A note on: Lightwave: New Performance in Lithuanian Literature

Wednesday March 15th / 6:30pm doors for 7pm start / Free Word Centre
60 Farringdon Road. EC1R 3GA : Free Entry but online booking requested here

A unique event celebrating Lithuanian’s new generation of literary artists, featuring brand new readings and performances by Gabrielė Labanauskaitė-Diena, Žygimantas Kudirka and SJ Fowler, a British poet connected to their innovative, collaborative practise.

Both Labanauskaite and Kudirka have carved out reputations across Europe for remarkable writing and live performances to match. This is a rare chance in London to witness poets who are breaking ground in the new European scene.

From Lithuania’s powerful lyrical and formal tradition has grown a culture of experimentation and in this event curated for the London Book Fair, the Lithuanian Culture Institute brings to light the best of Lithuania’s new generation of poets and performers.

Speakers Žygimantas Kudirka is a writer, artist and performer of interactive poetry, artificial languages and electronic music. Kudirka’s first poetry collection, XXI a. Kudirka (The Twenty-first Century Kudirka), is made up of interactive verses, literary remixes, internet poetry, and texts of unusual graphic forms and content. He is also a performer of avant-garde rap and one of the pioneers of poetry slam in Lithuania, representing the country in European slam poetry championships. His works have been translated in different languages and part of them can be found online herehere or here. / Gabrielė Labanauskaitė-Diena is a text producer. She combines poetry, drama, essay and other texts with interdisciplinary arts, enjoying her roles as writer, performer and organizer. Gabrielė also appears in classical forms – as a playwright in theatre, lecturer at Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy, human being in everyday life. Find out more here and here.

A note on: In Other Words: The Journal for Literary Translators Winter 2016

Very happy to have a short article in the beautiful and vital In Other Words journal, which is published by Writer's Centre Norwich and the translation centre. Do go get a subscription, it's a brilliant journal http://www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk/about-us/wcn-publications/

20161206_085108.jpg

My article gives an account of how I happened to be in Serbia as the UK's exit from Europe happened, and the inevitable disquiet around that experience. I was helped by editor Sam Schnee in putting it together, she did a wonderful job with me and with the whole issue, which features Gabriel Josipovici, Chris Gribble, Jen Calleja and many other talents.

A note on: Kakania in Berlin at Lettretage

A brilliant night of performances from contemporary European poets and artists, radically recreating and responding to figure of Habsburg Vienna, around one century past, at Lettretage in Berlin, supported by the brilliant Osterreiches Kulturforum http://www.theenemiesproject.com/kakaniaberlin

I had a blast putting this one together, it ended up being so easy to work with everyone from start to finish and the event was welcoming and dynamic in good measure. The performances ranged from playful poetic texts to tech savvy sound performances, and some conceptual performance too. I admire the work, and the generous personalities, of Lea Schneider, Rike Scheffler, Kinga Toth, Norbert Lange and Fabian Faltin, and they made it something special.

A note on: Moot, a videopoem from Iraq via Highlight Arts & The British Council

Almost exactly two years since I spent some time in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq, thanks to the amazing Highlight Arts and the support of the British Council, a video showing me reading one of the poems I wrote about the place and the trip specifically has been produced by Yasmin Fedda and hosted in a series of articles by Daisy Leitch on the British Council Website.

https://literature.britishcouncil.org/blog/2016/found-in-translation-part-2/
https://literature.britishcouncil.org/blog/2016/found-in-translation/

Published: Poem in which a knife bursts a bubble in Poems in Which: Issue 9

Very pleased to have a poem in the brilliant Poems in Which journal, headed up by a committee of really fine poets, a collective edited magazine. This is a great issue too, has work by friends whose work I admire very much, Harry Man, Joe Dunthorne, Ella Frears and many other fine poets. Issue 9 in it's entirety here https://poemsinwhich.com/issue-9/

& my poem, Poem in which a knife bursts a bubble https://poemsinwhich.com/2016/02/22/poem-in-which-a-knife-bursts-a-bubble/

A note: my commission for The Verb on BBC Radio 3 - January 15th broadcast

A new page for my second appearance on The Verb, a brilliant, inspiring day at Media City in the company of Ian McMillan, Charles Fernyhough, Jennifer Hodgson and David Morley. 

www.stevenjfowler.com/theverb 

Amazing to be able to write this new piece of poetry, or theatre / performance as I see it, for The Verb and on such a wonderful topic and project. One of my favourite commissions I’d say.

"The Worm in its Core was commissioned as a new poem / performance by Radio 3's The Verb, hosted by Ian McMillan, for broadcast on January 15th 2016, in response to Hearing the Voice - a project which explores, and demystifies auditory verbal hallucinations. A great privilege to write something responding such a vital and intelligently conceived project, and to share it on The Verb, which has always maintained a laudable balance between all forms and modes of literature, bringing them where they belong, together, in brilliant conjunction."

< 2015

As the year dies off, it's a chance to reflect on a really remarkable 12 months past and say a few thank you's to those who  have been so generous as to make everything that transpired, mentioned below, so remarkable. Here is 2015 in review:

  • a launch for my latest book {Enthusiasm} this June past, published by the amazing Test Centre press. Gratitude to Jess Chandler & Will Shutes. A discerning review here by Richard Marshall.

  • debut solo exhibition, Mahu, took place across June and July, at the Hardy Tree Gallery in Kings Cross, a book handwritten onto the walls, with 11 events across the run. Thanks to Cameron Maxwell & Amalie Russell, and the over 50 poets and writers who contributed.

  • Throughout 2015, I was in residence with Hubbub group at Wellcome Collection, sharing the space with neuroscientists, social scientists and other researchers. I launched my Soundings project with Hubbub and Wellcome Library, performing with Emma Bennett, Dylan Nyoukis & Maja Jantar. Thanks to James Wilkes, Kimberley Staines & many others.

  • a debut play, Dagestan, was produced to scratch at the Rich Mix Theatre, thanks to an amazing cast, director Russell Bender and producer Tom Chivers, of Penned in the Margins.

  • I performed a new commission for Tate Modern in June, and then taught a course for the institution in November. Thanks to Joseph Kendra & Marianne Mulvey, and everyone who attended.

  • Really wonderful to join the faculty at Kingston University, as a lecturer in the Creative Writing department.

    With The Enemies Project, I had the pleasure of curating multiple international collaborative projects:

  • Gelynion, with Nia Davies, thanks to Arts Council Wales. Remarkable events from Newport to Bangor, finishing at Hay-on-Wye Festival.

  • Feinde, with Austrian poets, thanks to the Austrian Cultural Forum, including multiple events & an exhibition celebrating concrete poetry.

  • Croatia, with Tomica Bajsic & co, thanks to Croatian PEN and others, a wonderful mini-tour of Croatia and an event in London.

  • Enemigos, with Mexican poets, thanks to British Council, Conaculta and the London bookfair.

  • Wrogowie, with Polish poets, thanks to Polish Institute London.

  • Nemici, with Italian poets from across Europe.

  • Kakania, celebrating Habsburg Austrian culture, supported by Austrian Cultural Forum, saw memorable events in the Freud Museum, the Horse Hospital and the ACF, with over 40 new commissions. It also produced two books – an anthology of the project’s work and a new collaborative collection written by Colin Herd and I, about the life of Oskar Kokoschka.

  • a launch of the 2nd edition of my book Fights, published by Veer Books, at Apiary Studios in October. Big thanks to the publishing committee at Veer and the authors who celebrated the sport of boxing with me on the night.

  • A World without Words, curated with Lotje Sodderland and Thomas Duggan, saw 4 events in 2015, including at Somerset House and the Frontline Club. A remarkable success exploring the human brain, language, neuroscience & art with some amazing thinkers, not least Lotje & Tom.

  • I spoke at the School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt University, Berlin, thanks to Daniel Margulies, and became a Salzburg Global Fellow, for a conference on creativity and the brain. also attended the International Literature Showcase in Norwich thanks to the British Council and Writer’s Centre Norwich, and contributed to a panel on technology and literature.

  • attended the Berlin Poetry Festival in June and curated a Camarade with Lettretage while visiting the city. The same organisation kindly hosted me for their Literary Activists Conference in February.

  • attended Festina Lente in Paris in March, hosted by Martin Bakero and collaborated with the brilliant Zuzana Husarova.

  • curated many stand alone events, including the European Camarade, which brought together 18 poets from across the continent, the Norwich Camarade, thanks to Writer’s Centre Norwich and UEA, Global Cities for Southbank Centre & the London Literature Festival, European Literature Night in Edinburgh and a Cemetery Romance, thanks to Czech Centre London. Pleased to be a part of the Globe Road Festival too, leading an artists tour of the road.

  • had the privilege of being hosted by Edge Hill University, thanks to James Byrne, and co-curate a Camarade in Liverpool, which included a launch of my collaborative book with Tom Jenks, 1000 Proverbs, from Knives forks & spoons press.

  • amongst readings / performances: at Whitechapel Gallery for the launch of the New Concrete, edited by Victoria Bean & Chris McCabe, at the Stoke Newington Literature Festival & at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s The Wrestlers, thanks to Sarah Victoria Turner & co.

  • Wonderful to again teach for the Poetry School, sharing my passion for European and world avant-garde movements in the courses Maintenant and Mondo

  • continued in residence with the brilliant J&L Gibbons landscape architects and had the pleasure to share the stage with them at the Garden Museum, London for the Big Tree Debate.

  • Amongst some lovely conversations / interviews documented this year, this one on Sabotage Reviews with Will Barrett really stood out and I was grateful to the response of many to my short article on the passing of Tomaz Salamun. 

  • Poems in Modern Poetry in Translation, Poetry Wales, Test Centre, Gorse, Long Poem magazine, Lighthouse & others, thanks to the editors. My work was also included in the Poetry Archive.

    And knowing no one is reading at this point, simply, it was a great pleasure to collaborate in one form or another with so many extraordinary artists in 2015 - Noah Hutton, Rebecca Kamen, Tereza Stehlikova, Endre Ruset, Alessandro Burbank, Joe Dunthorne, Eurig Salisbury, Zoe Skoulding, Rhys Trimble, Daniela Seel, Anna Cady, Amanda de la Garza, Harry Man, Prudence Chamberlain and Tom Jenks among them.

I'm grateful to have met and worked with so many generous people throughout this year. There is more to come in 2016.

Published: Modern Poetry in Translation: issue 3 2015

Really delighted to feature in MPT, the legendary magazine under the editorship of Sasha Dugdale, for the first time, with my co-translations of Maryam Alatar, taken from the Highlight Arts Iraq project I attended last year. You can buy the issue here, which also features a focus on new and classic Uruguayan poetry: new translations of Líber Falco, Horacio Cavallo and Ida Vitale, plus a conversation between two women poets from Uruguay: Laura Chalar and Laura Cesarco Eglin http://www.mptmagazine.com/product/no3-2015-the-tangled-route--160/

A note on: The EVP Sessions & The Black Dinner performance - November 14th 2015

The original EVP tour was a major turning point in my work with performance, being able to tour the UK with really wonderful artists like Hannah Silva and Ross Sutherland, and with the support of Nathan Jones and Tom Chivers (www.stevenjfowler.com/evp) When the opportunity to do a one off commission for the same project, at Shoreditch Town Hall, I had a clear thought to what I might do, melding both my original work for the project with a tradition I've had for three years now, being painted as a skeleton on or around the Mexican Day of the Dead. I first did so in Mexico City and try to do so every year in homage to my friends in Mexico, and because much of my work is about the symbology of death.

For this performance I was really lucky to have the amazingly generous artist and make up artist Amalie Russell paint my face professionally. I had then spent a few days covering a whole banquet of food in black paint and lacquer, and my performance, a fluxus meal of sorts, was to set the table and invite diners to join me. I waited outside the fire exit of the venue on a typically vapid Shoreditch saturday night and felt it appropriate to wait in the rain. The performance was accompanied by a track made in collaboration with the remarkable musician Alexander Kell, who did an incredible job mixing my reading of Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, one of the authors I had discovered in Mexico.

"Electronic Voice Phenomena returns with a series of electrifying live sessions featuring the very best in hauntology, spoken word, glitch noise and performance. The EVP Sessions takes its inspiration from Konstantin Raudive’s notorious Breakthrough experiments of the 1970s, in which he divined voices-from-beyond in electronic noise. Enter the labyrinthine basement of Shoreditch Town Hall and experience a “mind-boggling”, “perplexingly good” avant-garde cabaret of human, ghostly and machine voices. http://www.electronicvoicephenomena.net/index.php/shoreditch-town-hall-london/"

A note on: Actors announced for my play Dagestan

ROBIN BERRY (CHAMBERLAIN)

Robin is a graduate of East 15 School of Acting. He has recently appeared in Silent WitnessNew Tricks and Gigglebiz. He is a member of Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium company and is currently working on the new Jungle Book feature. His theatre credits include One Man Two Guvnors at the National Theatre and The Elephant Man (South East Asia tour).

GARETH TEMPEST (GLANTON)

Gareth is a graduate of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. His theatre credits includeAdventures in Wonderland at the Vaults, Twelfth Night at the Riverfront Theatre, UK tours of Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors and It’s A family Affair- We’ll Settle It Ourselves at Sherman Cymru.

MAYA WASOWICZ (JESSICA)

Maya is a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Her theatre credits include Twelfth Night at the RSC, Design for Living at the Old Vic, Faith Machine at the Royal Court, The Thrill of Love at the St James’, and The Last of the de Mullins at the Jermyn Street. Her television credits include Mutual FriendsWallander and Waking the Dead for the BBC. She has appeared in the films Huge and The Huntsman. Maya is producer for new theatre company Into the Wolf.

STEVE NORTH (HOLDEN)

Steve is an actor and filmmaker. He has played leading roles in theatre, television and film over the last twenty years.  His screen credits include Closed CircuitMongrels,Doctor WhoEastEnders and EastEnders: E20Is Harry on the BoatThe Day Britain StoppedMidsomer MurdersCasualtyLondon’s BurningMurphy’s LawHolby City,WoofSouth West Nine. Filmmaking credits include co-writing and appearing in the feature film South West 9 and he was Associate Producer The Football Factory. He co-wrote and produced the short film Through the K-Hole and directed the award winning short film Cregan for Screen South under the Digital Shorts scheme. His numerous theatre credits as an actor include War Horse in the West End, Shared Experience, Manchester Royal Exchange, Edinburgh Fringe First winning play Meeting Joe Strummerand a one man show west End run of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. He plays guitar and sings for London band The Clones.

Dagestan is presented in three scratch performances on 16 and 17 October at Rich Mix, London. Click here to book your ticket.

Penned in the Margins 2015 program

really pleased & proud to feature in this wonderful program for Penned in the Margins.
http://www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk/
index.php/2015/04/beyond-the-book-announcing-our-2015-programme/
 my production is in October, visit the page and read the program to find out what it is! Wonderful company Im in too, with Hannah Silva's amazing show Schlock! and Ryan Van Winkle's new book the Good Dark

 

2014<

Dear friends, happy new year. The happenings of 2014, a bit of an epic email. It’s been another immense year, and more than ever before I have to express my debt of thanks to collaborators & friends, one + the same, who have helped me so.

In April I had the chance to visit Iraq through the Highlight Arts project in Erbil, collaborating with Iraqi and Kurdish poets and reading at the Niniti Literature Festival. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/reel-iraq/

In October I visited Hay Xalapa and the Cervantino festival in Mexico thanks to the British Council. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/hay-xalapa-cervantino-mexico

In June I launched my sixth poetry collection, the Rottweiler’s guide to the Dog Owner with Eyewear publishing http://www.stevenjfowler.com/the-rottweilers-guide-to-the-dog-owner/ The book had a commendation from the Forward prizes.

Thanks to Creative Scotland, in July I toured Scotland with the Auld Enemies project, with over 40 poets involved over 7 readings from Edinburgh to Lerwick. There’s a documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8Pz-z8z8_w & all the videos, blogs and information http://www.stevenjfowler.com/auld-enemies/

In September I toured Ireland with the Yes But Are We Enemies? project and with Auld Enemies, it was one of the most extraordinarily warm and creative experiences of my life. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/yes-but-are-we-enemies/

In June I toured through the Baltic countries, reading in Vilnius and Talinn and performing a new conceptual piece for the Free Riga festival http://www.stevenjfowler.com/free-riga-festival/ Thanks to the British Council.

In May I had the chance to participate in the Crossing Voices project in Venice, curated by Alessandro Mistrorigo and James Wilkes http://www.stevenjfowler.com/venice/

In August, in Liverpool, I was commissioned by Nathan Jones’ amazing Syndrome project to create a performance piece based on the use of Choros body movement mapping technology, and did so using Kyokushin Karate https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxeGbdAAHlM

In September I was the guest of Croatian PEN and read in Zagreb, thanks to Tomica Bajsic & Damir Sodan http://www.stevenjfowler.com/croatia/

In May I visited the Prague Microfest, thanks to the Czech Centre London, to perform with the TRYIE collective http://www.stevenjfowler.com/tryiecollective/

In March I performed at the Festina Lente sound poetry festival in Paris, curated by Martin Bakero, and held in a circus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xjIb3yalRM

In late August I read at the 9th international Novi Sad Literature festival in Serbia http://www.stevenjfowler.com/novi-sad-literature-festival/

I was shortlisted for the White Review prize in early 2014, for my story MueuM http://www.stevenjfowler.com/white-review-prize-mueum/ I performed the text at the Whitechapel gallery in August, in an evening curated by Holly Pester.

Across July, the Poetry in Collaboration exhibition, co-curated with Chris McCabe, was the Saison Poetry Library’s summer exhibition, drawing from contemporary and historical sources http://www.stevenjfowler.com/saisonexhibition/

In 2014, the Enemies project was behind over 50 events, with over 200 poets and artists, in multiple nations, in many new forms and spaces, and was supported by Arts Council England http://weareenemies.com/

I curated Camaradefest II in October, with 100 poets reading in 50 pairs, with brand new collaborative works being premiered.

In November the Kakania project began thanks to the Austrian Cultural Forum, with an amazing event at the Rich Mix. www.kakania.co.uk

During 2014 I was poet in residence at the extraordinary landscape architects J&L Gibbons, writing new sequences on soil & trees, the former published in a unique book of essays and reflections on the city of London & its earth http://thegreenerinfrastructure.tumblr.com/

Thanks to the Danish Cultural Agency and the Danish Embassy in London, the Fjender project, a Danish Enemies project took place in March & April. I read & exhibited in Copenhagen, the Fjender event at the Rich Mix in London was a great success, and Morten Sondergaard’s extraordinary Wordpharmacy exhibition at the Hardy Tree, running throughout March, also featuring a reading, was brilliant.

In July I curated a night of new artworks and literature responding to the life and legacy of Bohumil Hrabal for Czech Centre London, called Cabaret Hrabal, at the Horse Hospital. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6HysePkAY0

I co-curated an exhibition with Tom Jenks celebrating the avant object press Zimzalla in October at the Hardy Tree gallery in London, which featured two readings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UauBZpo9vY

I was pleased to teach two new courses for the Poetry School, Maintenant & Vanguard, both of which explored avant garde poetry post WWII, in Europe and Britain respectively. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/poetryschool/ Both courses were full & extraordinary experiences for me. An interview here with Sarah Dawson with the Poetry School http://campus.poetryschool.com/maintenant-interview-s-j-fowler/

In February I launched a pamphlet called Whale Hunt with Annexe press, thanks to Nick Murray, launching it thus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saUebKuHKao

In June I performed at the Museum of Water, at Somerset House, thanks to Penned in the Margins, protesting water cannon policy by trying to drown myself in a shallow bowl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqpJDPBp7gw

The first Mopha collective performance took place at the Rich Mix Theatre in late September http://www.stevenjfowler.com/mopha

I collaborated with the videoartist Joshua Alexander to produce the first of a series of videopoem collaborations, Animal Drum http://vimeo.com/105849417 with footage taken from a performance at the Science Museum.

The Hubbub residency at the Wellcome Trust began in October, and I contributed to the Being Human festival in November http://www.stevenjfowler.com/the-hub-residency-at-the-wellcome-trust/

I had an essay featured in the amazing Mount London anthology from Penned in the Margins. My collaboration with Sam Riviere was also featured in Penned’s ten year anniversary anthology, Marginalia

I had the chance to read in Sheffield for the first time, at Banks Street Arts, for the Midsummer poetry festival, thanks to Agnes Lehoczky, in June https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IFrkTk6s5E

I had the chance to speak at the Poet as a Boxer event at the Saison Poetry Library in February

As poet in residence of the Translation Games project, I was live writing during the Saison Poetry Library special event in March

In March I curated a special Camarade event in Edinburgh for the Hidden Door festival, in the cities abandoned arches.

An event celebrating the work of Tim Atkins, and his marvellous collected Petrarch poems from Crater press was one of the year’s highlights http://blutkitt.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/petrarch-celebration-of-tim-atkins_29.html

A Slovakian Enemies project took place at the Freeword centre in November 

Wrogowie: a Polish Enemies project, took place at the Rich Mix in London in February https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=us2sNV3kDDE

An event was held in February to celebrate the work of Bill Griffiths, coinciding with the launch of a second volume of his collected poems from Reality St. press.

I was happy to read the work of Jiang Tao and Ming Di at an event celebrating contemporary Chinese experimental poetry at the Poetry Café in June.

A special Camarade event was held for the Interrobang bookfair in November 

As poetry editor of 3am magazine I published two dozen poets in 2014 http://www.stevenjfowler.com/3am-magazine & a few issues of Maintenant, most notably with Ukrainian avant gardist Volodymyr Bily

I published a special feature on collaboration for Cordite magazine with new works and an essay

3 poets were published as part of the Anglaise Actuelle project with Recours au Poeme magazine, new translations of contemporary British poets into French       

I had sound recording profiles up at Tapin2 (France) and Phonodia (Italy)

Visiting Hannah Silva in research residence at the British Library we had an interview / discussion, excerpted here http://hannahsilva.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/the-prolific-myth-interview-with-sj-fowler/

I was part of the first Penned in the Margins podcast with Hannah Silva, Siddhartha Bose and Tom Chivers, recorded here https://soundcloud.com/pennedinthemargins/sets/penned-podcast-1-poetry-and

I was on BBC radio 3’s Free thinking talking about boxing and poetry http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03t0d9 

I was happy to read for the BAMS Modernism Now conference thanks to JT Welsch in June https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXuC4AdG7m8

& to read for Akerman Daly at the London Artbook fair at the Whitechapel gallery, celebrating Fabian Peake, in September.

& to read to celebrate Antonio Claudio Carvalho’s POW series at the Juggler in Hoxton, London, in June https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKmnFmUI0B0

I was privileged to read at the launch of the wonderful Coin Opera 2 anthology in November https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8XAoLotL1g

Thanks to the editors of Gorse magazine, Colony, the Bohemyth, the Honest Ulsterman, the Morning Star, Huellkurven, the Wolf, the Quietus, Test Centre & others.

& heartfelt thanks to everyone who made the year such a memorable one, I’m grateful for all the generosity and hospitality that’s been visited upon me. 2015 will be better yet, plans to follow. Best wishes to you all, Steven

dinner with tomaž: remembering tomaž šalamun 1941-2014

It staggers me now to think of it, but my first ever meeting with Tomaž Šalamun was in a restaurant in Ljubljana, just he and I. We sat, just us two, and talked for many hours on a summer evening in his city. I had simply emailed him, blind, without him knowing me, and without me having done anything of note to claim his time or attention, and he responded immediately and generously, and suggested we meet.

Ljubljana is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Slovenia as a whole, one of the most beautiful countries. You’d not necessarily hear this from its citizens, who have the admirable self-deprecation of an intellectual, occasionally maudlin people, but amongst the baroque architecture and Habsburg openness to language and nationhood, they also possess one of the highest literacy rates in Europe, and a passion for poetry reflected in the books they shift and the poets they produce. Tomaž Šalamun was the greatest Slovenian poet.

He was a quiet titan who bestrode Tito’s communism and EU Europe with an ease and deference that was his hallmark. To speak to him or read his work was to be convinced these seismic changes were of secondary importance behind the actions and thoughts of each individual human being, whose true complexity and humour and love and expression were to be found in the layered, brisk, intelligent, timeless poetry that he penned for nearly fifty years. His reputation was as strong in America and the UK as it was across Europe and the rest of the world. He was, despite himself, a major poet of great significance.

At that time I was visiting Slovenia every year as a summer break, that country being a second home to me, Bled and Bohinj, the lakes, a place to try and write. And I had emailed him in a moment of boldness just because I was on holiday, and in reply he had asked me to dinner. By the time we met he had seemingly read my work, offered me compliments that showed a close reading that it didn’t deserve, connected me to my interview series, Maintenant, and showed that he had actually read many of those issues already. I later heard from younger Slovenian poets before we met he was telling people at festivals to look up the series and the work it was doing. He had his ear to the ground. And so we talked for hours, his manner famous for its intelligence, warmth, attention and generosity.

Soon he was telling me of his father and his family, its relationship with the multinational, pluralist nature of the Habsburg Empire, the line of doctors in the Šalamun line, then his own writing, his own life. His childhood on the Slovene coast, in Koper, the coast of Rilke, Saba, Svevo. Then his house in Bled, the history of Bled, for I couldn’t shut up about that place, and then, so casually, he transitioned into his time jailed under the communist regime, the time he said that made his name, made him famous. The time that made him so well known throughout his home nation that he had to flee to be able to write again, so cloying was the attention. Then his time in New York, in the late 60s and 70s, making his name again in America, where he went of his own volition, not by invitation, and the excitement of the poets and the poetry scene there, that he connected to just because of a chance conversation in a bookshop and not because anyone knew who he was for a single second. And his time in Iowa at the famous writers workshop. Then the great writers he knew from England, his great respect for those I mentioned and admired like Tom Raworth and Anselm Hollo, colleagues of his in the journey of a life spent in pursuit of poetry. And some great stories I won’t share too, some about Hollo, Iowa bars and the Viking poet coming up against ‘real’ people in rural America. A joke, a funny anecdote never more than a moment away even if he was talking about being in prison, telling me this was nothing, a very brief period, or being an unknown Slovene alone in New York city during its grimy glory.

And then that subject, himself, was done, as gracefully expressed to me, a young, eager, stupid dinner companion, as one could express such a thing. One’s own life, an incredible sprawling life that took in endless travel, endless writing, endless conversation and experience, condensed and relayed, out of politeness. Then it was questions about me, and beyond that, for much of our time, an endless, empassioned discussion about the young writers he had encountered. The depth and knowledge he had of those thirty, forty, even fifty years younger than him was incredible, deeper than my own about my peers. He had read their works, critiqued them, written letter after letter of recommendation, found them publishers, festivals, residencies. He had two or three generations of Slovenian poets in his debt, and beyond Slovenia, poets from around the world, and when thanked, as I was thanking him for meeting me, he would not hear that for a second.

His poetry has meant an enormous amount to me, as it has for so many who have followed him. It has the rare quality of being actually unique. Often labelled, quite bizarrely I think, as a surrealist, this reduction in and of itself is perhaps the best way to begin to understand his work. So dense, elliptical, circular and expressive to be beyond the comfort so many of his readers, it was this quality, always present in his work that he somehow, naturally I imagine, managed to hold together with a directness, a deftness, an accessibility and a conversational flow of language that was at odds with the complexity of the form and imagery. It was somehow as though this density required a brevity to complete it, to be his voice. These were bursts of insight, necessarily complex and winding, but given form as asides, refuting wisdom precisely because that is where it lies. His ability to remain singular in tone when evoking forms and language and ideas that were as wide as the potential of the poetic medium itself was his great achievement. This is what I have gleaned from his life’s work, that poetry is most authentic when it eschews linear authenticity, that the first note of poetry is sentiment and its greatest failing, that when a poet matures, or has any talent, they are like an artisan, they produce something that shocks upon encounter through great craft and that seems then, so easy in the world. As though it was always there.

        Beauty of Man
                by Tomaž Šalamun

        Beauty of man is the furthest history.
        We have pressed peaches.
        Nobody is coming out from little huts.
        We know, squeezed.

        The building eroded into its horizon.
        I didn’t propel anything that wouldn’t go to pasture.
        I kneaded round kerchiefs inscribed above the fresco.
        The one who doesn’t pledge the horizon,
        how would he pay for it?

        The tones don’t know what apples are.
        The defense knows.
        It bites the serene one.

        The great blindness tells iodine:
        dress up, stay.
        Your little barrel is the arrogant’s clay.
        And: on the white sand the grass grows.

        I’m from tonight.

I never spoke to Tomaž at a reading or a festival. We never met when there was another person in the conversation. Just a few more times we met, each year or thereabouts when I was in Slovenia, Bled or Ljubljana, did we casually share dinner. We corresponded during his illness and as ever he was generous, energetic in writing, telling me of new plans and hopes to travel. Just back from Brazil he spoke to me of the exhaustion the trip had caused him and how inexplicable this seemed to him, past seventy years of age and unwell. This was a life spent with an energy and a soulfulness few can possess, a huge life traversing nations and political eras, and his was a mind so concentrated, so sharp and complex that I always thought of him as a man of capability somehow, not naturally kind or generous, but applied to himself as being so, as a responsibility, almost entwined with the sensitivity he suffered as a great poet. And this meant all the more to me, to see a man before me who I could learn everything from, that he had chosen a life of writing and a life of being open to people, to people younger than him, and the idea that they might be separate from him because of this seeming absurd. Tomaž was a man who chose to be a great poet and a great person, he chose to be that in the face of changes in his life and nation that he could not control and that at times tried to crush him. He was a courageous man, a truely gifted poet and gutted now, hearing of his death yesterday morning, I feel only privileged that my life crossed his and we shared those short evenings together in Slovenia.

the Enemies project: Slovakia - the videos

A really beautiful evening was spent at the Freeword centre this past wednesday, to celebrate, for the second year running, the Enemies project's Slovakian poetry project, and luckily for us in London we had Erik Simsik, Maria Ferencuhova and Juliana Sokolova visiting from Bratislava, all on great form both with their individual readings and some amazing collaborative works. So gratifying, after such an intense period, to see such great new works presented before a good audience in a venue I rarely work in. Thanks to the Litcentrum in Slovakia. 

Enemies presents Slovakia : this wednesday Nov 5th at Freeword

The Enemies project presents: Slovakian poetry in collaboration
 
Wed 5 Nov 2014, 7:00pm, Free entry: The Freeword Centre - Lecture Theatre
 
For the second year running, The Enemies project presents some of the most exciting contemporary poets from Slovakia collaborating to read original works of avant garde / literary poetry with British contemporaries. Joined by a host of London based poets, this will be a unique night of original European poetry.http://weareenemies.com/slovakiaii.html Featuring:
 
Erik Simsik & Marcus Slease / Juliana Solokova & Meike Ziervogel /Maria Ferencuhova & Prudence Chamberlain plus Stephen Watts, Fabian Peake, Ollie Evans, Ana Seferovic, Michael Zand & more
 
Supported by the Centre for Information on Literature in Slovakia & Arts Council England