A note on: Airwaves Festival in Reykjavik, Iceland

A rare chance to perform at a major European music festival, I was invited to present a new work for the 2016 Airwaves festival in Reykjavik, for their Airwords programme. The lineup for the evening including friends Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir and Crispin Best, but also John Lydon of the sex pistols amongst others. The evening was eclectic, as the whole experience was, being bussed around with indie bands, the whole city swelling with drunk music goers and me hiding in my hotel writing and preparing my performance. I had time to meet friends old and new and was treated to great hospitality.

The work I eventually presented was really another collaboration with the amazing Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir, whom I take to be one of a dozen or so European poets who are genuinely breaking new ground and influence my thought process every time I see them / work with them. I began with some slightly twisting / deliberately complex rhetoric with a few set ups, all aiming to establish a certain expectation and engagement from the audience, and then with Asta’s help, began to create inexplicable and fundamentally awkward performative shifts. 

My second trip to Iceland in 2016 and a completely original one, with huge thanks to Andri Snær Magnason, Asta and all my Icelandic friends who keep making their country a place of inspiration for my work.

A note on: Ovinir - Icelanders in London - January 30th

Hosting the Icelanders who had been so hospitable to me in Iceland, Ovinir visited Rich Mix on January 30th with four poets visiting, writing new collaborations with local poets, and three new collective performances, made up of younger poets, or those newer to the Enemies project, from courses I've run at Kingston Uni, Poetry School and Tate Modern, to round off a remarkable night. More than 120 people packed the venue to standing room only, and the works presented were of the highest quality. Wonderful to see the Icelanders get the audience and reception they deserved, and to see them, everyone involved so satisfied with what was an example of what the Enemies Project can do when all is aligned in our favour.

It was also the night of my favourite work of the project, from my own creative standpoint, my collaboration with Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir. A work full of raw energy, a desire to confront, to amuse, to inculcate awkwardness alongside humour. A product too, as often the best collaborations are, of a growing friendship, and an immediate kinship between Asta and I, one felt from the first moment we met, owed to the project. We create a kind of performance triptych, from the invasive performance, to the poem and song, to the metadialogue and humour valve. I've rarely been so satisfied with a live work, all owed to Asta's brilliance. www.stevenjfowler.com/iceland

A note on: Iceland - Reykjavik & The Library of Water, Stykkishólmur - January 2016

For more pictures & videos visit my page dedicated to Iceland www.stevenjfowler.com/iceland

Part One: In Reykjavik, Ovinir at the Iðnó Theatre - January 22nd 2016

I had the chance to spend a few days in Reykjavik before the Ovinir: Enemies Project event at the Iðnó theatre. A privilege, and all the more so because I was fundamentally not needed. Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir, my co-curator of Ovinir, has the gift of being as organised as she is talented. I stayed right in the centre of the city, in a plush hotel, thanks to the support from UNESCO Reykjavik city of literature and had the chance to meet old friends like Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir and Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, and make firm new ones in Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir and Matthías Tryggvi Haraldsson. A strange few days in many respects, Reykjavik’s creative output so well known and fetishised by the hordes of tourists, so much more conspicuous than London being as it is a small place, that a certain pressure for beauty and inspiration sits on a city which can be stunning in its starkness and idiosyncrasy but is also quite brutal in its architecture and self-aware in its culture. I’ve always felt a little alienated when visiting. What perhaps is best about this is the juxtaposition the city itself provides to its inhabitants, those I have got to know at least, who, once known, are uniformly hospitable, generous, down to earth and funny. 

The event itself was a huge success, and quite rightly this fell on Valgerður's shoulders. Way over a hundred people crammed into the Iðnó theatre, a hall that must be one of the grandest places the Enemies project has visited. Poets, writers, artists, performers and rappers were invited to collaborate, twenty of us in ten pairs, as ever with a design to mix communities, inculcate a closeness of exchange through collaboration and speed. I cannot speak Icelandic so I was lost to the content, but all the more aware then of how engaged the audience was, and how so many of the pairs took risks in experimenting with theatre and concept in their literary works. Such a range, the accentuation of difference improved each new work. Valgerður and I read a poem we had fed to the other eighteen performers in bits, so their voices popped up from the audience, synchronising with ours as the poem grew, creating a chorus. A nice way to mediate our roles as organisers, though once again, this was a rare night where I had almost nothing to do but watch and offer my congratulations to her and the other 18 poets who performed. 

Part Two: Vatnasafn / The Library of Water, Stykkishólmur - January 23rd 2016

The inarguably oppressive architecture and social posture of Reykjavik was left behind as we drove out of the city, following the west coast of Iceland, Valgerður having rented a car to take myself, Asta and Matthias on a roadtrip to Stykkishólmur, to the Library of Water, Vatnasafn, where we would perform with Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir and the musician Marteinn Sindri Jónsson.

The stunning terrain of Iceland, it’s scale and shocking beauty were apparent within minutes of leaving the city. Mountains rising out of the bay, wild horses, volcanic scrub. Matthias, Valgerður and Asta could not have been better company, witty, generous and energetic. Everything good about the country is in these people. It became apparent that leaving the city with my new friends was the best thing I could've done, knowing of course my experience of any place, so briefly, is purely subjective and shallow, and that I was completely foreign to the place. But the energy between us, and the curiously affecting atmosphere of a roadtrip offered me a really inspiring experience. About an hour of Asta’s cockney accent and my explanations of English idioms, and why red headed people are derided in the UK, passed the time before we stopped off at Borgenes, where the wind was so strong coming into the inlet that the water seemed to snake across bay and you had to lean into the gale to walk.

The occasional piece of brutalist concrete, a plant or works or factory, or the occasional abandoned house dotted the landscape as we cut across land to Stykkishólmur, away from the sea, stopping to briefly stare into a volcanic valley. We arrived in Stykkishólmur about four hours after we left Reykjavik, but I would’ve had it go on twice as long if I could. We immediately went to the Vatnasafn, an art installation as a permanent gallery, obscurely (and wonderfully) situated in a fishing village, albeit a particularly beautiful one. Roni Horn founded it and it has housed many writers, living in the apartment below the gallery, as residents. The space has numerous lighted tubes, filled with water from local glaciers, known as hotspots for psychic energy, as the town is known for ghosts. Lots to draw from for the performances. 

The evening’s events in Vatnasafn was really remarkable and it'll stay long in my memory. Our crowd were less than double figures, just us, the six of us sharing work, and a handful of people from the town. The light of the water tubes, a few white chairs, a reading followed by music followed by performance, it felt natural and bracketed, a closed world for a small group of people, who were able to engage directly with each other. Bryndis talked about her children’s literature, Marteinn played beautiful, gentle songs with his guitar, Asta provoked the smattering of locals with pointed questions about her dislike of cucumber water and disputed, to herself, how much of her own constitution was liquid, Valgerður and Matthias circled their warped reflections in the water tubes while reciting. I tore up my book, shared it with the audience, burnt the pages, doused them in a tub of water and then submerged myself in that water, reading as I had to emerge, breathless. I pasted the wet pages of my destroyed books to the tubes and Asta and Marteinn finished the evening, their enviable musical talent picking between the charred paper and puddles of water I had left. I watched them play, from behind the small crowd, watched my friends, most of whom I had not know two days before, entranced as a whole, as Marteinn and Asta sang.

Everyone helped clearup the mess I had made and the local restaurant Valgerður had worked in as a teenager, Sjávarpakkhúsið, stayed open late to cook for us. The food, like the hotel, were free, an act of amazing hospitality. The six of us talked and ate, as naturally as old friends, before a group of slightly drunk (friendly) local men entered. One emplored Marteinn to play the piano we were sitting beside. Marteinn, a classically trained pianist, gently, reluctantly, turned to play, and soon had the entire room singing in Icelandic. I took this video. It’ll seem cloy to describe how beautiful a moment it was, an impossible series of events had to happen for it to take place, and Marteinn’s talent, so generously shared with us on that evening, displayed in such improvised circumstance, when in flow, was like witnessing the room slowly filling with water. A beautiful moment to close my time in the country.

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
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.


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!


Upcoming: The Enemies Project - the Winter Programme

The Winter Programme: Oct 2015-Jan 2016

The Enemies Project Winter Programme 2015/2016 features seven remarkable events, with projects in partnership with the London Literature Festival and the Globe Road Festival, Enemies: Italy and Iceland, a one night celebration of European poetry (with poets visiting from 13 nations) and the first Camarade event in Norwich. It's another great series of collaborative and innovative events, pushing the potential of live literature and avant-garde poetry.

October Fri 9th: Global City at London Literature Festival
In partnership with Literature Across Frontiers & Southbank Centre.
Venue: Spirit Level - Blue Room at Royal Festival Hall. Price: £8 
Book tickets here: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/global-city-93314
An exploration of writing about London and it's culture from the perspective of the visitor, the immigrant, the outsider who is inside - London as a city of visitors, always moving, always both inside and out. Featuring discussions and new works of poetry and fiction from writers from across Europe and beyond, with Iain Sinclair, Jana Putrle Srdic, Livia Franchini and Karlis Verdins. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/globalcities

November Wed 4th: Pugilistica: a literary celebration of boxing
Apiary Studios, Hackney : 7.30pm : Free Entrance
Pugilistica will bring together poets, academics, writers, artists and photographers to celebrate the sport of boxing through talks, readings, discussion and screenings. Featuring fiction from Anna Whitwham, Poetry from Tim Atkins, Art History from Sarah Victoria Turner, Journalism from Oliver Goldstein and the event will see the relaunch of Fights, by SJ Fowler, published by Veer Books in a revised second edition. 

November Sat 7th: Nemici: an Italian Enemies project
Rich Mix Arts Centre : 7.30pm : Free Entrance
22 poets and artists, 11 Italian and 11 British-based, each present brand new collaborations in pairs, created specifically for this event. From video to performance, from poetry to prose, join us at the Rich Mix for this free evening of dynamic new collaborations celebrating the 21st century Neo-Avanguardia. Featuring Daniela Cascella. Alessandro Burbank, Christian Patracchini, Francesco Pedraglio, Andrea Inglese & many more. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/nemici

November Sunday 15th: Globe Road Festival walking tour
11am - 12.30 : Free to attend with Tickets here
A unique live walking tour performance experience, as part of the Globe Road Festival, the Enemies project presents a stroll down Globe Road itself, in the company of poets, sound artists and vanguardists. Stopping four times, at designated places on Globe Road, the artists will present a talk or performance completely original to the walk, in response to the history and culture of the road, with Elaine Mitchener, Gareth Evans, Adam & Jonathan Bohman. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/globeroad

November Fri 20th: The European Camarade
The Freeword Centre : 7pm : Free Entrance with Tickets here
A mini-festival of European poetry in collaboration, in the heart of London. Join nearly two dozen poets from across the continent presenting brand new collaborations in the literary and avant-garde traditions. British poets will write these works with visiting writers from Slovakia, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania, Austria, Hungary, Norway and more. Featuring Michal Habaj. Christodoulos Makris, Gabriele Labanauskaite, Cristine Brache, Christoph Szalay, Endre Ruset, Ville Hytonen, Kinga Toth. Katarina Kucbelova & many more. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/europeancamarade

December Thurs 10th: The Norwich Camarade
Norwich Writers Centre : 6.30pm : Free entrance
A special Camarade event, curated in collaboration with Writers' Centre Norwich and UEA Creative Writing department, featuring nearly two dozen poets celebrating the breadth and depth of the literary culture in Norwich. Featuring: Georges Szirtes, Tiffany Atkinson, Jeremy Noel-Tod, Emma Mackilligin, Rebecca Tamas, Philip Langeskov, Jonathan Morley & more http://www.theenemiesproject.com/norwichcamarade

January Sat 30th: Ovinir: an Icelandic Enemies project
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, in the second iteration of an Icelandic Enemies project. With Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir, Andri Snær Magnason, Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir, Eiríkur Örn Nörðdahl, Jack Underwood & more. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/iceland

Gelynion: Enemies Cymru - Blog #3 Swansea

A homecoming for two of our core touring six, Swansea being the home of Nia Davies and Joe Dunthorne. So much is said about Swansea, or was said to me, as I expressed excitement to come here for the first time in my life. It's clearly a place that engenders strong feeling, of pride or criticism. Off the train, the cab driver, born and raised, told me how much he hated it, before dropping me off at a beautiful B&B with expansive sea views over clear blue skies, surrounded by cafes and shops in the Upplands. Meeting the other poets and driving back into town to the incredible venue, what used to be an Iceland Supermarket and is now the Volcano theatre, on the high street, minutes from the train station, I began to get the impression that while Swansea has its edges, it is also an energetic, distinct and striking city.

I collaborated with Joe, and we had written a poetic dialogue that diffused the notion of the nation of Iceland, and our respective visits to that place, with the Iceland Supermarket that once inhabited our performance space. We created an overlapping narrative, something written to be read, and it came together with incredible ease and speed. We also gave out cards with the names of foods sold in Iceland, the supermarket, to be shouted out between our reading, a kind of call to the frozen ghosts from the audience. 

The performance space was unique and like all of Gelynion so far, each of the pairs, 10 in all this night, took the commission extremely seriously and presented an array of differing and energetic works. And again the nature of the collaborations and the community feel created an open, generous and expansive atmosphere. We were joined again by our Indian contingent, Jeet Thayil and Sampurna Chatterji reading, and I finally got to meet and speak to poets I've read and followed from afar - Meirion Jordon, Aneirin Karadog, Lyndon Davies, Graham Hartill and John Goodby. Their work was brilliant, such strength in depth, such a wonderful representation of Swansea.

We had our first in Wales day off and I spent many hours walking along the seafront to the Gower and around the city, and attacking a long run on the particularly soft sand and up the particularly steep hills, in particularly hot sun, getting lost in seemingly endless winding suburbs, before we reconvened for a barbeque at Nia's house and I heard about the revelry that went on late into the post-reading night, after I had left getting ahead of the Friday night crowds.