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 - Mari Siôn & Elin Ap Hywel - Siân Melangell Dafydd & John Barnie - Amy McCauley & Jemma L King - Joe Dunthorne & Zoë Skoulding - Nia Davies & Rhys Trimble - SJ Fowler & Eurig Salisbury

Check out or for all the blogs!

a new reveiew of the Rottweiler's guide ... by Colin Lee Marshall on Intercapillary Spaces


But it is more typically through modifications to language itself that Fowler unsettles the act of easy assumption. At the end of the poem ‘Scent’  (via the rendering of a hairdresser’s comment, only partially overheard) the modifications are orthographical:

[…] “…exicans have been decapitating
peeple for thousands of years
it doesn’t mean there,
what it means here.”

The aphaeresis of “…exicans” is a sly lexical analogue to the decapitations to which the text refers—assuming, of course, that we take “…exicans” to be an aphaeretic rendering of “Mexicans”. Irrespective of whether we make this readerly decision, and supply the missing ‘M’, the sense of violence, of complicity in what things “mean”, and of ultimate detachment from what they are is insurmountable. This is further reinforced by the fact that “peeple" are being decapitated, and not ‘people’. ‘Peeple’ and ‘people’ are homophones (what looks like it should be a diphthong in the standard spelling isn’t) and as such, whoever overheard the hairdresser’s words would not have been able to infer any orthographical difference by sound alone. Contextually, the subtle de-anthropomorphic tweak makes perfect sense, given the implication that the value of human life is lower in the culture in question than it is in the “here” of the utterance; but the homophony preserves the problem of whether we are to read this as satire, or as a straight-faced semantic downgrade—a problem compounded by the ambiguity as to whether these are words cognized as heard, words cognized as (vicariously) spoken, or words that have been tinkered with at the extradiegetic level. Regardless, the text aims deliberately to upset the facile imputation of the spoken words—and perhaps, by extension, any facile imputations that we might be tempted to make upon reading it.


Rottweiler's guide ... reviewed in Poetry London : Spring 2015

Pleased to hear, as a surprise, that Adam Piette reviewed my 2014 collection the Rottweiler's guide to the Dog owner in the latest spring issue of Poetry London. I shan't lie, being attributed Mayakovskian bounce pleases me deeply. I've had Mayakovsky's 'A few words about myself' stuck to my wall, ripped from an anthology, for five years, next to my bed. The opening lines, 'I like to watch children dying,' Anyway, get the new Poetry London, a fine magazine indeed.

Forward prize 2015 anthology & commended poem

Very happy to see Kei Miller win the Forward prize, after spending a week with him in Iraq in May, he's as decent and powerful as his poetry in person. Happy too my poem Trepidation, written for my time with Wortwedding gallery in Berlin, was commended, and thus included in the Anthology this, year, the Forward Book 2015, and alongside some amazing others like Colin Herd, Carrie Etter, Marianne Morris, Denise Riley, DP Oprava and Hannah Silva. Worth a punt.
product/0571315240/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_2?pf_rd_p=479289247 & my book the poem was commended from

& Sabotage reviews ran a fine review of the anthology by Rosie Breese who mentions a wee bit of Trepidation

Trepidation commended for the Forward Prize 2014

I'm pleased to say my poem Trepidation, which featured in my latest collection, the Rottweiler's Guide to the Dog Owner, has been highly commended by the Forward Prize. It means it'll feature in the anthology the prize puts out to celebrate it's awards later in the year. I wrote the poem as a set of ten on two days in Berlin for a performance with Alessandro Eramo, sat with WS Graham in a bedsit in Wedding, in a snowing February in 2013. I've never once thought back on that poem as being in anyway exceptional, for it to be singled out is pleasing as it surprises me to reread it and see what people might see when viewing it in isolation. A random thing, but good to have recognition for the thing within the thing.

London Review Bookshop - new & recommended poetry

New and Recommended Poetry

Our pick of poetry. Here are six of our current favourites, as chosen by our poet in residence, John Clegg.
The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner

The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner

S. J. Fowler
From the publisher:
A groundbreaking, aberrant but ever ebullient love letter to those who deserve it, The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner refracts marriage, death, friendship, violence ...

The Rottweiler's guide to the Dog Owner launched

I was trepidatious about the launch of my new collection, the wine-ing of the event not being my normal outmode, but in the end it was a lovely evening, and I owe a debt of thanks to everyone who was kind enough to attend and buy a book and to those who brought it into physical form. It has been extraordinarily well produced and designed, don't think it could be better really, and the people at the London Review of Books were amazing too, John Clegg making me feel as at home as was also possible. Here's the vid

The Prague Microfest - a diary

A fascinating three days in Prague for the Microfestival. So many weird and wonderful elements to my experience – I was sent there by the remarkable generosity of the Czech Centre in London, whom I’m building an increasingly strong relationship with, and went not only to meet Czech poets and curators, and people at the festival, but to partake in the debut performance of the TRYIE collective, which I’m a third of, next to Zuzana Husarova and Olga Pekova, two powerful powerful avant garde writers out of Bratislava and Prague.
I met Zuz and Olga last year at the Ars Poetica festival and it was immediately obvious upon meeting them they were unusual. I talk so often about process over product, community over hierarchy, kindness over posture – and in that traditional festival environment, their humour, their energy, their work just really resonated with me. It has since proven a good hunch as we formed the collective and spent the last months exchanging texts and ideas before this big off. The work in the end was a really adventurous, dynamic, complex performance. It involved Zuz and Olga behind two specially made screens, reading a text of multiple languages, and using their bodies to create a ghostly imprint on the canvas of the screens while I intermittently read on stage while walking or carrying a dog. The piece was really about the balance of genders through the text, using iconography and light, and a brilliant sound accompaniment by the 4th honorary member of the collective, Lubo Panak. It was highly performative, with Zuz and Olga feeting and fingering the screen while I carried and petted and kissed the beautiful French bulldog motoracek, even using her as a reading stand, while reading new texts I’d written while in Prague, that were about the experience of the festival and preparing for the performance, and drew from Kafka as well as ideas about the relationship of our collective, indulgence, boredom, and my own personal history in Prague itself.

The festival itself is a strange thing. Shining so brightly in places, with really innovative work, and some really gracious, warm hearted people, it also suffered from a occasional lack of quality control and at times I felt outside of things. In turn, because I wasn't perhaps as quiet and mannerly as I normally am about the work that was so different than that which I gravitate too, I felt conflicted that I perhaps was being too didactic or judgmental. Genuinely, the fact that poets were reading for over 30 minutes at a time effected me profoundly. It was just an excess, drowning out any chance of finding that which I might have discovered in their work, and often massively exemplifying the faults I perceived. I am aware that most often that which I talk about, and blog about, is effusively praised. I do this deliberately, to speak only about that which I like. But there does come a time when I suppose I had no choice but to listen, when a line has to be drawn. Some of the work was very poor, and left a trace for me. Moreover literary cynicism, a culture of it, can easily slip into the discourse and curation of such an intense undertaking like a poetry festival and at times in felt like the scene surrounding the happenings was in a village. I spent some of the time wondering if it wasn’t me, that I wasn’t burnt out a little after Paris/Edinburgh/Copenhagen/Iraq/Venice in a two month space, or if I wasn’t falling into habits of being anti-social, or overly critical, or egotistical, wanting more attention. I tried to remain consistently open to communicating with people, really focusing on their work, and in places it was easy – with the students of Charles University who seemed to be the lifeblood of the festival, with friends Im getting to know better with each collision like Jorg Piringer and Heike Feidler, and with the amazing Maggie O’Sullivan, with whom I shared my last day, having coffee in a beautiful art deco café, and whose intelligence, humility and wisdom, left me feeling elevated and tiny at the same time. Yet perhaps Ive been spoiled by things like Reel Iraq and Crossing Voices, and now I expect everyone to be like Olga and Zuzana, funny, deferent, collaborative and frankly excellent as writers and artists. Much to learn, and to insist upon, for the things I organise, in experiencing things here I didn't enjoy. Feeling a wee bit alienated can only keep me on the right path for my own events.

What matters really is that I did mediate my experience of this beautiful city through people, and had the chance to meet wonderful poets and curators, explore the town a bit, even getting to the zoo, which fully lived up to its reputation, and to leave behind me a really satisfying piece of collaborative work. The performance of TRYIE was an auspicious beginning of our collective, one that I hope flares into being a few times a year for the near future at least, and Zuzana and Olga were elated, which was what I really wanted. Their performances certainly went great, they worked the concepts to great effect. I felt my own stuff wasn’t so strong, that the audience was a little frozen or discomforted by my presence, as I fondled the doggy, read at them and wandered about the basement venue, weaving it between them with the lovely French bulldog bitch staring and sniffing them out. Im too sensitive of audiences, I want to attack them on instinct when they recoil. I wasn’t free to really loose on them, because of the spirit of the beautiful little animal. Maybe that is good for me, to gain that experience as a performer, and to learn the skill of letting others express that force for me, with my cooperation. Others seemed to enjoy the whole thing, and seemed to think it was truly a collaborative act, a conversation in complex poetry and theatre performance, and successful in relating the message of our concerns about gender. You always run the risk of pretension with something like this, and we escaped that. A feminist hell, one person described it as. Happy to have found myself there

Reel Iraq: Kurdistan diary #3

The day began translating with Maryam Alatar, a female poet from Baghdad, and one whose work I have been intrigued by since I heard of its ferocity. Maryam's poetry is pared down in execution but takes the patriarchy of Iraqi society head on. A quiet assurance in her manner is reflected with poems which can easily be described as outwardly aggressive toward oppression, abuse and misogyny. I had a great experience working with her, helped ably by the spritely Dina Mousawi, whose down to earth Bradford Iraqi charm rather offset the subject matter in a way that allowed me a certain permissive objectivity, one I needed to actually translate the work into English and make it my own.

Back from lunch and the grime gym (the owner of the complex, once a resident of Derby, and a former kickboxer, sorted me out with a bag and some good kit), I returned to my room to find it being cleaned. I got talking to a man from Nepal, who has come to Iraq for work. I made him some tea, and we talked for as long as he was allowed to before moving on to the next cabin. Him and his wife moved here a few years ago, and though the money isn't good he characterised the place as good because the worst it got was disdain, and not violence. He said they needed to move on at some point, the money they were earning in Shaqlawa was not enough to feed them and support their family back in Nepal. He spoke perfect English, told me he had a uncle who was a Gurkha and was incredibly mannerly and well spoken. His dignity in the face of treatment that he tried to downplay, but was obviously difficult, bordering on brutal to bare made me feel stupid in the way one does when realising the futility of any notion of fairness on the earth. I am being paid to be in Shaqlawa, being flown here, fed, given time to talk about, translate and write poetry. I believe it can only be good at times to find this absurd. He said we could chat tomorrow before we leave.

I then spent some time in the afternoon working on my translations of Ali, Maryam and Zhawen. My intention was to begin as loyal as possible to the original text, and then veer carefully, when it was required. It didn't turn out like that. The context felt freer, and so I was free. I introduced new ideas even, at points. The poems became mine. I wanted this for my own work, but for theirs...I hope they're okay with that in the end! Those of them who speak English anyway. 
The whole crew then climbed a mountain. I never caught its name, but in the Safeen range, and we were driven there en masse in a minivan that shouldn't have been able to climb as it did. At the foot a group of typically slick Iraqi dudes were just hanging, all shiny jeans and tight shirt and gelled hair, and we began to climb they joined us. The party started to stretch out, each taking the climb at their own pace. The climb was well staired, with views into the valley of Shaqlawa behind us. I was driving forward with Hoshang and Dina and Ryan, and the metal stairway at the summit of the climb came into view as the steps stopped and a dirt path took its place. The point of this pathway was apparently to reach a fertility stone. By sliding down this stone, face first, women apparently increase their chances of having a child. Sounded counterintuitive to me. I skipped ahead and reached the top first. Climbing the metal rigging I made my way to the dead end, the stone, to find a single man, sitting high above, in full body camo attire. He just looked upon me as the climbing beginner I was. Heading back down I came first to all the cool Iraqi guys we met. The first thing they said was 'picture'. Again I offered my white face up as some sort of pleasure for others, happy to do so for such friendly people. Eventually the whole group was at the shrine, with most doing the slide and we milled, Hoshang even mountain goating further up the increasingly sheer mountain. We then spotted the camo man, on an adjacent peak, frighteningly high and clearly requiring some ropeless vertical climbs. Rather him than me.

Passing us on the way down was a whole group of men with shisha pipes and wood, ready to barbecue at the top. At the bottom itself all the Iraqi dudes started dancing, choubi music blaring from their car stereo, doors open. Arm over arm, they sucked in most of our party before the cab came to take us back.