A note on: English PEN Modern Literature Fest III was a grand night

The third time I have curated this mini-fest alongside / for English PEN, whereby contemporary English writers present works written in tribute to a writer who is part of the Writer's at Risk programme, writers living under oppression around the world. http://www.englishpen.org/ This time we slightly scaled down the rather grand one day festivals of past years, bringing it to Kingston and the historic All Saints Church, as part of my Writers Centre Kingston programme.

8 authors presented pieces of writing, some new, some from past years. The spirit was one of considered celebration, of sadness, in places, of frustration, but moving beyond the somewhat stifling requirement at the heart of the event, asking authors who are generally safe and sound to speak about those who are not, and who are not because they chose, in most cases, to refuse silence. This contradiction has often led to overloading, with writers unable to express themselves, stopped up by a kind of shame. But in a more intimate setting, with a group students, volunteers and local people watching on, this felt more like a community taking note, making sure there was something, instead of nothing, to mark out those suffering were being thought of. All the videos are here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2LmXtC6HArB9k2QSLWQGJA/videos

A real highlight for me this year is that it spawned Kingston University's first Student PEN Centre, led by Alan Boyce. I'm happy to say this relationship will continue and next year's English PEN festival will be just as good I'm sure.

There's a nice report of the event here too, by Tice Cin https://www.englishpen.org/campaigns/english-pen-modern-literature-festival-2018/ 

They event featured MONA ARSHI FOR ZEHRA DOGAN / TONY WHITE FOR AHMED NAJI / HELEN PALMER FOR ME NAM / SARA UPSTONE FOR DAWIT ISAAK / ADAM BARON FOR CAN DÜNDAR & ERDEM GÜL / PRUDENCE CHAMBERLAIN FOR  PATIWAT SARAIYAEM & PORNTHIP MUNKHONG / ELEY WILLIAMS FOR TSERING WOESER / DAVID SPITTLE FOR AHMEDUR RASHID CHOWDHURY

Writers poets, novelists, playwrights and artists come together to continue English PEN's relationship with innovative contemporary literature. Each of the ten British writers will present poetry, text, reportage, performance on the day. The new works celebrate and evidence the struggle of fellow writers around the world, in solidarity.

The event is intended as a call to membership for writers, artists and readers in a time where we face perilous challenges to our freedom of expression and fundamental rights and hard fought liberties, both internationally and here in the UK. As the world changes so remarkably, and so rapidly, and on a global scale, it is vital the political will of our time and this generation of young, dynamic writers is directed purposefully to the work of English PEN, the writer's charity. The hope is this festival, away from creating new members of PEN, begins involvements and connections which will have exponential resonance for decades to come. www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen  Curated by SJ Fowler and Cat Lucas.

Please join English PEN You can join English PEN here http://www.englishpen.org/membership/join/ and if you are a writer, poet, artist, or someone who is passionate about defending our fundamental freedom of expression in the UK and around the world, please take the time to do so and become a part of the future of this extraordinary organisation.

A note on: reading boxing poems at Cambridge University

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A resonant experience on multiple levels, I had the chance to read at Cambridge Uni thanks to Oliver Goldstein and his Sweet Science event in the Faculty of English. It was another entry in my experience of a small, welcoming community of writers and poets who care passionately about the sport and aim to reflect it in works as complex as the culture itself. Oliver is one of the world's leading boxing journalists and really fine poet, and as well he and I, there were multiple excellent readers and a really healthy and interested audience. Discerning you'd expect, but friendly with it too. I read some poems from an upcoming book, a sequel to my 2011 Fights, entitled Rematches, due out with Kingston University Press this year. I also got the chance to pop a balloon with a left hook. 

Perhaps the most unexpected highlight was meeting a cambridge english undergrad who told me they were doing their dissertation on my work. A first, as far as I know, and actually really warming and encouraging, it actually really touched me. It's very easy to feel one is wasting time, serving my own interests and no one gives a shit (which is true) but then a small thing like that happens, and you feel less in a bubble.

A note on : Munich with the British Council

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A few days in Munich thanks to the hospitality of Elke Ritt and the British Council in Germany, this was a chance to develop a project that I hope will become a significant moment in contemporary British innovative poetry in Europe. Proposed by myself and Chris McCabe, it centres around an exhibition of English Concrete poetry in Munich, that will trace the visual poetry revolution of the 50s through to those making the work on the island now, whom are not greatly well known beyond the UK. It will connect to German vispo too, but vitally, it will show the range of poetic practise that has emanated from visual innovation. From performance, to conceptual work, from kinetic poetry to installation. These few days were spent discussing the idea, touring the beautiful city and meeting some brilliant folk. Discovering the Lyrik Kabinett was a revelation, a library gallery event space, with a really progressive understanding of poetry and art together, and visiting the grand Literaturhaus once again reminded me of what we’re missing, not having these institutions, in the UK. Once again, I’m lucky to be working with the British Council and after this beginning, hopefully this ambitious idea comes to fruition next year. 

A note on: after the second English PEN Modern Literature Festival

An extraordinary day at Rich Mix, surrounded by around thirty poets and artists, the remarkable staff of English PEN, a handful of volunteers and all told, over a few hundred people watching on. I arrived around noon, to soundcheck and set up the theatre space where the performances would take place, and i left the building, conversations still beginning and growing behind me, around eleven hours later. Exhausting, physically, of course, but resonant in every way, from the originality and range of approaches to the deliberately overwhelming task facing the English writers, to the evocation of those we were celebrating, always somehow present, both comforting and confrontational to ourselves.

This last part cannot be escaped, and again, as last year, it did fold in on some of those presenting their work. More than once it was said into the microphone, 'I couldn't write poetry about this', or something to that effect. With this I respectfully take issue. Indelicacy, obstinacy, clumsiness - these are at work whenever some experience in the world is rendered in words, always failing to grasp the thing, always lessening. It is not true that someone's sacrifice or pain when reflected upon in text is made worse. It is true that bad poetry will perhaps, lightly, do this, seem insulting to the profundity of the thing it seeks to literally describe. But no one in this festival thinks with such formulaic reduction and for the most part the work that was shared was most powerful when oblique, evocative, strange, menacing and beautiful in its idiosyncrasy. We had Chloe Spicer for Dina Meza, with her imaginary cut out friends, bounding into the audience, Hannah Silva for Narges Mohammedi building a soundscape around her poem, Kate Wakeling knotting for Nurmuhemmet Yasin. We had Nelson Aguilera's son in the audience, approaching Jeremy Noel Tod just before he began to present a piece for his father. All the performances can be seen on the site here http://www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen and I would urge a perusal of this resource, it carries some of the spirit of this very special, very intense day.

It almost goes without saying that I hope this happen again, the second festival becoming a tradition in the third. At times one feels hollow, that it is just this, a day of removed solidarity. But this doubt must be expected, embraced, pushed aside, and when Tony White presented his marvelous dialogue with Ahmed Naji, he said what I, deep down, had hoped to hear. He said though it might feel like what you are doing makes no difference, when the writer a continent or ocean away from you, facing censure, oppression and pain, hears of you mentioning them, celebrating them, thinking of them, it gives them great heart. I wish for no more, ever, from any work I should do. From giving another human, if only just one, if only for a moment, an inflection of solidarity, warmth, courage, I am myself encouraged to keep up the little this festival is. 

A note on: curating the 2nd English PEN Modern Literature Festival

Such was the resonance and enthusiasm around the first, the second had to come. It feels as though this is the beginning of a tradition. I hope so. There isn't another curatorial activity that has proved to be this engaged and purposeful for me. Once again my role really is to liaise between the brilliant, principled, pragmatic work of those at English PEN, again working closely with the inspiring Cat Lucas, and the thirty writers who have agreed, all of them with great willingness and humble trepidation, to write or perform a new work on April 1st, in service of another author.

Once again my experience was to spend time with authors around the world whose deliberate acts of decency, whose ethical drive, whose fundamental character, has led them directly into the kind of psychological and physical harm that leaves one weaker for knowing of it. To spend such brief time with these people, these peers, and to know in that trifling moment how little I can know of what they and their families are experiencing because of their writing, their journalism, their poetry. And so the English writers have expressed again this feeling of overwhelming responsibility. One so overwhelmingly as to be perhaps prohibitive. And for all its remarkable energy and galvanising intensity this is the one thing I have learnt from last year and that I have tried to pass on to this year. This magnitude is implicit. The authors from England should not apologise for their own fortune and comfort while celebrating the courage of another. They should celebrate them, write for them, to them, with them. They should be as modern, as experimental, as humorous as they are grave. They should take their responsibility to be in the investment aesthetically as well as emotionally. This is not a small detail. It is vital. Because by doing the day itself, by making something where perhaps there would be no connection between two writers across the world, that sense of shame, in a small way is being acknowledged. From that moment on, we must just have them in our minds, spread the word of their work and their actions, keep things alive.

Some extraordinary writers are involved this year, you can see the full list below or on www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen. The event is free, in three parts. What I hope happens is what I hoped for when we initially hatched the idea. Nothing impossible, nothing utopian. The create more members of English PEN, so that the political will of this time is directly forcefully behind the writers charity, who have the expertise, who are on the front lines of absolutely vital battlegrounds in our time, from surveillance to free speech, while also being a light in the dark for many writers abroad, thirty of whom we will celebrate on April 1st.

A note on: RICH MIX: Access All Areas

A nice little chat with the Rich Mix folk, chatting about some of the new plans I've got with the amazing arts institution coming this 2017! https://www.richmix.org.uk/blog/rich-mix-access-all-areas-sj-fowler

SJ Fowler is a poet and artist whose accomplishments could outweigh those of most artists double his age. His work has been translated into 21 languages; he has been commissioned to create work for BBC3 Radio, Somerset House and The British Council, and has taught at Kingston University, Tate Modern and The Poetry School, but name but a few. With so many events lined up for 2017 at Rich Mix, we felt it was only right we caught up with him to find out more about the man himself and his work.

In your own words…who are you, and how would you describe you work?

I’m a writer and artist. I’m interested in what I take to be the truly contemporary, that is often called experimental, and I’m an associate artist of Rich Mix, having performed and curated events here since 2010. It has been my home in many ways, I’ve had so many beautiful nights in Venue 2!

What’s your favourite part of working at Rich Mix?

Maybe the staff. Sounds trite but I’ve performed or put on well over 300 events, worked with a lot of venues and very few can match the level of personal investment, hospitality and unpretentious industry of people working at Rich Mix. I’m always treated with such gentle respect, nothing is too much.

What was your favourite song of 2016?

I didn’t expect that question. I think it came out at the end of 2015, but maybe John Grant – Black Blizzard. I don’t have one really.

What was your favourite film of 2016?

Again I don’t tend to have favourites but maybe, off the top of my head, I liked Embrace of the Serpent. Jungle Book was pretty great too, Fred the Pig and The Pangolin live long in my memory.

 What was your highlight of 2016?

The most satisfying personally was the first English PEN Modern Literature Festival which I curated at Rich Mix on April 2nd 2016. I asked 30 writers to each write about a fellow writer, but one supported by English PEN, currently at risk in their own nations. English PEN are the writers’ charity and for such a long time I had wracked my brain as to how my skills could be of any use to their genuinely extraordinary work. This, in a tiny way, was such a magnificent day, so full of energy, reflection and heartfelt solidarity, that I felt sure, for perhaps one day, I wasn’t completely wasting my time. It was so good it’ll happen again on April 1st 2017, at Rich Mix.

What are you looking forward to in 2017?

Aside from the above, I’m happy to be presenting a new short play for Rich Mix’s centenary of the Russian Revolution program. It’ll be alongside 3 other playwrights, four mini-plays in one night, over three evenings in June. It’s about the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, a hero of mine. It’ll be very weird.

A note on: the amazing English PEN Modern Literature Festival 2016

One of my proudest days as a curator. Not because I had achieved anything myself, but because, at the end of 25 performances, six hours of poetry & performance and a fair few hundred people coming and going, it was clear the simple act of organising something between people, a simple act of emails, could create a feeling of purpose exponentially larger than the sum of its parts. Visit www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen for all the performance videos

A huge gratefulness stays with me, for the wonderful, generous staff of English PEN, and for the many poets in the room at Rich Mix throughout April 2nd, and around the world, whom were being celebrated in absentia, for their courage and relentless strength of character and purpose.

The sense of responsibility each of the poets and writers felt to their respective charges, the writers at risk currently supported by English PEN whom they had been asked to write about, threatened to overwhelm each and every work. But it never did tip, never spilled into sentimentality or fragility. I truly believe that difficult, complex, intellectual artworks, poetry, maintains a necessary intensity of focus and agility of method to be created and understood, and this kind of work is then best suited to celebrate / evoke the same tragedy of injustice and overloading of guilt and pain we feel at the suffering of others. Fellow writers specifically here, but in general, beyond that. It is best suited to satirise, to send love, to call out - it is something ambiguous and terrifying we were all writing about, and none of us tried to escape our own place in that. We needed to be innovative to not simply condense these feelings into didactic speeches or calls to ethics we all knew we shared anyway. In that sense, for me, it was a comforting day. For others, perhaps challenging. But for me, it was comforting, for I was surrounded by great intelligence, great humility, a collective assuredness of purpose, without pretence and without self-deception. The ethics of such a day, of writing poetry at all, boils down to something (something wrong, something clumsy, something ineffectual?), or nothing, nothing against something, mute from fear of being ineffectual. This was a day of something real.

I'm so glad I could be at the centre of such a day, and I have great hope it'll happen again. Please visit www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen to watch all the videos, and please visit www.englishpen.org/membership to join the amazing charity.

A note on: appearing on BBC Azeri world service, my performance for Khadija Ismayilova

An amazing day - the English PEN modern literature festival, before more on the whole undertaking, here is a video of my performance celebrating Khadija Ismayilova, which involved a video collaboration with Josh Alexander and then a performance with a book and a multivocal reading involving 9 other poets in attendance.

I also had the chance to speak to the Vusal Hamzayev from the BBC Azeri world service, and this interview was broadcast the same day, available here http://www.bbc.com/azeri/multimedia/2016/04/160402_modern_literature_festival

Published: a poem & filmpoem for Khadija Ismayilova for English PEN #penfestuk

My first poem to celebrate the extraordinary courage and life of Khadija Ismayilova, to just evidence her immense commitment to her profession and a fundamental notion of truthfulness. You can read more about her case on my English PEN dedicated page, which has my blog on curating the English PEN Modern Literature Festival too (which takes place April 2nd). In the meantime, my poem, the Club, and beautiful filmpoem generously made by Joshua Alexander, which features the poem.

The Club for Khadija Ismayilova

To be too loud like a bulletclub that cannot touch us. Keep quiet.

They are like snakes, beasts, gorillas – masters. 
Very brave, at the top of the trees, but a matter of death and life on the jungle floor.

That is just how it is – surround, surrender, our family - livers swelled, keeping us afloat.

Where we sleep, we’re the same. Where we sleep, you may sleep too,
benefiting the world, a world war bonus. Secret trade of arms, you will receive what is given.

There is light beyond the end of tunnel. That is the soundtrack of cloth burning,
but the light that creates, but the smell it causes,
           one fades quietly, the other stays in the curtains,
but the letters that stand, that will stay
but the fear, but the fog, solid
but the washing of resources, people, stamps, houses in Hampstead,
            which is bearable, is possible, to know
something more than nothing, spraying on the free.

I need not money, but people.
Knowing, the young, hungry hanging, I want you to return here
to see you come back, without the top of boots and bottom of swords.

A low level pedestal,
towering above us, sleeping through.

Something in sense has happened. Give us papers, allow her in.
I can’t imagine the place, and it being strange as storage,
             as a future contribution against nations doing terrible things.

Always later than is thought, food as manners, love as club,
parents as the waiting good, courage as the hospitality
to further good that deserves gratitude
                 and means something.

Joshua is an immense talent, he said of the film: "My immediate idea was to film light prisms in broken glass and water with my camera obscura, extremely up-close so it was abstract and claustrophobic. The idea was to create a feeling of thoughts/memories... and when the poem starts it becomes very still so the words have space. The introduction of birds towards the end is intended as peculiar, but I hope it brings about a feeling of hope, as the piece begins in darkness."

A note on: The English PEN Modern Literature Festival - Full Line up announced

Rich Mix Venue One: April 2nd 2016 - 2pm / 3.30pm / 7.30pm. 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA
Free entry but signing up for membership appreciated.
http://www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen

A privilege to announce a major new project - 30 contemporary writers present new works, each celebrating a writer from around the world who is currently part of the English PEN Writer's at Risk programme. Each of the 30 English writers will present brand new poetry, text, reportage, performance and film on the day that celebrates and evidences the struggle of fellow writers around the world, in solidarity. The full line up of authors is below.

The one day mini-festival takes place at Rich Mix Arts Centre, just off Brick Lane, London, 2pm til 9.30pm, in 3 sessions throughout the day. All are free to attend but attendees are encouraged to join English PEN or donate to the charity if they are already members. 

2pm to 3.30pm
Harry Man on Maung Saung Kha
David Berridge on Dawit Isaak
Kirsten Irving on Nurmuhemmet Yasin
Jen Calleja on Gao Yu
SJ Fowler on Khadija Ismayilova
Dave Spittle on Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury
Prudence Chamberlain on Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong
Robert Hampson on Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace
Adam Baron on Can Dündar and Erdem Gül

4pm to 5.30pm
Eley Williams on Tsering Woeser
Sam Winston on Zunar
Lucy Harvest Clarke on Liu Xia
Stephen Emmerson on Dina Meza
Alex MacDonald on Alaa Abd El Fattah
Drew Milne on Omar Hazek
Oli Hazzard on Enoh Meyomesse
Sarah Kelly on Nelson Aguilera
Caleb Klaces on Jorge Olivera Castillo

7.30pm to 9.30pm
Caroline Bergvall on Sanjuana Martínez Montemayor
Emily Critchley on Mahvash Sabet
Andrew McMillan on Ashraf Fayadh
Andra Simons on Amanuel Asrat
Allen Fisher on Mamadali Makhmudov
Nathan Walker on Mohammed al-‘Ajami
Michael Zand on U Zeya
Mark Waldron on Zhu Yufu
Mark Ravenhill on Mazen Darwish and Yara Bader
Emily Berry on Raif Badawi
Tom McCarthy on Liu Xiaobo

The festival is intended as a call to membership for writers, artists and readers in a time where we face perilous challenges to our freedom of expression and fundamental rights and hard fought liberties, both internationally and here in the UK. As the world changes so remarkably, and so rapidly, and on a global scale, it is vital the political will of our time and this generation of young, dynamic writers is directed purposefully to the work of English PEN, the writer's charity. The hope is this festival, away from creating at least 30 new members of PEN, begins involvements and connections which will have exponential resonance for decades to come.

Please join English PEN
You can join English PEN here http://www.englishpen.org/membership/join/ and if you are a writer, poet, artist, scholar, academic, reader or someone who is passionate about defending our fundamental freedom of expression in the UK and around the world, please take the time to do so and become a part of the future of this extraordinary organisation. 

If you are outside of England, please visit http://www.pen-international.org/ and join your national branch of PEN. You can find more about each writer's work responding to this project on their individual sites, for example Harry Man, and a blog on my website on the process of curating the festival

Thanks to Cat Lucas, Hannah Trevarthen and all the remarkable staff at English PEN. Follow the project on twitter using #penfestuk

A note on: curating the English PEN Modern Literature Festival on April 2nd

The English PEN Modern Literature Festival will take place over one day at Rich Mix Arts Centre, near Brick Lane, on April 2nd 2016. It will involve 30 English writers, primarily poets writing in the literary or modernist traditions, who will present new works each relating to a writer at risk from around the globe, whom English PEN is currently supporting. It will be a celebration of these writers, in new pieces of literature, a day to take stock of what we have, of what they’ve done, and the achievements of English PEN as an organisation. www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen

My primary curatorial duty in this project has been to connect the 30 writers from England each to a writer at risk. For many months this process has been discussed with the brilliant people at PEN, and when I received the files on the writers at risk we were going to celebrate, I was just about to board a long flight and so had the chance to read them in one go, over about nine hours, in the strange environs of a plane. It’s hard to describe the feeling afterwards, certainly the sense of responsibility, that I had sought out this project, enthusiastic from the off, but perhaps not truly prepared for the reality of the writers we would be writing about. It’s mawkish to speak of admiration, but come face to face with such will, such commitment to principle, and for it to be so global, to be almost everywhere on our planet, through these 30 human beings who share with us a profession, it left me feeling as ashamed as I was inspired. Perhaps one can never really divorce oneself from the selfish question of whether I would continue to speak up in such circumstance, facing prison, torture, perhaps death. To risk my life and the lives of those I love. The festival will not be a maudlin affair, and no one is suggesting it will create powerful change, but it is important, to me and the other 59 writers connected, if nothing else.

I’m fortunate to have the infrastructure to organise an event like this, with The Enemies Project, having run quite large events which require new work or collaborations from the participating poets almost every time, and this feels, without a doubt, the best use for that infrastructure. I enjoy curating live literature, I think especially in the modernist or avant garde traditions, it’s maybe necessary, to share complex and challenging work with people, consistently, in a welcoming and generous context, and as a poet and artist, to take control of that space where the work is shared. I think it’s an act of community, though I don’t think it more than it is, it is antagonistic to the smallness that can come with writerly solitude or factionalism. The English PEN Modern Literature Festival feels like the most purposeful event I’ve ever put together, for it’s effects, already happening, will not just be to connect underappreciated writers from the UK to oppressed and unbelievably courageous writers in different places, to bring light to those writers, to celebrate them, in London, a global city, where we must always be mindful of the freedoms and luxuries we enjoy. But also because I hope it encourage others, writers and readers alike, of my generation, to join English PEN and to begin investments and connections that might have significant effects on the future of this extraordinary charity, the writers charity, as they battle to maintain our freedom of speech, as they do the job we need doing, long into the future www.stevenjfowler.com/englishpen

A note on: Upcoming performances & events in March and April

March 3rd: Praxis at Parasol Unit, London
Performing a new work responding to Julian Charriere's amazing exhibition, alongside Maja Jantar, Sharon Gal, Simon Pomery and others. http://parasol-unit.org/poetry-innovations-praxis

March 5th & 6th: Stanza Festival, St.Andrews, Scotland
On a panel exploring poetry and the body, responding to a film about bp nichol, and leading a workshop about collaboration, alongside two performances. http://stanzapoetry.org/festival/poets-artists/fowler

March 18th: Soundings IV with Tamarin Norwood
A performance work for video, situated in Wellcome Library itself, responding to materials given by the librarians for the artist Tamarin Norwood and I to respond to. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/soundings

March 20th: The Essex Book Festival, First site Gallery, Colchester
Curating a Camarade with 10 pairs of poets for the festival, and reading with David Berridge, to launch our book, 40 feet, from Knives forks and spoons press. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/essex

March 24th to 26th: The Iskele Kibatek International Poetry Festival in Cyprus
Part of the 7th Annual Iskele Municipality Culture and Art Days, this festival sees poets from around Europe present their work, including Nurduran Duman and Jennifer Williams.

March 31st: Kakania returns at Austrian Cultural Forum, London
Kakania in London once again, with new commissions in the evening and a symposium of new presentations in the day. New work from Steve Beresford, Diane Silverthorne, Declan Ryan & more. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/kakania2016

April 2nd: The English PEN Modern Literature Festival - Rich Mix, London
30 English writers celebrate 30 writers at risk currently supported by English PEN with brand new works of literature. 2pm til late, all over one day. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen

April 6th: The Night-time Economy Exhibition opening - The Riverfront, Newport, Wales
A new exhibition between myself and the photographer Kate Mercer, poetry and photography exploring the fractious energy of Newport's nightlife. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/nighttimeeconomy

April 23rd: The University Camarade
Curating a Camarade which pairs 20 students from creative writing departments of 5 different universities to create 10 new works in pairs. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/unicamarade

A note on: The Enemies Project - Spring Programme 2016

The Enemies Project Spring Programme 2016 includes Icelandic, Argentinian and Georgian Enemies projects, Camarade events in Essex and St.Andrews, the return of Kakania in London and Berlin, a collaborative exhibition in Newport, a collaborative event involving five Universities and a one day festival celebrating English PEN and their writers-at-risk project. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/springprogram16/ 

January Sat 30thOvinir: an Icelandic Enemies project in London
Rich Mix Arts Centre : 7.30pm : Free entrance
Óvinir brings together two generations of Icelandic poets and writers to the UK to premiere brand new collaborations with British poets following events in Iceland. A unique chance to see some of the most interesting performers in Europe, feat. Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir & Jack Underwood, Eiríkur Örn Nörðdahl & Hannah Silva, Joanna Walsh & Andri Snær Magnason, Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir, Inua Ellams, Vahni Capildeo & more. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/iceland

February 3rd to 10th: The Enemies Project: Argentina
The Enemies project in Buenos Aires; an embedded collaborative program between a host of poets from Argentina and the UK, writing brand new collaborations over nearly a week in the Argentinian capital. Featuring Julián López, Anahí Mallol, Camilo Sanchez, Patrick Coyle & more. Co-curated by Flavia Daniela Pittella. www.theenemiesproject.com/argentina

February 29th: Respites: Wellcome Collection - London
Respites is a carefully curated series of day-long gatherings, exploring ideas and activities about rest, pleasure, contentedness, critical thinking and creativity. It is aimed at being a generative and respectful series of engagements with people who need and deserve more respite than they receive. Respites is curated by Ayesha Nathoo, Lynne Friedli and Steven J. Fowler, and is supported by, and part of, the Hubbub group, in residence at Wellcome Collection. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/respites

March Saturday 5th: The StanZa Camarade – St.Andrews
http://stanzapoetry.org/festival/events/stanza-camarade-performance
Camarade Workshop - 13:00 - 16:00 (The Town Hall, Queens Gardens - Upstairs Foyer) followed by the performance 15:55 - 16:10 in the Supper Room
The StAnza Camarade will see new collaborations written by poets both attending and participating in the festival, and a collaborative workshop beforehand. The StAnza festival are pleased to offer the opportunity to take part in the workshop and performance for a small group of attendees. Anyone who would like to participate in the project should email a short biography to stanza@stanzapoetry.org. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/stanza

March Sunday 20th: The Essex Camarade – Colchester
at the First Site Gallery - 1pm to 3.30pm - Free Entrance
Commissioned by the Essex Book Festival, this Camarade will see a series of brand new collaborations written by poets in pairs, from the Essex area or attending the festival especially. Feat. James Davies & Philip Terry, Vicki Weitz & Isabella Martin. Anna Townley & Lawrence Bradby, Jeff Hilson & Tim Atkins & more. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/essex

March Thursday 31st: Kakania at the Austrian Cultural Forum: London
Kakania returns to London after five extraordinary events in 2015, and two unique publications. Contemporary artists present new literary performance commissions, each responding to a figure of the Habsburg Era. www.kakania.co.uk (date to be confirmed)

April Saturday 2nd: The English PEN Modern Literature Festival
Over 30 contemporary English writers present works new works, each in tribute to a writer who is part of the English PEN Writer's at Risk programme, writers living under oppression around the world. The one day festival takes at Rich Mix, 2pm onwards, in 3 sessions throughout the day. All are free to attend but attendees are encouraged to join English PEN. Feat. Mark Ravenhill, Caroline Bergvall, Sam Winston, Emily Berry, Emily Critchley & many more. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen

April Thursday 7th: The Night-Time Economy: an exhibition, Newport
The Riverfront Theatre & Arts Centre: Newport. 7.30pm. A collaborative exhibition of photography and poetry from Kate Mercer and SJ Fowler exploring the often violent environment of Newport's nightclubs and pubs. This special view event will feature readings and is supported by Arts Council Wales and Poetry Wales. The exhibition runs for three weeks. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/nighttimeeconomy

April Saturday 23rd: The University Camarade
Entrance is free. 7.30pm doors for 8pm start http://www.richmix.org.uk/
The University Camarade will present over 10 new collaborative works, premiered on the night, written by pairs of young poets, all of whom are undertaking study in Creative Writing departments at five different UK Universities including Kingston, Glasgow, Edge Hill, York St John. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/unicamarade

May Monday 9th: Kakania in Berlin
8pm at Österreichisches Kulturforum Berlin
Kakania debuts in Berlin, with new literary performance commissions from contemporary artists, each of whom will present a work that celebrates / responds to a figure from the Habsburg era. Featuring Max Höfler on Ludwig Wittgenstein, Maja Jantar on Lou Andreas Salome, Stephen Emmerson on Rainer Maria Rilke, Tomomi Adachi on Paul Wittgenstein, Ernesto Estrella on Gustav Mahler and Ann Cotten on Otto Neurath. http://theenemiesproject.com/kakaniaberlin

May Saturday 14th: The Enemies Project: Switzerland for European Literature Night
A night of new collaborations celebrating contemporary European poetry at Rich Mix, with a cohort of Swiss poets collaborating with British counterparts, amongst others. The event is part of the wider European Literature Night celebrations.

May 16th to 21st: Mtrebi: a Georgian Enemies project in Tbilisi
An Enemies Project in Tbilisi, three British poets visit the Georgian capital to create new collaborations with local writers. Feat. Luke Kennard, Sarah Howe & more. Co-curated by Davit Gabunia.

Supported by UNESCO Reykjavik City of Literature, The British Council, Norwich Writer's Centre, International Literature Showcase Fund, El Tercer Lugar, The StanZa festival, The Essex Book Festival, English PEN, Arts Council Wales, Austrian Cultural Forum London, Österreichisches Kulturforum Berlin, University of Kingston, Glasgow, Edge Hill and York St. Johns, Rich Mix & more.

www.theenemiesproject.com

Vanguard: a course for the Poetry School

I’m really pleased to announce a new course I’ll be teaching for the Poetry School during their upcoming Autumn term - Vanguard http://www.poetryschool.com/courses-workshops/face-to-face/vanguard.php The course will be held on Thursday evenings at the Poetry School, in Lambeth, London. Here’s the info:
 
“Explore the expansive modern tradition of British experimental poetry, as SJ Fowler presents a necessarily idiosyncratic insight into the vibrant innovative poetries which have sought originality in the UK over the last 50 years.
 
Five bi-weekly sessions will explore the distinctive qualities of the British avant garde and chart a course through an enormous field of writing. Not formed by generation, region or faction, Vanguard explores characteristics that are possessed by, but in no way encompass, the work of many great British poets. These are qualities, and poets, chosen through the acknowledged limits of Steven's knowledge and interests, & representative of that alone.
Week 1 : October 23rd : Rapidity
Exploring immediacy, alertness; quickness; celerity, concision. Scalpel cuts at smugness / pomposity, seeking the fragmentary whole.
Drawing from the work of Tom Raworth, Maggie O'Sullivan, Denise Riley, Barry MacSweeney, Andy Spragg, Frances Kruk & others
Week 2 : November 6th : Proximity
Nearness in place, time, order, occurrence, or relation. Imbued with situation / location / historicity.
Drawing from the work of Iain Sinclair, Bill Griffiths, Geraldine Monk, Lee Harwood, Carol Watts, Roy Fisher & others
Week 3 : November 20th : Sonority
Excavations in sound, the condition of being resonant, multi & non lingual / vocal. Performativities. Technologies.
Drawing from the work of Caroline Bergvall, Bob Cobbing, Phil Minton, Hannah Silva, James Wilkes, Zoe Skoulding & others.
Week 4 : December 4th : JocosityUmour. Disjunction, juxtaposition, reappropriation - deftness, humour as disturbance, sublimation. Humour as a liferaft.
Drawing from the work of Tim Atkins, Holly Pester, Jeff Hilson, Philip Terry, Robert Sheppard, Tom Jenks & others.
Week 5 : December 18th : Destability
Undermining the oppressive in language / politics, situating complicity, interrogation / rejection of subjectivity. Externality and the refraction of worlds of language as a mode.
Drawing from the work of Veronica Forrest-Thomson, JH Prynne, Allen Fisher, Sean Bonney, Emily Critchley, Keston Sutherland & others.
During the course the onus will be on how these qualities in modern British poetry can enrich writing practise, rather than dense historical analysis, and how experimentation emerges from necessary innovations that are required for a poet to be truly contemporary in a rapidly changing society. Vanguard is a chance for students to diversify from singular, retrograde modes of writing and provides an all too rare insight into a world of poetry that is a profound part of our literary culture and heritage.”
 
I will organise a post-course reading for students on this course, and they will have the opportunity to attend a series of experimental poetry events during its duration, including Camaradefest II, to be held at the Rich Mix Arts Centre on Saturday October 25th, which will feature 100 poets in 50 pairs presenting 50 brand new collaborative works in one day.
 
Vanguard follows on from my Maintenant course http://www.poetryschool.com/courses-workshops/face-to-face/maintenant.php which explored post-war European avant garde poetry, which I’m happy to say was a grand success, due almost entirely to extraordinary group of students, who can be seen reading original work they collaborated to write during the course here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07uFwjvBHNg
 
As part of next year’s Poetry School Spring term I’m delighted that Maintenant will happen again, in its entirety, but as an interactive program of teaching this time, so anyone can join in, even if they live outside of London. You can read more about that course by clicking the link above and reading this interview, with Sarah Dawson http://campus.poetryschool.com/maintenant-interview-s-j-fowler/ More news on that next year.
 

a lunchtime with the ENO - can you suffer well?

I had the chance to visit with a few extraordinary people the other day from English National Opera. Quite admirably, they are beginning a project where they open channels of communication with writers they might not have come across before, just exploratory, just beginning conversations and this was the first in a series of salon events that they are planning as part of their Talent Development programme. It's an opportunity for intimate conversations to take place between some of the extraordinary individuals working on productions at the ENO and younger writers, to open up windows into the world of opera.  Very pleased to be able to speak to them, knowing how much my stuff with the Guildhall and the Sinfonietta brought me joy and expanded my practise into new areas. Who knows what'll come of it, but a lovely beginning was had when I got sit in on an intimate discussion given by Frank McGuinness, the playwright and poet, and Julian Anderson, the composer, who have just collaborated to produce the Thebans, http://www.eno.org/thebans the latest production at the Coliseum for the ENO. 
It was an intense, educational hour, one that seemed to bracket off the discussion, and the very specific creative world these two men had worked in, so that everyone in the room was fully entrenched in their pursuits and ideas, that of a librettist and a composer. Such was the intensity, the discussion was, by necessity perhaps, at times, somehow private, but not at all pretentious, perhaps a indulgence of necessary energy, of conviction and it was deferent, humourous and profound at the same time. It became very personal too, disarmingly so, and emotional. At times, being someone who always tries to interrogate the notion of the 'writer' as a figure, I was uncomfortable, just by the sheer intimacy of the exchange, but I was, afterward, deeply excited, realising the intensity of this kind of collaborative process, and the responsibility, so massive, that the writer faces in such a relationship. Clearly the trust, and the skill, required to produce an opera like this is so mountainous, that the challenge of it got under my skin. To have to write well and quickly, and incisively, and be ready to let all be broken apart, that is what I'm seeking to do now really, always, anyway, making it new in form and tone. Much to think over, hopefully more to come.


International Translation Day at the British Library

I would honoured to speak at this one day conference / summit / get together of translators and industry professional at the British library on technology, futurology and poetry. It was an embarrassment of riches in terms of the speakers, I actually looked like the child of most of the distinguised peoples in the programme, and I inhabited one of the afternoon breakout seminars with Maya Gabrielle, who is a serious digital programme industry leader, working with the National Theatre and others. She spoke really directly and powerfully about waste and direction in using social media and allowed me to be the good cop really, as I waffled on with my thoughts on the potentiality of the ether for writers, and how the internet is not a tool but a mode, and that its growth is inevitable, its use free and its engagements exponential. It went well, I was able to ramble without notes, feeling quite empassioned, and the people in the full room were knowledgable and positive about my positivity. Robert Sharp mediated us well too. All immensely clever people involved, and great to see friends like Dan Gorman, Sarah Hesketh, Alexandra Buchler amongst new connections I will no doubt benefit from meeting. Also to speak at the British Library is a proud first.