received a lot of support.
MP: You have published six volumes of your own poetry in a rather short time as well. Again the texts and the performances tend to merge styles, strategies, arts and disciplines. The ‘good old’ paper-eye connection lost something of its strength within the everyday explosion of the spectacle? How much the general context determines our very ability to comprehend literature, especially poetry? Is it time for the new ‘aesthetic of the new’?
SJF: So much historical analytical repetition often obscures our view of questions like that. What I will say is that this moment is truly a new moment. The two enormous factors we must deal with is population increase across the globe, the explosion of human beings, doubling the planet's occupation at the same time as absolutely revolutionary technological changes. We live in a truly new moment and have to respond to that. Very idiosyncratically I have responded with a measure of speed.
MP: London’s poetry scene seems to be boiling at the moment – interesting names and venues seem to pop up non-stop. Anything binds them together, besides the fresh energy? Any dominants, recognizable generation characteristics? Does it, in the internet era, make sense to talk about the generation just age-wise?  
SJF: The great quality of London is its size. There are so many things happening at once, so many readings, so many new poets, that its very hard to feel a sense of hierarchy, which is traditional in literary circles. You can't be top dog, because there's always another group of poets, just a street down, who have never heard of you. So there are no dominants in London, just a nearly endless periphery. The great and good of the literary scene are not followed by the avant garde who aren't known by the spoken word etc..
MP: You’re poetry editor in 3AM magazine, you’ve followed poetry scenes all around Europe. Having a good insight, what can you recommend? Where do you find ‘the fresh blood’? What about Lyrikline? A couple of clicks away there is the world poetry treasure. How this kind of availability effects the production? Do we all start to write alike eventually?
SJF: I don't think there's any homogeneity happening at all, precisely the opposite. There are more writers and less readers, in perspective, than ever before. And I firmly welcome this, to tear down the hierarchical model of literature in favour of a more inclusive, democratic vision of writing as something that enriches the individual and cannot be generalised. Every nation has its depths, every nation its scenes and new writers and exciting moments. I've had the chance to travel a lot too, as well as research and all I can report is that though it is a huge part of my life, I have barely scratched the surface. As long as I know this, my head is in the right place.

in Zagreb : September 4th : thanks to Croatian PEN & writers association

SJ FOWLER u ZAGREBU! HRVATSKI P.E.N. CENTAR & CAFE U DVORIŠTU pozivaju Vas u četvrtak, 4. RUJNA U 20 sati na zanimljiv pjesnički doživljaj, čitanje poezije i druženje sa Stevenom J. Fowlerom
S engleskim pjesnikom i svestranim umjetnikom iz Londona, jednim od najagilnijih promotora poezije, vizualne umjetnosti i multimedijalnih pjesničkih događanja u Velikoj Britaniji i svijetu, razgovara Tomica Bajsić. Steven J. Fowler je pjesnik, boksač i umjetnik iz Londona. Objavio je šest zbirki poezije i bio više puta nagrađivan za svoj rad. Nastupao je kao umjetnik u galerijama Tate, Mercy, Penned in the Margins i London Sinfonietta. Jedan je od koordinatora LYRIKLINEA, svjetske biblioteke audio i pisane poezije, u kojoj sudjeluje i Hrvatski P.E.N. Centar.

VIŠE: Blizak modernističkoj i avangardnoj tradiciji SJ Fowler djeluje kroz poeziju, vizualnu umjetnost, instalacije i performanse. Trajno je zaposlen u British Museumu. Organizator je niz kulturnih događanja u londonskom Southbank centru / Poetry Parnassus (http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/poetry-parnassus) Urednik je poezije u glasovitom časopisu 3:AM, (http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/) gdje godinama objavljuje suvremenu poeziju i razgovore s pjesnicima sa svih kontinenata. SJ Fowler voditelj je izuzetno uspješnog projekta međunarodnih pjesničkih susreta i prevoditeljskih radionica pod nazivom ENEMIES  (http://www.weareenemies.com/
Projekt Enemies / Enemigos (Yes But Are We Enemies?) bavi se suradnjom  putem medija, kulture, preko forme, stila i sadržaja, multidisciplinarnim, ali esencijalno povezanim projektom izložbi, putovanja, susreta, nastupa, publikacija, i u tom je inovativnom pristupu suvremenoj poeziji svijeta od 2013. do danas sudjelovalo gotovo 200 pjesnika, umjetnika, fotografa i glazbenika, i to u preko deset gradova i trideset raznovrsnih događaja od Škotske, Irske, Meksika, Irana i Slovačke i Poljske. Internet stranica Stevena J Fowlera: http://www.sjfowlerpoetry.com/.
Café u Dvorištu, J. Žerjavića 7/II, Zagreb