A note on: my collaborators for European Poetry Festival 2019

As part of the oncoming European Poetry Festival I have the opportunity to collaborate six times with six poets from six places. With Maja Jantar, Patrick Savolainen, Fabian Faltin, Morten Langeland, Krisjanis Zelgis and Tom Jenks. From April 6th to April 13th, one week, I do six new performative collaborations. It is one of the most exciting parts of the fest, this constant collective creative output, in live settings, making new things, writing them, negotiating in cafes, changing plans minutes before the event starts, having to also announce the lineup, help all the other poets, work the venue, then perform too. Making new friendships also, I have never worked with Patrick, Krisjanis and Fabian before. Cementing friendships too, Tom, Maja and Morten are all very close and dear friends. It is obvious terrible for them they have to work with me but sacrifices must be made on the altar of poetry.

Check out when and where here www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/programme

A note on : The IGNOR festival travelogue and performance

You can read a full whack travelogue of my recent time in Slovenia here http://www.stevenjfowler.com/slovenia

Excerpta : “The fullest of full moons on the first night in Ljubljana, I travel in with Astra Papachristodoulos and Scott Daughters from London, Astra will also perform. I see friends, knowing people in the city who aren’t the people I’m going to meet. Good and bad in that, not making it to the opening night. But apparently everyone decamps to a squat afterwards which is decorred with available browned mattresses and reasonably priced horse. Oh well, you can’t win.

The next day, performance day, I’m writing my thing during the day, with photos taken on this day, trying to shape it immediate and responsive. I scope out the venue, people try and sell me drugs, I’ve got my meds thanks, it’s an autonomous art squat space near the train station, very different tone than the rest of the plush city, and this is a theme, what perhaps the notion of IGNOR is about, being an alternative. The readings start on Balkan time. Basically all readings, in Slovenian, no performances, one spoken word thing, so perhaps the alternative is contextual rather than content based. Astra is great, as ever, she really has gifts in performance. It’s nice too to hang out with Muanis, who is responsible for my being here, who came to London for the first European Poetry Festival and is a considerable presence and poetry mind. Not without some pretty severe and wonderful humour too. He introduces me to some really warm and dry people.

ON MY PERFORMA : I did a Powerpoint performance, the third of this series in fact, following works in Bucharest and Dublin. Those first two were two of the best things I’ve done live. This was not quite there like those, but it was certainly an experiment for the audience within the context of the festival. Some things went fine, but perhaps diminishing returns on the concept, or my failing, my impatience crept into me with the night being quite standard readings in a language I don’t speak starting late and pulling, giving me an edge of harshness I didn’t necessarily plan on having. That does happen to me, I felt my humour was landing in chats but then up on a stage, with a mic, that kind of cut, it stings people a bit. I had a lot of positive vibes but definitely, as has happened to me in other countries when travelling and performing like this, a certain coolness crept into some people’s demeanours after the slightly savage fingertips of the performance were felt. Also the tech got proper balls up twice, in big ways, and that really did crush my rhythm. The second one, when music was supposed to play me out, left me without the possibility of my final words seeming sarcastic or satirical, as they’re supposed to me. All a learning process.

We all go to a bar after, which stays open til 2am, and I have colacao or whatever, hot choco and it’s the loveliest night, just chatting, laughing, the best of this kind of small poetry festival travelling thing.

A note on : European Poetry Festival Camarade at Rich Mix

Nearly 200 people came to this event. That’s gratifying, having run events in this space of Rich Mix since May 2010, and this taking place in october 2018. It was the best attended event in that space. 27 poets from 20 countries showed off new collaborations. I met new friends, some of whom had travelled in from Spain, Greece, Latvia, and spent lovely hours with old friends, from across Europe, but many of whom live in London. It was a collective, as before with the Camarade events, bonding between those making the works and witnessing them.

The actual work was a little different than normal, a little more mixed, but many of the poets, 5 in fact, were giving their first ever readings, as I’d met them through their work in different fields, around poetry, me feeling the poetry in their work, or through courses I’d run at a few different institutions. This created a valley peak feel to the outputs, which can be better, at times, to offer contrast in not only rhythm, but style. But it was a captivating mass, energised, intense, various, experimental. And it bodes well for the project, The European Poetry Festival, and it’s next full festival coming in April 2019. www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/eurocamarade

eurocamarade.jpg

A note on: minidoc about Struga

Struga was my 51st poetry festival outside of engerland and often ive returned wishing I had documented these experiences better, being as they are often so idiosyncratic. I finally invested a bit of time in making a minidoc supercut of such a trip and Im quietly happy with the result. It captures just a touch of what it was like to be there.

A note on: Struga Poetry Festival travelogue

This can be read in it's entirety here www.stevenjfowler.com/struga (it's quite long but I hope worth a read...)

"With the opportunity to give the last reading of the festival, in Skopje's Daut Pasha Hamam, I said that I’ve had nearly 2000 weeks on the planet and this week was up there with the best. Embarrassed by the week behind me, I told the truth. 56 Struga festivals before us, behind me.

A week in Macedonia. The Struga Poetry Nights. Translucent time, hectic, furious but also gentle, diaphanous. This kind of altered rhythm of consciousness descends, a dislocated holiday from reality, a soft military excursion for poetry. The ether turned up, like a week on whippets.

The overriding feeling, reflecting upon it, a few days out, is about the sensation of sincerity without sentimentality that so marked the Macedonians running and steering the ship, and how that permeated into some really wonderful poets / poems / people / experiences.

Pedigree, an extraordinary history, coming into being during the early 60s and extending Yugoslavia’s idiosyncratic connections to independent post-colonial states and a myriad of political allies outside the Russia / US binary. Struga poetry is in Macedonia something that we in the UK do not have. It's important. I'm really happy to be invited, because not many english poets are, because its a cauldron of tradition that I feel bonded too. Global poetry. A friend who has been who has heard I'm invited tells me when he was invited it made the 2nd page of the national newspaper. In England not a single soul will notice. Good. All the better. Monkey in the shadows."

EPF2018 #14: Collaborating with Rike Scheffler

I’ve wanted to work with Rike since I saw her first perform in Berlin. She is an ideal of whom I wish to work with, poets who will force me, within a warm and enjoyable process, to grow. So it was, Rike and I had a grand time collaborating. We mooted loads of ideas, often around the notion of space and performance, movement and reading, and then decided to write together too, with me writing new works responding to her pair of beautiful poems What It Is You Love. And arriving in Middlesbrough together from Manchester, chatting the hours across the Pennines away with Inga Pizane during a really resonant day, we stumbled into our venue in MIMA to see what the space itself would give us. It gave us a chess board built into a table, a gorgeous ornament. We decided then and there to structure our exchange around a full game of chess, which I haven’t played since I was about 12. Rike basically taught me the rules and as we chatted we decided also to include improvised chat with the poems and the chess. On the night something unexpected happened, the intensity of the game, the focus it requires, took over, somewhat blunting the play, but growing the collaboration into something utterly new, and even more pleasing for that. It was a game of chess that happened to feature poetry, rather than the other way around. And I won through dumb skill. I had worried it might’ve got a tad too long but the audience were very generous, saying they became as engaged in the chess as we had. Rike has challenged me to a yearly performance game and I will stake my European Poetry Festival chess championship once more in 2019.

IMG-5286.jpg

EPF2018 #13: The Festival finishes in Middlesbrough

Such a resonant ending to a wonderful festival, one that exceeded all my expectations, which were high. Thanks to Harry Man, local to Middlesbrough, we brought a small band of European poets to the North East, to work with local poets, at MIMA, a beautiful art gallery in the heart of the city. It was an intimate event in the galleries beautiful café space, The Smeltery, and the collaborations were really powerful, and the pairings some of the best I’ve been responsible for. So great to spend time with poets like Tom Weir, Bob Beagrie and Julie Hogg, alongside my Norwegian friends Endre Ruset and Jon Stale Ritland, all of them warm people and brilliant poets. The whole group decamped to a local bar, which was very civilised for Middlesbrough on a Saturday night and once more we chatted through the night. I’ll miss the festival this time with friends old and new. Far from being stressful it has been an immense privilege to put together, a really joyous time, and I hope to do it again in 2019, the year the UK officially leaves its own continent.

EPF2018 #12: Collaborating with Tom Jenks

Tom is a brilliant mind for poetry. Vastly underappreciated. I’ve tried to collaborate with him every year for the last half decade and this 2018 entry in our exchanges was a good un. We wrote an addendum to our 1000 proverbs book, the Nigel Farage post-brexit poetic proverb archival reflections. We spent the minutes before our time slightly concerned we might have misjudged the tone, but in the end, following a video of the man himself, our mix of Nigel’s actual sayings and our own interpretations of his poetic vernacular seemed to be well understood in the Burgess Centre. When he is our supreme leader one day I’m sure we’ll be well rewarded for this tribute.

EPF2018 #11: Hitting Manchester with the European Poetry Festival

20180414_003152.gif

The International Anthony Burgess Centre in Manchester is one of the best literary venues in the UK I think, I’ve only ever had grand events and performances there, audience and enthusiasm wise. It seems to distil the cities energy for more innovative work into concentrated form. This is in no small part to the staff there, and to the work of poets like Scott Thurston and Tom Jenks, and many others, who have led the decade long resurgence of avant-garde poetry in the city. I brought the European Poetry Festival north in the second to last event, after running 8 events in 8 days, nearly all of which involving over 10 performances 20 poets and sell out audiences. No one was flagging. Poets from Norway, Lithuania, Germany, Italy, France, Latvia and elsewhere in European travelled with us and were mostly paired with locally based poets. Everyone was kind, generous, full of life for the project of the festival. The positive feedback from both poets, supporters and audiences has been the most consistent of any project I’ve ever done. As ever the atmosphere in Manchester was friendly, unpretentious, and the performances were varied in tone, the collaborations ranged from the conceptual and satirical to the intense and reflective. Robert Sheppard’s The European Union of Imaginary Authors was celebrated alongside 10 brand new performances for the night. As has been the case for every event of the festival, the poets were buoyant afterwards and stayed out into the night. There has been a palpable sense the festival, beyond my control or intention, has created a community of sorts, transitory but concrete. Friendships have begun, and I’ve had the chance, through the poets and the audience, to meet so many new people I'd like to work with again.

EPF2018 #10: Collaborating with Robert Prosser

The first time that I’ve had the chance to work with Robert and it will not be the last time. We had a plan when we met on the afternoon of the day of the evening event to develop the piece. It went out the window. The notion was intersemiotic translation but the format was about disturbance. I think we created something that worked on multiple levels and succeeded when it failed. It began with a natural pretence about being pedestrian, or about the differences in our performance style, which is varied with us both, and so we embellished, building from the literary and comedic into the archetypal and symbolic, all way into the mindfully awkward. We share quite a few interests and this emerged organically into translations that included stomach punching, rap, google searches, lullabies, cradling, atonement and guilt. People said it stayed with them, which is nice, but maybe not in a good way?

EPF2018 #9: Austrian focus at European Poetry Festival

20180412_232455.gif

I loved this event. A really strange and intense night, another packed house came to witness, in the salon of the Austrian Cultural Forum near Hyde Park, an event of solo readings and new collaborations. I owe the ACF so much. They were the first to really have faith in the events I put on, the risks I try to take, and their vouching for me has led to things like the European Poetry Festival itself. It was like coming home. And through them I have met so many brilliant contemporary Austrian poets and Robert Prosser, Max Hofler and Daniela Chana are three of the finest.

The opening salvoes from Ana Seferovic, Claudiu Komartin, Giovanna Coppola, Anastasia Mina et al set everyone back in their seats as one after the next the poets brought intense, powerful work. It was really a special atmosphere. Then Robert and I kind of muddied the water before Daniela and Phoebe Power and Max and Iris Colomb finished the night perfectly. I hope every year I get to do a European Poetry Festival we have an Austrian focus event, their scene is really one of the best on the continent. www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/austria

EPF2018 #8: Versopolis at London Bookfair for European Poetry Festival

Entering the belly of the beast I had the pleasure to put together an event for Versopolis, a huge EU funded cross continental poetry platform, as one of the editors of their European Review of Books, Poetry and Culture. At the back of the massive Kensington Olympia, in the subsidy section, the poetry pavilion corner, I introduced Versopolis poets Marius Burokas, Hannah Lowe, Ausra Kaziliunaite and Sasha Dugdale – all writers I’ve worked with before. All poets I admire. A slightly dodgy sound scenario was overcome with notable readings, which forced close attention, and we finished the event with a quick discussion, which was quite insightful and starkly honest. Versopolis also produced a great little publication for the event. Anja Kovac was a great producer to work with too, the whole thing was smooth and it was fortunate to be able to bring the festival inside the bookfair.  www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/versopolis

20180410_181210.jpg

EPF2018 #7: Collaborating with Ausra Kazilunaite

Ausra Kaziliunaite is a really remarkable poet. I had the pleasure of meeting her last year, for the 2017 European Poetry Night, and when we had an unfortunate / understandable last minute collaborative dropout her and we put something together in a day I am proper proud of. Ausra sent me her poem written for the night, a piercing, elusive, allusive poem about England leaving Europe and I responded, literally following her words (which she wrote in English) and making small nudges in tone and order. It really came together in the reading, and it served to remind me despite my forays into performance that a reading, when done well, can keep attention with effect. I hope we get to work again in the future, the work she is doing in Lithuania is really important and she is a perfect example of the kind of person I feel lucky to work with in these collaborative poems

DSCF6263_1.jpg

EPF2018 #6: Lithuanian focus at European Poetry Festival

To have people queueing down the stairs of the poetry café, the poetry society’s home in London, was gratifying, and a packed house was the right vibe within which to celebrate three brilliant Lithuanian poets who had come to London as part of the London Bookfair Baltic celebration. The Lithuanian Cultural Institute were so supportive of the fest in general and this was a really memorable night, pleasing for me to deliver an event that really gave the poets a proper platform to show their works. We had some solo readings from a mix of visiting poets and European poets living in the UK (this blend integral to the festival’s remit) including Muanis Sinanovic from Ljubljana and Theodoros Chiotis from Athens, before new collaborations were presented by poets I had met teaching for the Poetry School on courses, both in person and online, about contemporary European poetry. They did me proud, and produced some remarkable live works. The night was finished with three new collaborations involving the Lithuanian poets and then everyone decamped to a covent garden pub. It was a really atmospheric night, the best I’ve ever put on in that venue.

See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/lithuania

EPF2018 #5: European Poetry Festival celebrates Sound & Performance at Iklectic Artlab

20180408_223006.jpg

An extraordinary venue and a grand night of innovative live poetry, from the sonic to the electronic to the vocal to the conceptual. Eduard and the team (including Tony the Cat) at IKLECTIK are doing an amazing job and were so hospitable, we really felt like we were in someone’s beautiful living room. The place was nicely full, a good 70 people sat in to watch a real range of works. It was the first time I got to put on poets I’ve admired for years like Rike Scheffler from Berlin, Sergej Timofejev from Riga, and it was great to have back on in London poets like Robert Prosser from Vienna and Kinga Toth from Budapest. Range was the key element here, again, and the works complimented each other. It was a little nubache for me to run all the tech from my laptop while also filming but worth it, this movement of poets across Europe worrying about liveness and sound and time needed to be acknowledged in its own space and place.

See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/performance

EPF2018 #1: European Poetry Festival 2018 begins at Writers Centre Kingston

The start of my first foray into festival directing ended my first foray into Writers’ Centre directing, whatever either of those things mean. In practical terms it began a remarkable 10 days for me, the most satisfying curatorial / organisational patch of my life. For this event, held in a slightly blanched upstairs room in the otherwise lovely Rose Theatre in Kingston, near the Uni I teach within, I was able to bring together around a dozen poets, some visiting, some local, some students. Old friends like Dublin’s Christodoulos Makris and Venice’s Alessandro Burbank read alongside soon-to-be-new-friends like Paris’ Frederic Forte and Amsterdam’s Erik Linder. I was particularly proud of the young poets I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my teaching like Olga Kolesnikova and Synne Johnsson, and the performances ranged from translated readings to performances, Fred Forte and Astra Papachristodoulou both presenting particularly entrancing conceptual live poetries. Everyone piled into the olde market square afterwards, talking late into the night.

See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/kingston
www.writerscentrekingston.com/europe

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.