A note on : The end of the Other Room

The Other Room has come to an end. Ten years of remarkable events that have led the way in a resurgence of decidedly contemporary forward thinking poetry in the North West have wrapped themselves up as of April 2018. The trio of curators, all markedly influential poets, publishers and educators themselves – Scott Thurston, James Davies, Tom Jenks – have worked together in putting on dozens of poets in dozens of events, publishing 10 anthologies and posting hundreds of updates online for events and publications across the UK. They have done the kind of work that acts as an invisible inspiration to generations that come up behind them, that create concrete connections between writers and happenings that influence the future of poetry in the UK, especially outside of London, and I for one have often made it known their very specific way of working events has been a massive influence upon me. https://otherroom.org/

I would say my experience reading at The Other Room in 2011 was the singular influence on the nascent Enemies Project then and has concentrated my focus ever since. What I discovered was that there isn’t a contradiction between a warm, welcoming, hospitable, funny, unpretentious atmosphere and poetry that is challenging, complex, oblique, idiosyncratic and strange. In fact, these two things are complimentary. This discovery made me realise the often experienced distance, coolness and hierarchy of many readings was a deliberate imposition fashioned in order to create for themselves a sense of exclusivity. The Other Room showed this to me, this vital realisation and in so doing eliminated any instinct I might’ve had for utopian projects in poetry, allowing me to focus on each night at a time, to be present with the poets on those nights, enjoy their company, listen concentratedly to their work and then have a laugh whenever possible. This is very likely the reason my events are still going, 8 years after they began. 

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The Other Room also showed me that the superstition some poets have as a legacy from the last century, that organising too successfully blots out appreciation of your own poetry, a spectre of conflicting interests somewhere in the poetry ether (being a poet and editor is fine though apparently, and anthologising, and teaching) is also a myth. Scott, James and Tom are some of the most interesting poets writing in the UK, each with their own markedly original oeuvre and intellectual concerns, rendered in a multitude of forms and spaces, each with their own influence over many of their peers. Scott was one of the very first poets I met, and I listened to him carefully then, as I do now - his work offered me great possibility. James has done as much as anyone to make conceptual poetry in the UK its own separate exploration with its own decidedly British concerns, separate from the humourless aggrandisement that can be indicative of people’s understanding of that area of poetry. And Tom’s prolific invention, insight and deep erudition worn lightly has been a huge influence on my use of satire, humour and the balance between lyricism and found language. Tom, like Scott and James too, is such a clear thinker about poetry, has such a mind for the art, but carries this knowledge with great humility, always in a mode of learning, always open to new ideas.

The end of The Other Room is a loss for the UK poetry scene. I had always hoped similarly organic homes for interesting poetry would pop up in cities across the country, that it would procreate into more rooms of otherness, so that we could build a circuit that would be exponential, that would serve as a link for new poets coming through everywhere, doing what they have done for a decade, leading a way, lighting a path, providing a space. Yet, after this time, after such selfless labour, one can’t help but understand why it should end, so neatly, so that it doesn’t just dissolve as often the best things in poetry do, into something lesser, to disappear unnoticed. For my part, I’m grateful to them, they’ve run something powerful for longer than I’ve been involved in writing at all, and I hope as the next years pass The Other Room is remembered as a real moment in 21st British poetry.
 

A note on: The Night-Time Economy exhibition & special view in London

A lovely evening celebrating the exhibition Kate Mercer have produced this year, photography and poetry beautifully balanced, after visiting Newport, coming to London, with a good few dozen folk down in the basement gallery of Rich Mix, near Brick Lane, on one of the hottest days of the year. 

Great to have Nia Davies, Ghazal Mosadeq and Marcus Slease read too, all with new works responding to the themes of our work. Visit www.theenemiesproject.com/nighttimeeconomy and www.stevenjfowler.com/nighttimeeconomy

Published: Poetry Wales - a collaboration with Joe Dunthorne

A beautiful new issue of Poetry Wales edited by Nia Davies, and the first time I've been in the magazine. Delighted for that debut to be with Joe Dunthorne, with our collaboration, Iceland, about the nation and the supermarket.

The work was written for Gelynion, which Nia and I curated and has a special feature in Poetry Wales, including great work by Zoe Skoulding, Ghazal Mosadeq and others the tour commissioned. Check it out and buy this issue!

http://poetrywales.co.uk/currentissue/

Blog #7: Gelynion in London - June 5th 2015

A bash to finish. All the core poets together for one last time (this time around anyway) as well as a host of people travelling from Wales and new collaborations from London based poets too. Still fresh of course, though in just a week it felt as thought the time in Wales itself has been long ago, it was lovely to feel the closeness of the tour exactly where we had left it in Hay. Real bonds have been made.

The first half of the night was dedicated to those we had met on the tour and those specifically asked to present new works for the night, who lived in London. It was a seismic split between quite lyrical poetry, some beautiful works from Sampurna Chatterji & Sharon Morris, David Berridge & Steven Hitchins, and some far wilder, more performance orientated work. I almost had to tackle Cris Paul for setting fire to the Conservative manifesto almost directly below a smoke alarm during his performance with Josh Robinson and this was very much the spirit we had allowed to be present in Gelynion, if people wanted it to be. 

The final part of the night saw Joe, Eurig, Nia, Rhys, Zoe and I do another showcase, roundrobin, where we read excerpts of our longer collaborations in quick succession. It was the best of what we'd done, which was always gratifying and of a high standard. Such brilliant writers and such generous people, if I am to have other experiences as rich and memorable as Gelynion I should live to be a lucky man.

visit www.theenemiesproject.com/gelynion for all the vids

a lovely report on the 1st a World without Words event on Bold ideas

Thanks to Dan Davies & Catalina Bolozan

"A World Without Words, an ambitious new project by three, London-based experimenters: writer and filmmakerLotje Sodderland, in collaboration with poet and curator SJ Fowler, and Thomas Duggan, an artist and material engineer, invites us to explore human language in staggering and intimate depth. Language theory walks hand-in-hand with neuroscience and sensory aesthetics to investigate how our brains map meaning. With such an incredibly broad scope you might be forgiven for wondering how anyone would go about tackling such a vast and complex subject matter, and perhaps question their motivation. In this case, the answer is disarmingly personal. With the World Without Words programme unfurling over the coming months, certainly into November 2015, there will be plenty of time to engage with and enjoy this truly multifaceted project."

Blog #5: Gelynion in Bangor: May 26th 2015

An incredible drive through Snowdonia, a scenic route for our privilege, Joe, Nia and Eurig accompanied me in from the west coast and up into the mountains. We stopped a few times to hear Eurig’s description of the places, his climbs, and to pose for catalogue model, or boyband-like (I won’t reveal our hypothetical band name), photoshoots. Such beautiful weather, perfect blue skies and though busy, what seemed to me completely pristine country.

Into Bangor, and it struck me as a very charming place, Zoe’s homeland, a University town, but also with its intense population (I saw teen scraps in the highstreet within minutes, sustained) the countryside surrounding encroached and struck me as an oasis of a place in someways. Our reading was the same night as our travelling so we soon visited the Blue Sky Café and Nia and I met Elan Mererid Rhys, the wonderful auto-harp player and folk musician, whom I had come across in Cecil Sharp House in London, by pure chance, a few weeks before, just like Patrick Rimes. Elan could not have been more warm hearted and wonderful to work with, and Nia and I decided to read the 6 way collaborative poem written by the group and published by Hazard press over the playing of Elan, to set everything gently, and it worked out so nicely.

 In the end, I think Bangor was my favourite event. The quality of some of the work was so remarkable, the café was packed, 50 or 60 people, or more, and such a memorable assortment of works. Ghazal Mosadeq, who had travelled all the way from London, presented amazing work with Ifor Ap Glyn. Robert Sheppard, who travelled from Manchester, worked with Alys Conran to generate another mysterious European poet. Sophie McKeand, Fiona Cameron, Karen Owen, Sian Northey, really I could list the whole evening. It was a special one.

Sophie McKeand & Fiona Cameron https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJirFOPHuK0 - Karen Owen & Sian Northey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-08J_iqWZZY - Ifor Ap Glyn & Ghazal Mosadeq https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMFTBB6k-hc - Robert Sheppard & Alys Conran https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVOfQEMoss4 - Nia Davies, SJ Fowler & Elan Mererid Rhys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u827pCCzBiQ - Zoë Skoulding & Eurig Salisbury https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2_G9SukXvE - Joe Dunthorne & Rhys Trimble https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC0luz3pIUM - Elan Mererid Rhys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Paq3P9ElV68

Blog #4: Gelynion in Aberystwyth: May 25th

Nia, the commander, rightly so, led the way, kind enough to drive up the West coast of Wales with Rhys, Annwn and I in the backseat, travelling to Aberystwyth, one of the most isolated cities in the UK, and a beautiful place - a university town, sat on the sea. It possessed a completely different atmosphere to our previous stops on the tour so far. Eurig’s hometown, really the bastion for Welsh language studies and history, Aberystwyth seemed to possess the spirit of independence I had been fascinated to see, really Welsh culture. The seafront was lined with the flags of disputed or marginalised nations in a show of solidarity. I’d also been told our gig was highly anticipated. Really the places I have yet to travel to are the ones I await the most.

We travelled with Rhys' dog Annwn, who I instantly fell in love with and finally felt like there was someone on the tour I could really show my true feelings to. We all stopped by the sea in a small town on the way into Aberystwyth, and I tried to escape with Annwn, but he turned back, loyal to Rhys. A free day upon arrival, Joe, Nia and I ate out and spoke later into the night, the first real chance for the natural side effect of such a project as Gelynion to inculcate the exchanges that build friendships and rich collaborations. Joe and I continued to speak over breakfast each day, and getting to know him far better, a deep privilege, was an education as well as a pleasure.

For the reading, set up on the hills of Aberytwyth, in the University, I collaborated with Eurig, and it being his home town, I was fortunate to work with him. We decided to repair the besmirchment of the mythical Welsh hero Owen Glendower by rewriting Henry IV. Shakespeare remixed, and we dragged in Rhys, Nia and Joe as the performance became a kind of anti-amateur dramatics. The gig itself was packed, held at Aberystwyth Arts Studio, the University’s massive 70s concrete architecture housing the beautiful circular dome where we set up in the round. We had to find more chairs in the end, such was the turnout. The reading felt more like a workshop, such was the familiarity of the atmosphere. It was great to see Jemma King, Amy McCauley, Mari Sion, Kath Stansfield, and all the other poets, all of whom I had researched and many of whom were local through study and not birth, reinterpret the collaborative medium once again.

We all piled into a tiny Moroccan restaurant to close out the night, the real unity and cohesion of the group and the project becoming palpable. The first pangs that the whole thing has gone by too fast already.

Nicky Arscott & Kath Stansfield https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0B0sRusEDJw - Mari Siôn & Elin Ap Hywel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgjrpZZ-bXg - Siân Melangell Dafydd & John Barnie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Phtm6u8QzwY - Amy McCauley & Jemma L King https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUQmaWFTD3A - Joe Dunthorne & Zoë Skoulding https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTVA7veibyc - Nia Davies & Rhys Trimble https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTslGiEnVHg - SJ Fowler & Eurig Salisbury https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kJPjOpHePA

Check out www.theenemiesproject.com/gelynion or www.stevenjfowler.com/gelynion for all the blogs!

Gelynion: a publication by Hazard Press

Thanks to the remarkable skill and generosity of Jeremy Dixon, Gelynion was accompanied by a beautiful, handmade publication. A six way collaborative poem, where each of the core touring six poets - Nia Davies, Zoë Skoulding, Eurig Salisbury, Joe Dunthorne, SJ Fowler & Rhys Trimble - each wrote a line, and then, with names removed, each other poet added a line, wherever they wished on the page until six poems of six lines had been written. Each poem a truly collaborative work.

Jeremy, who makes such wonderful literary objects at http://hazardpress.co.uk/ then handcrafted just 60 copies for a limited edtion run. He had them waiting for us at the very first gig in Newport and they proved to be a great success throughout the tour. It's hard to convey their delicate and unique character, small and elaborately finished. A huge thanks to Jeremy, do visit Hazard Press and peruse their wares.

The poems within were read twice on the tour, including being the very last reading at the last Welsh gig, at the Hay Festival, where each of us six stood to read a poem each. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb40wuSWBxo

Gelynion: Enemies Cymru: Blog #1 - Newport

What a way to begin Gelynion, in Newport, with an amazing night that did everything I hope Enemies might do. In so much that it became something utterly its own, nothing to do with me, nothing to do with what I could predict or shape. Or in this case, pivotally, what my co-curator Nia Davies and I could shape. It was an occasion for people to share a space, to exchange their new collaborations, to support & meet, to be in a new place or see a familiar place new. And it was a community, it wasn’t artificial in anyway, but gracefully warm and positive and generous. Such a lovely way to begin our tour of Wales, and our attempt to do something ambitious with contemporary Welsh poetry and poets.

The first time I’ve visited Newport, let alone the first time I’ve read in the city, and I made my way straight to our venue, Project Space, a reclaimed high street shop, to be welcomed by Kate Mercer, a photographer and artist who manages the activities. From the get go the hospitality was evident, that people had taken it upon themselves to welcome us coming to Newport, specifically, and later in the evening Jonathan Edwards would say it is a place often overlooked culturally and all the better for Enemies for that.

I was collaborating with Rhys Trimble, a friend from previous times and someone whose work I admire, and, rarely, a folk musician, the marvellous Patrick Rimes, whom I’d seen by chance at Cecil Sharp House representing Welsh folk in London just two weeks before and invited. This made our collaboration, one of 3 core pairs from the 6 poets touring the whole of Gelynion, and one of 9 pairs on the night, unique. We spent the afternoon hammering out our work, a structure of exchange and accompaniment with refrains, in abstract poetry and declaration, that complimented all of us and our strengths, hopefully.

The event was full, we needed more seats, with over 60 laid out, and the event had a very natural rhythm to the myriad of approaches the pairs provided. Kate North and Katrin Lloyd offered some Oulipo, close to my heart, while pairs from the Walking Cities project, which paired Welsh and Indian poets, and left us with the serendipitous boon of amazing Indian poets at our reading, explicated their previous exchanges from already established works. Ranjit Hoskote and Tishani Doshi were both immensely assured and graceful in their readings. Cris Paul and Samantha Walton upped the density of the texts, and the pace, and were followed by a brilliant and beautiful art poetry performance from Josh Robinsin and Merega. A revelation to discover Josh’s work through Gelynion, we share so many interests.

Rhys and I and Patrick made a good hoof of it, and Joe Dunthorne and Eurig Salisbury were witty and on point as ever. Zoe Skoulding and Nia Davies were the highlight of the night, such a balance in their collaboration between force and textual density, and synchronicity of reading. I was able to discern their entire piece, it revealed itself to me in its reading, which is normally the opposite of how I experience such things, getting a trace to be moulded into my own thoughts. We then finished with Patrick Rimes playing one last piece of music, and as the perfect end to a generous and memorable night in Newport.

my summer reading on 3am magazine

http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/summer-reading-steven-j-fowler/ 

summer reading: steven j. fowler

By Steven J. Fowler, Poetry Editor
@stevenjfowler
Poetry:
Stephen Emmerson’s Comfortable Knives
Colin Herd’s Glovebox
Tim Allen’s Tattered by Magnets
James Davies’s Two Fat Boys
Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water
Tom Jenks’s On Liberty, Repressed and Crabtree
Anna McKerrow’s Regressive Poetics
Tom Chivers’s Flood Drain
Chris McCabe’s in the catacombs 

Essays 
Tom Chivers & Martin Kratz’s Mount London 
Fiction
Tomaz Gonzalez’s In the Beginning was the Sea

Turkish Solidarity poetry project - Solidaritypark

http://solidaritypark.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/they-will-have-dried-by-december/ my poem, the first post of the project, for my friends in Istanbul, Gonca Ozmen, Efe Duyan and others who I have met there and in London over the last three or four years. I've had the privilege to visit the city 3 times since 2010 and the courage of the protestors to maintain the secular and free nature of their nation will make a difference which will reverberate for generations to come. Their bravery and sacrifice will stand for something. 
"I cannot applaud tyranny, I can never love a tyrant." Turkish poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy, quoted by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on stage before a crowd of 10,000 on 6th June, 2013.
According to Alev Yaman and Erda Halisdemir, reporting for English PEN, Erdogan also invoked Ersoy’s epic Safahat and 13th century Anatolian Sufi humanist poet Yunus Emre. Poetry, then, is at the heart of the struggle in Turkey, and -- as with public space -- no government, politician or party should be able to claim control over the power of poetry to inspire, persuade and empathise. We as poets internationally propose a poetic #ResistTurkey / #OccupyGezi to celebrate both the spaces and discourses of freedom of expression, which Erdogan's government has repressed.
We offer our words in solidarity, as translations and inspirations drawn from the creative protests in words and actions taking place across Turkey, and we invite you to join us in doing the same.
Email your own poems or a poem written by someone else (if you are not a poet) as attachments, or send us a link if you've posted elsewhere, to: solidarityparkpoetry@gmail.com. Please submit no more than  three poems and include a short bio and an image that either reflects your thoughts on resistance or an author photo. We welcome poems in all languages, including sign languages and visual poetry. If you do have an English translation handy by a reputable translator then do send it along. Turkish-English and English-Turkish translators are also invited to get in touch!
"Come here, let's make peace, let's not be strangers to one another." Yunus Emre
Yours In Solidarity,
The Editors
Nia Davies, Sascha Akhtar, Sophie Mayer