A note on: Atlantic Drift page on Edge Hill site

Really a grand anthology to be part of, so many poets included are quite beyond me, I am in every way the runt. It's been brilliantly fashioned by Arc publishing and the good folk at Edge Hill Uni, and they've thrown up a page about me


It includes this interview, shot specifically for the project in Liverpool while I was there for Camarade'ing.

A note on: an interview with Jana Astanov, published on 3am magazine


3:AM: I recently had the pleasure of reading your four collections of poetry: the latest “The Guide to Being Bear Aware”, Enthusiasm, published in 2015, The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner, from 2014, and your first book, Red Museum, published in 2011. How is “The Guide to Being Bear Aware” different from your previous works?

SJ Fowler: Thank you. I’m sorry you had to slog through four of the, one is normally enough for people. As you probably picked up, each one is very different from the next – different style, method, tone, subject. You couldn’t tell they are from the same person, I’ve been told that anyway, and I take that as a badge of honour. The language I reclaim from the world and plop down on the page is not supposed to represent me as an individual but just some of my mental activity and inquiry. The Guide is different as it’s a return to more literary ground, it’s more notably poetic. That’s because I only discovered poetry in 2010 and this kind of writing, post war European poetry, is what got me into the field. So for the first time I feel I’ve been reading that work long enough to let it speak out. And I’ve also been more active with really experimental pieces of performance, visual art and theatre over the last few years, and so I felt, organically, my poetry could be a little more lyrical.

3:AM: In this collection you begin most of the poems with quotes from a wonderfully curated list of European poets. Could you explain the concept behind this?

SJF: When I first began reading poetry I would take out huge anthologies from Senate House Library in London, big dusty things from the 60s, 70s, 80s that no one else was looking at, and I would spend all day reading them, stopping only to write down lines from poets, both known and obscure, that struck me intensely. It sounds untrue but back then I would read poetry for six or seven hours a day, I was so excited to have discovered it. So for this collection I raided this old word doc of stolen lines. I assigned the epigraphs randomly, often, and I know people hate epigraphs, they take it to be the poet being a prick, showing off their learning, so I thought if I put one for pretty much every poem that’d be quite funny. It’d also force people to look for meanings between the poem and the epigraph which perhaps don’t exist aside from their own analysis, which is also nice. .... CONT'D


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: Interview at Poetry Spotlight

Lovely to be featured on Poetry Spotlight's Meet the Poet interview series, chatting about some books out next year and other things. http://poetryspotlight.com/sj-fowler/ There is also a new poem published in the feature from my new book The Guide to Being Bear Aware

Hi Steven. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on the publication of your latest collection {Enthusiasm} last year. Can you tell us a bit more about the book and how you feel it compares to The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner?

Hello, thanks to you for asking. I’ll have to equivocate a fair bit, but generally speaking {Enthusiasm} is in one way quite a formalist book, in that it’s trying to emphasise how much the meaning in poetry is a meeting of subject and object.

The reader has an enormous role to play in the meaning of a poem through their endless, idiosyncratic individual experience of language and its impossibly intricate potential in their minds and memories. I really wanted people to feel like they had to engage with their own subjective reading of each poem more forcefully, as the poems are pretty consistently, structurally and semantically, frenetic.

In another way, thematically, the book is about death, hence the beautiful cover that the publisher Test Centre sourced for it from the Wellcome archives. It’s different from The Rottweiler’s Guide…, not only because every book I publish is different from the last, which seems intuitive to me, but also because The Rottweiler’s Guide… was more about love.

You’re a poet who seems to thrive on working with others, as evidenced by your recent KFS publications House of Mouse and 1000 Proverbs. I’m curious if there were any differences in your working approach to these collaborations with Prudence Chamberlain and Tom Jenks, and do you feel that mixing up your process is vital to your poetry writing?

I do thrive upon working with others. I find it generative as a poet, but also it’s a form of immediate pedagogy, and I think because I suspect myself to be principally anti-social and misanthropic, it’s a way of continually leaving my comfort zone in order to continue growing as a human being.

The processes with Prue and Tom were different, as I would say every one of my collaborations has been, in that people inevitably vary in the ways they like to work, even in the speed of their replies to emails for example.

Tom and I fired off quick responses to each other, the nature of the work being one line pseudo-proverbs, while Prue and I wrote over a longer time, exchanging large chunks, meeting, editing and working on the material until it became one text where both of us had lost our initial input to the other. It is about circumstance as well as preference, often. Both are brilliant poets and I learned so much from having the chance to write with them.

I feel like my process evolving is something I aspire to, yes. I would like it to always be so. It has a negative effect in practical terms, as many people who might read or discover your work will not be able to put their finger on what it is you’re doing as you lack one clear, consumable aesthetic or motivation. But that can be a benefit in many ways too, depending on what you’re after.

Perhaps the best example of your collaborative spirit is your involvement with The Enemies Project, which has quickly grown into an international phenomenon. What for you have been the most memorable moments of the project and how do you hope it will develop in the future?

That’s generous, thanks. It has been a pleasure to curate. The project has allowed me to discover, collaborate and learn from poets and artists I would never have met otherwise. It has also allowed me to promote many whose work has been considered too ‘difficult’ to be supported, which I’m proud of, and with the big Camarade events, where the atmosphere is so friendly and the work so intense, and the tours, where I’ve shared vans and trains with cohorts of writers all over the world, I feel like I’ve proven that groundbreaking literary and avant-garde work can be generated without snobbery, hierarchy and pomposity.

In terms of the future, I never want the project to have utopian goals – one can only end up disappointed – so I’m going event to event, making sure I still enjoy it, often responding to the ideas of my co-curators. Next year we’ll have another six or seven international projects, European Poetry Night, the English PEN Modern Literature Festival, a cinema and poetry programme, stuff like that.

You also work in an editorial capacity for 3:AM magazine. Do you think the proliferation of online poetry magazines and digital platforms for contemporary poetry in recent years signals a sea change in how readers consume poetry, and what would your response be to crticics who argue that online content like this is ephemeral?

I think critics who might suggest that would be of a certain generation that don’t spend most of their leisure time online, as almost everyone in the western world, under the age of forty, tends to do. I think this isn’t really an issue of online magazines, but of the internet itself.

Profoundly undersold in the literary world, it isn’t an alternative to the book, a ‘platform’ or whatever people say – it is a fundamental revolution in human culture, a global, unregulated communications mainframe, a nervous system for civilisation. The internet also happens to be made up of language, the same material as poetry.

I think it has changed poetry for the better. People already forget how much power some once had, just a few decades ago, by controlling what could be read and defining in that process what was supposedly, objectively, good. Ultimately it’s not a question of how readers consume poetry but how poetry adapts to being, like almost everything else, swept up in the technological revolution.

I understand you have a new artpoem book coming out next year with Stranger Press too entitled I fear my best work behind me featuring illustrations, logograms, and asemic writing. Do you subscribe to the notion that breaking down semantics in this way is an exercise in examining and questioning what exactly constitutes a poem?

I do, and I’m excited about it. Stranger Press is a really good press to work with, Christopher Stephenson does a grand job. I fear my best work behind me is primarily illustrated artworks, brutalist, child-like, comical paintings or abstracts, each with their own handwritten poem built into the work.

Just the fact that the poems are handwritten, often in coloured ink, might, in some people’s minds, make them visual art, rather than poetry. A lot of my work in this area is about my own curiosity. I can’t resist the idea that if I do something as banal as handwrite a poem, rather than print it, in a book, its meaning will change to readers exponentially and be considered experimental.

Context is absolutely equal to content, and yet the common understanding or perception of poetry at the moment, in the UK at least, is entirely focused on the content. Generally we have the same book, paper, font, letter size, language etc. But on that page the white space has meaning, the place of the abstract marking we’ve ascribed meaning to, has import. The logical conclusion of this basic realisation, which permeates all other arts (think film-editing, material and composition in painting etc) is that the poet has the potential to interrogate the context of their language.

So the book explores how image affects language, how they are interconnected, dead space, handwriting and its own aesthetic meaning, and so on. This is old stuff, I know that. I’m deeply interested in poets like Henri Michaux or the CoBrA group, and I’m aware they covered this fifty years ago or more. But it’s exciting to me and hopefully the book has more of a sense of humour than my answer.

Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?

This is from an upcoming collection called The Guide to Being Bear Aware, due out in 2017 with Shearsman Books. I’ve spent the last year or two really rereading poets for the first time, as I only started to read poetry in 2009. I had never looked at it before then. So I’m looping back and rediscovering the world poetry that actually brought me into the field in the first place – poets like MayakovskyEseninHerbertRozewiczCesaireEkelofSeferisSachs

It’s meant my writing has taken on a more conversational tone, maybe a softer tone, accidentally, perhaps ironising the first person, rather than avoiding it as I have done in the past. It’s also a book that’s trying to reflect on the Anthropocene – our relationship to language, consciousness and animals.

an interview with Polly Dickson for King's Review

"What a poem can ‘do’ is accelerate the complexity, accelerate the density of life and existence, which is essentially complex and adversarial, and therefore make people who are aware of that feel more at home in the world. The actual thing, the actual block, the actual piece of poetry, it won’t make you feel better. It shouldn’t make you feel better. But when you experience it, it should make you realise that you’re not alone in knowing that things might be hopeless. There might be no point to everything. And that’s okay, because other people feel that way too, and I think that’s very beautiful, but it takes a kind of care and patience to get to that most people are really not interested in. They just want poetry to give them this glow, this tingle in their spine. The world’s full of shit that makes people feel I’m okay. You’re not okay, fucker! You’re gonna die! That’s the real root of it, and this is one of the few mediums that I think is supposed to be about that."

an interview with Will Barrett at Sabotage reviews - a turning point

I decided in this interview to be more direct about my aesthetic opinions than I had ever done before. Why that is so is extremely complex. All I will say is this is result of years of considered thought, many missteps, much doubt and a constant desire to pressure test my ideas. I have finally reached the point that I believe firmly in these notions and that I can stand by them, they have been mettled. Of course revisions will come, but this seems the truth, as far as my opinion goes.

I have received a remarkable volume of heartfelt messages of support from people after the interview, and to those people I am exceedingly grateful. And I am grateful to Will too, and to Sabotage. And to everyone who has disagreed, and who has done so acknowledging, as I hope I have, that people are more than poetry.

The interview runs over 5000 words, so I won't post it all. In fact just the first question. It can be found in full http://sabotagereviews.com/2015/03/10/its-all-one-enormous-blancmange-an-interview-with-s-j-fowler/ Please do check it out.


WB I think for this interview we should stick mostly to your collection The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner, which came out last year on Eyewear. For anyone completely new to your work, and this book, what advice would you give them as readers? Let’s assume they’re not very familiar with 20th or 21st century poetry.

SJF Okay, so I’m going to hit you with a deluge. Do forgive me, please take it as me taking your questions seriously. The advice I can give is theoretical rather than contextual, in that if you have what is a traditional, or shall we say dominant, notion of what poetry is, my poetry won’t mean much to you.

There is a profound error made about what poetry is, that pre-dominates in the UK, and beyond, but definitely in the UK right now in 2015. Poetry is made of language, not of emotions. Its building blocks are letters and words and the often fractious relationships to the meanings we attribute to these materials. This is the starting point of any poem, any text. Moreover, the poem exists as a physical thing, first seen, then read. Its context and its appearance, has great power, alongside its meaning. Language is the material of conversation, and of thought (perhaps, somewhat), and poetry, unlike music, has to work within the material of its own consideration and concept. What I mean by this is that poetry uses the thing we use to conceive and express all things. Music, visual art, sculpture – they do not. That is, unfortunately, their advantage in our time.

Therefore, very simply, poetry is, to me, the thing we do that uses this language material for something other than conversation or declaration. How is it, then, that the majority of poetry, or what most people know poetry to be, is essentially a conversation with oneself? Most poetry is first person ‘I’, narrative, subjective, descriptive, anecdotal and sentimental. It enforces a singular, limited notion of self-hood (one authorial voice) and employs language for its everyday function. It conceives emotional expressiveness, or ‘insight’, as the last moment of poetry, the crowning moment. Whereas, in reality, it is the first moment – an adolescent urge to express one’s feeling, one’s emotions and experiences, directly, often quite literally. Assuming a myriad of things, perhaps worse of all, the assumption that is interesting to other people. It brooks no ambiguity of meaning in its content, and it mistakes realism, or descriptive narrative (with occasional adjective flourish or familiar metaphor) for reality. It emphasises the romantic notion that the poet has a god given gift, that they are inspired by a muse, an essentially theological aesthetics (the poet alone with their god). It is Calvinist, the lucky few are born chosen. Moreover is represents a bizarrely specific type of writing, one we have come to know as ‘poetic’, one that is of a very certain time, and world of language, and that is now, horrifically retrograde.

For me, poetry is about the human animal in wonderment about the very possibility of language at all. It should be about refracting and reflecting and mulching the endless and idiosyncratic world of language, its materials, its meaning and the expression of that which surround us all differently. The poet’s ‘gift’ is the skill, attention and uniqueness of this refraction. This then is a poetry that reflects our world. It is one that keeps pace. It allows for a poetry that takes in data, algorithms, the changing nature of speech, the changes in our very cognition due to technology and so on. It is a poetry that allows us to be the multiple people we are, from our varying moods, to our varying languages, to our feelings in and out, and at the edges of expression. It does not hoot the same horn for forty years. And it is a poetry where the meaning is not closed. The reader should complete a poem with their world of meaning and language and understanding. The poet confronts the material of all conception and displaces and displays it for others to understand.

This is probably reads as shrill, but it is not a myth. If the situation we have in poetry was applied to other artistic fields it would be as though painters in 2015 could really only be known for painting pastoral landscapes, or contemporary composers could only write melodies in order to gain widespread acclaim. Of course they could toil away in obscurity, trying to respond to the actual world around them and not the romantic tradition hundreds of years deep, but we’d call them ‘experimental’, and gently shift them to the margins. This first-person anecdotal mode of poetry is the absolutely dominant in prizes and festivals in the UK. The fact is, there are thousands of poets in this country and around the world that have reacted to the same stimulus as those in the art world, the developments of thought, and of life, in the post-war era. They are just not known. They certainly have not been lauded or recognised here.

This comes down to a few simple factors, and this is the best way to introduce my work, through its aspiration. Rich aesthetic experience, be it poetry, music, art – requires attention. It requires context, theory and concentration to engage with it, to appreciate it, to develop a taste for it. It requires investment. A Rothko takes time to understand, to reflect itself back onto you, to represent the majesty of the non-literal – the moods that escape description in conversational language. A Schoenberg piece requires multiple listens, to attune oneself to the layering, the brilliance that sits in between the complex sounds that lie outside of our ordinary ear. Why is a poem expected to offer gratification immediately? I am attracted to that which requires me to work toward understanding, and that requires me to grow in perception. How have we come to value reduction? To mistake a flowery speech or an anecdote broken into lines as a poem?

To my eyes, most poems are bad speeches, and this is where spoken word sits even further beyond what I take poetry to be. It is most often a speech, given in exhortation, performed in a contrived rhythm. It allows for no misunderstanding of meaning, brooks no ideological inquiry and tells its readers or listeners what they already know, and by and large agree with. It takes for granted that language has situated, static meanings and it mistakes speech without rigour for poetry, and couches this in affectation. If I asked what differentiates a dominant/traditional or spoken word poem from a sentimental anecdote or a banal political speech you could perhaps point to the former being in lines and the latter being a block of words. There is no difference, generally speaking, otherwise.

And before you think this is just aesthetic malingering, all of this is underpinned by a fundamental, ethical choice about how we see existence. When confronted with the unknowable, adversarial, immensity of life – just take mortality itself, that everything is permeated on our absolute certainty of aging towards expiry – you can either admit your limitations and be grateful for life itself, a life lived in confusion, or you can try and make up an answer to all, and pretend you have control. The traditional, dominant mode of poetry is founded upon the notion that the poet can control language to represent the profound experiences of life. In so doing they employ means which are less than the things they wish to represent. In anecdotes, observation and conversation, and with sentiment, they reduce the world onto their pages. They transfuse life. Faced with overwhelming complexity, the response is assuredness. This is disingenuous at best, ignorant at worst. The contemporary, or what is called experimental poet, is making what is immensely complex in existence equally complex in language. This is what my work is about.


Zarez interview in Croatia with Marko Pogacar

MP: For the last couple of years you are very active in finding, elaborating and persuading new and original, or at least not very common and worn out methods of presenting poets and poetry. The effort seems to be rather efficient – a couple of projects with high public visibility had emerged out of that. Tell us a bit more...

SJF: A lot of factors led up to me doing this. The fact I didn't have a literary education as a child, and my rather late beginning to writing, and that I perhaps was able to see quite clearly, with fresh eyes, what was working and was not with contemporary presentations of literature was certainly the main one. So it seems natural to me to have poets explore collaboration with each and across the arts as a fundamental mode, to have them write to commission or responding to an idea, to make readings rapid and intensive, to borrow from performance art and so forth. I have also always emphasisedthat readings should be decidedly open and welcoming, that that effects the experience on the most originary level. So far, these ideas have received a lot of support.
MP: You have published six volumes of your own poetry in a rather short time as well. Again the texts and the performances tend to merge styles, strategies, arts and disciplines. The ‘good old’ paper-eye connection lost something of its strength within the everyday explosion of the spectacle? How much the general context determines our very ability to comprehend literature, especially poetry? Is it time for the new ‘aesthetic of the new’?
SJF: So much historical analytical repetition often obscures our view of questions like that. What I will say is that this moment is truly a new moment. The two enormous factors we must deal with is population increase across the globe, the explosion of human beings, doubling the planet's occupation at the same time as absolutely revolutionary technological changes. We live in a truly new moment and have to respond to that. Very idiosyncratically I have responded with a measure of speed.
MP: London’s poetry scene seems to be boiling at the moment – interesting names and venues seem to pop up non-stop. Anything binds them together, besides the fresh energy? Any dominants, recognizable generation characteristics? Does it, in the internet era, make sense to talk about the generation just age-wise?  
SJF: The great quality of London is its size. There are so many things happening at once, so many readings, so many new poets, that its very hard to feel a sense of hierarchy, which is traditional in literary circles. You can't be top dog, because there's always another group of poets, just a street down, who have never heard of you. So there are no dominants in London, just a nearly endless periphery. The great and good of the literary scene are not followed by the avant garde who aren't known by the spoken word etc..
MP: You’re poetry editor in 3AM magazine, you’ve followed poetry scenes all around Europe. Having a good insight, what can you recommend? Where do you find ‘the fresh blood’? What about Lyrikline? A couple of clicks away there is the world poetry treasure. How this kind of availability effects the production? Do we all start to write alike eventually?
SJF: I don't think there's any homogeneity happening at all, precisely the opposite. There are more writers and less readers, in perspective, than ever before. And I firmly welcome this, to tear down the hierarchical model of literature in favour of a more inclusive, democratic vision of writing as something that enriches the individual and cannot be generalised. Every nation has its depths, every nation its scenes and new writers and exciting moments. I've had the chance to travel a lot too, as well as research and all I can report is that though it is a huge part of my life, I have barely scratched the surface. As long as I know this, my head is in the right place.

Interview with the Double Negative magazine

Kind of a weird one... http://www.thedoublenegative.co.uk/2014/08/the-glitch-interview-s-j-fowler/

The Glitch Interview: S. J. Fowler

Syndrome Sessions 2.1: CHOROS, 24 August 2014
C James Fagan throws the rule book out of the window for his interview with Syndrome’s latest resident artist, poet, performer, and muse, S. J. Fowler…
Syndrome is an event; it is a place where poetics, technology and movement meet. Tonight, Syndrome Sessions 2.1: CHOROS opens; the latest in a series of interactive installations, held, as always, at the micro Victorian warehouse 24 Kitchen Street, Liverpool.
But what does CHOROS mean? The closest Google can get is that choro is a ‘little cry’; Syndrome tells us that it is an environment created by Jamie Glendhill and Stefan Kazassoglou where bodily movements will be recorded and reproduced into electronic echoes.
“Into this space steps S. J. Fowler: poet, performer, master of the martial arts…It is, in his own words, “one of the most innovative and intensive pieces of performance art that I’ve ever undertaken”
If that weren’t enough, into this space steps S. J. Fowler: poet, performer, master of the martial arts. Who’ll be using CHOROS as a boxing ring, to perform a element of The Book Five Rings: a piece regarding the sport of western shadow boxing. Making the space his sparring partner, his pugilistic antagonist. The Ivan Drago to his Rocky. It is, in his own words, “one of the most innovative and intensive pieces of performance art that I’ve ever undertaken.”
Before he gets punch drunk, I approached S. J. Fowler to conduct a pre-match interview, in the style that Syndrome is most accustomed: glitch. That slippery art of electrical tomfoolery. These questions are taken randomly from other interviews, found exams, questionnaires, and personality tests.
What sound or noise do you love?
The word Osu. A Japanese word that means a lot of good things at once.
Spontaneity or stability?
What do you prefer: Giving or Receiving?
If you were Santa Claus…
… I’d change the last answer.
Constants are changing.
Are there other ways to treat my condition?
Need more information. But yes, probably. Eat better, exercise, first port of call.
“‘Who are you and why?’ I don’t ever want to be able to answer that question”
What are your weaknesses?
I’m actively trying to seek them and work on them, but I must recognise they are perpetual and improving; one will create another. So whatever I give will be temporary. At the moment I still retain a quick temper based on a prideful and unnecessary sensitivity to rudeness and lack of perspective in other people.

Interviewed by Punctum magazine in Latvia

Doing this interview with Ivars Steinbergs in Riga was a highlight of my stay, the man knows his stuff. http://www.punctummagazine.lv/2014/07/04/meklejot-procesu/ Some things considered controversial here, but I'm not translating 

Stīvens Džeimss Edvards Bjērns Johanness Faulers jeb SJ Faulers (1983) ir britu dzejnieks, mākslinieks un avangardists, izdevis sešus dzejoļu krājumus, regulāri piedalās starpnozaru mākslas projektos, ceļo, intervē Eiropas dzejniekus un rīko eksperimentālus sadarbības pasākumus. Jūnija sākumā uzstājās Rīgā mākslas centrā Totaldobže. Ar dzejnieku sarunājas Ivars Šteinbergs.

Kad un kādēļ sāki rakstīt? Es sāku rakstīt salīdzinoši vēlu, man bija jau krietni pāri divdesmit, tas bija aptuveni pirms četriem pieciem gadiem. Līdz tam man nebija nekādas pieredzes literatūrā vai citās radošās jomās. Man, protams, bija paveicies, ka man bija izglītība, bet es nekad nelasīju baudas dēļ un es reti biju uzmanīgs skolā un lekcijās. Savu laiku pavadīju, trenējoties austrumu cīņas, biju ar tām apsēsts un ar sportu nodarbojos profesionāli. Taču pēc kāda īpaši slikta dzīves perioda atklāju dzeju. Tā man palīdzēja tikt ārā.

The Prolific Myth: Interview with Hannah Silva

I'm really pleased to have spoken with Hannah Silva recently at the British Library, she as generous enough to invite me to have an extended ramble with her for her exciting archival project there. Hannah has been a generous friend since we met on the EVP tour last year, and genuinely one of the people, one of my peers I suppose, whom I am constantly learning from and trying to follow. It sounds limited to say that, that I might not mean it, but her exactitude, her professionalism, her openness, her remarkable understanding of technology and the width of her practice are spectacular. I actively seek to work such different worlds of poetry, from spoken word to the avant garde, as I actively seek to wield technology, as I aspire to write for the stage. She is a model I can work from, learn from, meeting her, like so many others who have proven themselves brilliant outside the page or reading form of poetry, has been significant. So to be interviewed by her is pretty funny to me, an immense pleasure.
Interview excerpt found  http://hannahsilva.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/the-prolific-myth-interview-with-sj-fowler/
"I’m glad about that but I think that it would horrify some people, that this thing exists in the world that represents you, that’s got your name on it, and people can read it and you can be ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’. That happened to me recently. Someone published an extract of one of my poems, and I was like, where did you get the title from? He said –it’s one of your poems, I said I’m pretty sure it’s not, but alright…I just don’t care about that. There’s poets who have done this, and might not be in the public’s consciousness, who I really admire. People like Pierre Joris and Tom Raworth who just pump out book after book, I’ve always believed in that. When I was interested in film, it was people like Bergman, who’d create radically brilliant, often different works, year after year. I admire that approach because they are I suppose professionals. That’s how they saw it/see it. It was a life engagement, not about dropping their rarefied thoughts on the world, but about grinding it out and if it pops out and it’s genius you can just see them smiling ‘oh alright that was genius, onto the next’ – that’s how I feel, if people say something I’ve done is rubbish, or brilliant, I don’t care. I care about writing, I love writing, it’s helped me be a better human being, it’s helped me mediate the world around me, it’s helped me sublimate really fundamentally aggressive energies in the world and I feel better for that. I’m not going to slow down or strategically launch the books so that people can take the time to actually read the work I’ve done in order to somehow mitigate the form…I think there’s a myth about being prolific, that it harms you, but I don’t think anyone will read me anyway and if they do I’ll be dead. Why not just do fifty books, and then they’ve got lots to read?
I’ve had some great conversations with people about their first collections, and I’m really interested in it, like Jack Underwood was in the faber young poets pamphlet and I don’t know what happened, something with faber, and now his next book is out, he announced on twitter it’ll be out in 2016, he announced this last year, and that to me is amazing because what that says to me is that …he’s going to get a huge reception and I hope he wins prizes, he’s a sweet man and he’s well known, he’ll do so well and he’ll be known by so many more middle class people than me!…But, the reality is that to me that says he’s going to spend the next year and a half not writing, because if he writes hundreds of poems in the next year and a half they’re just going to be in a dusty drawer…maybe not, but that’s just how it feels, that’s my instinct.
I’ve spoken to a poet who was told off by his PhD supervisor for publishing an extended chapbook because the guy was like: your first collection is the most important collection, you must go to these people and make these connections and slowly breed these relationships over five years and then launch your book when you get to around thirty. That to me just seems like an absolutely crazy backward view of what your work is......"

Maintenant #98 - Volodymyr Bilyk - poetry from the heart of the Maidan & a new Ukraine

At the heart of a new Ukraine, as poetically as politically, the work of Volodymyr Bilyk, and it’s worldwide repute, as is tied to the new possibilities of technology in the 21st century as it is the quality and innovation that defines it. Bilyk is the new face of a nation whose poetic history is as often entrenched as its political, and his groundbreaking visual, minimalist, conceptual, sound and artpoetry has been published across the globe, due in no small part to his willingness to embed himself within internet culture and its potentialities. Moreover, his immediacy as a poet, as evident in his poetics as in his colloquially eloquent, unpretentious mode and manner, reveals itself as the expression of an individual willing to commit utterly to the ideal of democratic freedom in his homeland. This interview is conducted during the unyielding protests, and the resultant government violence and oppression, wracking the Ukraine in late 2013 / early 2014, of which Volodymyr Bilyk, the 98th respondent of the Maintenant series, is a central and formidable part.
“Q - As we finish this interview, on February 19th 2014, Europe awakes to the news that yesterday was the bloodiest day in the battle for Ukraine’s democratic future, with 26 dead by latest news estimates. There is the sense now that these protests, lasting months already will not just fizzle out and be swept away, like so many others have in Western Europe and America over the last few years. What is the feeling in Kyiv towards this and the immediate future?
A - I can describe it as “We shall overcome!” and “No pasaran!”. It is “the end of something” and “It's the beginning of a new age”....
At the foot of the interview there are multiple links to Volodymyr’s work online, I recommend you check it out, including this, previously published on 3am magazine http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/volodymyr-bilyk & here is a link to one of Volodymyr’s recent statements on the Maidan protests http://blutkitt.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/volodymyr-bilyk-statement-collaborations.html
& here, published almost exactly 3 years ago, my Maintenant interview, number #53, with another powerful Ukrainian poet, offering his own voice of resistance to the current protests, Yuri Andrukhovych http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/maintenant-53-yuri-andrukhovych
I would recommend reading Yuri’s recent piece for the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/opinion/love-and-hatred-in-kiev.html?_r=0

An interview with the Poetry school for my upcoming course Maintenant

http://campus.poetryschool.com/maintenant-interview-s-j-fowler/ Text below taken from the beautiful Campus layout the Poetry School has set up, very generous interview on their part...
Has any other poet thrown himself into curating and collaboratively creating contemporary poetry with the same enthusiasm as S J Fowler?
Publishing five collections in three years is an achievement in itself, but there’s also something admirable about the way he draws other artists and poets into his creative orbit, whether that be by collaborating with them as part of his Enemies project, (which culminated in the Enemies book, published by Penned in the Margins), publishing them in 3:AM Magazine, or interviewing them for his Maintentant series, now almost at a hundred articles. Students on his spring term course, also called Maintenant!, will become part of his collaborative circle, writing poems inspired by key 20thcentury experimental poetry movements and performing them at an end of term reading. We asked Steven for advice on exploring experimental poetry and collaborating fruitfully…
Your course will be covering Oulipo, Austrian postwar modernism, concrete poetry, CoBrA and the British Poetry Revival. Can you explain how you came to be interested in these movements?
S J: I think because I came to poetry quite recently, only four years ago really, and very much fell into it, my reading habits, my influences, are not really formulated along formal lines. I wasn’t handed classical poetry as a child, didn’t listen to whatever was taught at school, didn’t grow up valuing a certain tradition or style or form, I have just read continuously, whatever I could where I could. For years I was completely isolated in my reading too, being led into it by philosophy, which I studied, and as such I was in a bubble, didn’t have the chance to develop any sense of prejudice against poetry in translation, or avant garde work, as somehow otherly. That’s perhaps why I read this kind of work alongside poetry that might be better known in this country in equal measure.
Moreover, each movement that I’m going to be covering in the course has its own special place in my own development as a poet. The Oulipo showed me how structural freedom can actually be more restricting than formal structures and concepts, because that freedom is mediated by very specific influences and tropes. Austrian postwar modernism is the example par excellence of avant garde writers writing for a purpose, and not as a self-indulgent stance against something, and that is to expose the ever present instincts of fascism in a nation that had tried to plaster over in immediate history and responsibility. Concrete poetry showed me that language is not mediated only by its content, but by its appearance, by the material it appears on – it has multiple dimensions, it is art as well as language. CoBrA really exemplifies the very best of what post-war European poetry aims to achieve – collectivity, collaboration, dynamic experimentation. And the British Poetry Revival, well this was a seismic discovery for me. An entire legion of incredible writers, writing about my country, writing works of genius, completely hidden from the mainstream reader.
In the course description it says that the techniques used by the poets you’ll be covering can, ‘compliment, rather than antagonise, more formal writing practice’. Could you expand on what you mean by that?
S J: I think there’s a territorial, self-defeating dualism that seems to permeate through people’s perception of the experimental, that it requires a philosophical or political praxis to be part of their writing. That it is against something, more than it is for something. This isn’t true, fundamentally. Experimentation is about finding the authentic way to express a very certain content. And that’s why a lot of formal poems fail in my opinion, because they are using the wrong form, because it is familiar or it is all the writer knows, to express their content. I hope to just humbly, gently, suggest that these movements show us new worlds of form and method toward content we might want to access and express.
You’re responsible for the Enemies collaboration project – will you be encouraging poets to collaborate on this course?
S J: Absolutely. It is wholly beneficial for any poet to engage in collaboration in my opinion, it allows one to step beyond one’s comfort zone, it forces the poet to be generous and generative and it mediates sociality beautifully, through the creative act. Plus you can blame failures on the other person! Best not to say this out loud of course. I hope the class will be defined by an atmosphere of communication, exchange and that the collaborations will be utterly organic, the genus being in the shared new ideas and discoveries which happen for everyone in the room.
In the Enemies book, was it a purposeful decision not to demark whose contribution is whose in many of the projects? What effect do you think this has?
S J: It was, and in the most instinctual way, this was primarily to commit to the work as a wholly new thing, a child of two poets, and not the spliced remnants of two individuals. So much of the poetry in Enemies, I really can’t remember whose line is whose. This is the most beautiful rediscovery, to have given so much to the style and brilliance of another writer that you and they are entwined in the work toward the same goal. I hope the effect of this is for readers to be taken by the content and not the authorial presence, which is often an obscuring force, a context we can rarely remove.
Why do you think collaborations succeed or fail? Do you have any tips for successful collaborating?
S J: It’s all about generosity as a mode, about perspective, and I think it goes right to the roots of one’s view on aesthetics, on poetry and its purpose, and one’s view of communication. If you see poetry as a reflection of your external experiences, internalised through the unique nexus of your millions of experiences and emotions and knowledge, then the act of collaboration is replacing the stimulus of your life with the specified stimulus of another human being, and their unique way of refracting the world. It becomes very easy to allow this to move you. If you see poetry as the effect of a muse like inspiration on your defined subjective soul or being, then you’ll probably want to protect that ‘inspiration’, and you won’t be so free to share, sacrifice and risk. Collaboration is all about generosity, it is an act of giving, a process of sacrifice.
When you collaborate with an artist, is it always a case of the images already existing and you responding to them, or have you worked in other ways?
S J: Every collaboration has been completely different. I’ve perhaps undertaken about 70 different collaborations to date, across every medium I could, and each time I try to get the collaborator to build the process with me, and to let them begin. I worry I can be a demonstrative person at times, overbearing, so I try to impose a deference upon myself when collaborating, and so far, it seems to be a good instinct. With visual images, photography and art as the like, often it does become tennis, but as often as not, it is my poems which generate their art, as well as their images generating my poetry.
I’ve always struggled to write poems that respond to visual images, do you have any advice for poets who want to respond to visual art in an original way?
S J: Being fidelitous to the grammar of visual images can’t be literal. One has to be familiar with the process of the artist or photographer, even if in the most material or shallow manner, and then, most importantly, what their intention is. Often the physical result does not achieve the intention for you, or for other viewers of the work. But if one then approaches that intention from your own poetic, your own abstract understanding, then a natural kinship will develop. I think so anyway. Museum of Debt, which is in Enemies, features portraits of museum workers by Alexander Kell, and Alex and I had both worked at that Museum, we didn’t even need to talk, we both created at the same time, with no dialogue, and the images and the poetry is imminently fused. It is about boredom, about the quiet desperation of a job that leads nowhere. The subject spoke, our intention was entwined.
Tell me more about the event that your students will have the opportunity to read at…
S J: It’s a very exciting programme. Three of the most innovative poets in Europe, Cia Rinne, Morten Sondergaard and Martin Glaz Serup will be visiting London for a week, for events with Rich Mix arts centre, in Brick Lane, and for an exhibition at the Hardy Tree gallery in Kings cross. The Danish agency for culture are supporting the venture, called Fjender, part of my Enemies project. They will be collaborating with myself and two other British based poets, and thanks to the Arts Council here I will be visiting Copenhagen to read our collaborations in Denmark too. The students will get to read on the big night in London, share some of their work with those poets and the public, if they want to.
Can you think of any good anthologies our students could buy to familiarise themselves with some of the poets you’ll cover? Or any good sources of information online, (aside from your wonderful Maintenant series of interviews)?
S J: Certainly, I can never speak highly enough of the Poets for the Millenium anthologies, by Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris. Get the first two volumes. Mind blowing, the scope and the width of the poets and the superlative editorship, this is what anthologies should be. Online, check out www.lyrikline.org. Quite formal poets, but a great resource for translated work across languages. Also Ubuweb, if you haven’t been on there, well that’s a good ten years of material for all of us.
If you think you could do with catching some of Steven’s contagious enthusiasm, you can book your place on Maintenant! online, or call 0207 582 1679.

an interview on collaboration for the inaugural issue of the Learned Pig

The Learned Pig
The Learned Pig: People often talk about “the collaborative process” as if it were a single, monolithic approach. I’m assuming, from the diverse results evident in Enemies, that collaboration took on many different forms. Could you talk a little about the different ways of working with so many different poets?
SJ Fowler: The possibilities of exchange are as exponential as the forms of exchange, as endless as the possible subject of the collaborations, and their content. I think that’s the reason why my collaborations didn’t stop after working with a few people, why they haven’t ceased now, even though the book is out in the world. Collaborating sits beside the normal writing process, not within it, as a practice in and of itself.
I do think, generalising horrifically, that collaboration does require a certain perspective, or some shift in perception, to be successful, and one that is quite fundamental to the participants’ view of their work, and of aesthetics in general.
At times, no critical discussion would take place, in other instances it would involve a form of mathematical rigour. The real genus of the work though was how we spoke to each other, how we positioned ourselves together, perhaps against our other works and working methods. Of course working with mediums outside of language completely radicalises those relationships and processes even further, as you’re truly adrift, and all the better, I would say, in that lack of familiarity.
TLP: What makes a “successful” collaboration? Is it about the process or the end-result, or both/neither?
SJ Fowler Enemies cover
SJF: For me it is entirely about the process. I do not feel comfortable in any situated objectivity when it comes to the end results, and more than that, quite fundamentally, I’m seeking out these collaborations because of what the process provides me. Which is a mediation of sociality through the creative act, a wholly communal engagement with a normally private process. I believe, more from the experience of organising and inculcating other people’s collaborations through my Camarade events, that if the process is generous and accommodating, it will also be inherently generative.
TLP: Have you experience of collaborations that haven’t worked at all?
SJF: Absolutely. It tends to be, and again massive generalisations here, because an artist / poet feels they must protect their work or their identity as an artist. To me, this is a counterintuitive idea, as collaboration is an innately generous process and anyone who volunteers to enter into it must assume they are going to have to say yes to ideas they might say no to if they were their own
I have often remarked on the temperament of collaborations in different geographical locations. In London, where I have collaborated most often, people are so under pressure financially they have to work to support their art practice. As such, the notion that they would regularly call themselves an artist or poet in the vocational sense, and take on the identity (often mythical as that is) is also rare. Their time is at a premium too, so they feel an immense pressure to use it, to justify to themselves the crushing work they have to do to pay the exorbitant rent. This means they work rapidly, roughly, and often. They are freer in collaboration, because they haven’t time to consider how it might reflect upon their identity as an artist, and they want to grow as much as they can in the little aperture of time they are afforded.
Outside of London, people are less prolific, less self-effacing and less adept at collaborating.
Other cities I’ve worked in, where people don’t have to work a full time job just to eat or live, or when I’ve worked with people who are funded students for example, there is a marked difference. The energy is lower because it can be, people have more time to theorise their own work, to situate it, and to consider their own identity in it, and by consequence they are less prolific, less self-effacing and less adept at collaborating.
TLP: Animals, and the human-animal relationship in particular, seem to be a running motif throughout the book. Could you talk a little about why this might be?
SJF: I think it’s more interesting, and generative, and pleasing to me, that it seems that way when there was no such intention. By no means was the theme of animals, or their relationship to humans, an overarching thematic of Enemies in a directed, cognisant way, as the book is a Frankenstein of works that span mediums as much as motifs. I think the book can and should be read as a Rorschach test, like Sian Williams’ beautiful inkblot artworks which make up the Animal Husbandry collaboration that sits quite prominently in Enemies. These reflect the thought processes of the reader rather than the author, just through (I hope) the ambiguity of the poetry (which is ambiguous in response to the ambiguity of its subject matter) and the scope of the collected works. Others have said to me themes of historicity, sexual violence, mortality seem to ever present throughout the book too. I suppose it reflects better on me that you saw animals everywhere.
Enemies: The Selected Collaborations of SJ Fowler is out now on Penned in the Margins.
The Learned Pig

Nikolai Duffy interviewed about Like This pressby Rob Mclennan

I have said to everyone who has listened the work Nikolai Duffy did on my two books in boxes with Ben Morris and David Kelly was some of the most astounding publishing I've experienced. Like This is a quality press and Nikolai's work is truly amazing. His erudition is well evidenced in this interview 12 or 20 questions with Rob Mclennan http://www.robmclennan.blogspot.ca/2013/08/12-or-20-small-press-questions-with.html

Q18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

Three of the most recent titles from Like This Press have been two collaborative works by SJ Fowler, with Ben Morris and David Kelly, and Andy Spragg’s very wonderful To Blart & a Kid. Each title comprises the collation of different materials gathered together in a box, and each fuses word and image in a collaborative process. They are emblematic of everything Like This Press stands and I’m very honoured to have had the opportunity to publish them.

SJ Fowler and David Kelly’s Gilles de Rais comprises 34 loose-leaf postcards in a box and is an  interchangeable narrative reflection on the life and legend of Gilles de Rais that fuses avant garde poetry and modernist line drawing.

SJ Fowler and Ben Morris’ The Estates of Westeros also comprises 34 loose-leafed postcards and marks one of the points at which avant garde poetry meets avant garde illustration. The Estates of Westeros is a meditation on the living space of the housing estate framed through the universe of George RR Martin's Game of Thrones. Where Gilles de Rais explores the absurdity of mythmaking in that which once was real, the Estates of Westerosexplores the grinding realism at the heart of the fantastical.

Emigrating Landscapes - an interview with Marek Kazmierski of Offpress

eMigrating Landscapes Interview / SJ Fowler
eML / Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you came to poetry, your cultural background (are you English English, and is it as simple as that?) and how you see the trajectory of your literary journey shaping up?
SF/ I came to poetry in my mid twenties, less than five years ago. So … an immensely truncated version … I grew up in south west England, really all I was interested in was martial arts and wrestling. I travelled widely in the year after school learning martial arts, was a doorman too – quite a violent lifestyle. Then I went to university and barely studied, just scraped through. I fought professionally during that time and that was my life. I was in a pretty bad car crash and that lost a lot of money and time, and after having to do some heartless jobs to make things meet I went travelling again. That was a long, lonely trip and I happened, by pure chance, to take with me some books I bought in a charity shop while waiting for a train, Penguin’s modern European poets Gunnar Ekelof and Tadeusz Rozewicz. It changed my life, I had nothing else to do but read them, over and over. My beginnings in poetry were always translated! More than that I was immediately drawn to the avant garde through my studies in Philosophy, I returned to undertake my masters in London. My work immediately started to look beyond the UK, and this wasn’t even really a dualistic notion, England / Abroad, because I don’t really enjoy England beyond London and I don’t know what it is really, and London is not ‘England’. This is a global city of global poets. Oh, and I have Swedish and Welsh ancestry as well as English, but I am 100% monolingual, sadly.
The Maintenant Project – it’s success is so richly satisfying, if you hadn’t invented and driven it forward, the poetic landscape around us right now would be much the poorer. How did it come about and has it turned out as you expected?
When I starting out I got to read in different countries quite early and it really just made me realise how much work that was contemporary was being occluded in the UK because it was contemporary, and how much people proffered work from beyond their language only when it had reached the unfortunate respectability of middle age. It stunned me in fact, that so much incredible work was unavailable. Moreover, I learned so much about the possibilities of community from these experiences outside of London, it informed so much of what I wanted to achieve with the readings. So I began the interviews to really represent what I thought was grossly under appreciated – contemporary European work and an understanding of just how radical and wide ranging and exciting poetry has become in the new millennium. I actually put on the first reading to impress a girl, who was from the country of the poets (it worked, in the end) but while I was a little unwilling at first, the process became so informative to my own work and practice it was actually hard to stop. I never really saw the series as featuring 100 poets and interviews and so many events as we’ve done. I try to resist my natural urge to formalise and systemise such things, I’ve just gone with the flow and having met so many deeply interesting and generous poets and people the project blossomed.
What is your relationship with the English language? How has working with so many different tongues and translation projects affected your own practice?
It is the only language I possess in any real or cogent manner. Hard not to sound flippant in print, as it were, but I deliberately under-conceptualise ideas about my relationship to the language. I realised early on that until the moment comes that I possess another language I am blind to all meaning outside of English and this is something that can produce great value if embraced, rather than resisted. There is something to be said for revelling in a certain kind of ignorance. I smash English, I break syntax, meaning, sentence structure – I write in every different way my subject requires me to write in – I work with sound poetry, attacking the roots of meaning, I work with concrete poetry, making the visuality of letters the meaning of the poem. This gift to not be precious, to not fetishise, or romanticise, my own tongue has undoubtedly been influenced by the plethora of languages I’ve worked with in Maintenant, the volume of poets and translators and how English is all their unifying speech.
How do you perceive the world of poetry being affected by the vehicle that is the internet? Is it all a rosy picture when it comes to self-expression and communication between individuals and cultures?
I think the fundamental news is good, but purely in the realm of access and communication. The world of 30 years ago is truly unrecognisable because of the internet, and its possibilities. It has firmly made history historical when it comes to the reasons, influences, ideas and culture of poets. The thing about the internet, it’s inherent character, is that it is so immense and ever growing that all one can do when commenting on its potentiality and effect is to make weak assertions. The internet is a space of community and many are hermetically sealed by its members – it is also a place of change, and what those changes will bring to our writing and our world I don’t know.
Do you think poetry is changing in response to current developments within society? Is it becoming part of what is being termed “the Third Culture” and as a result more relevant or engaged or any other term you might choose to define arts which are getting to grips with their own alienation from mainstream reality, hence becoming more connected with events outside of the cultural milieu? 
I do, absolutely, but that supposes I know how poetry was, before I was around, or that I can possibility understand it now. With the brackets on, I think poetry has not moved anywhere, the mainstream has moved. In a very short space of time, fifty years here, less elsewhere – the dominant taste of culture has shifted to a democratised model. The majority of people make up the majority of taste. Their taste is not for poetry, not for something that should be complex, as life is complex, that will not offer ease, that will not turn away from expiry, confusion and so on. Poetry is not an escape downwards, into the cellar. It allows you up, onto the roof, but you have to fucking climb to get up there. People don’t want to do that, and that’s completely fine by me. The people who like poetry now, generally speaking, are the same in relative number and education and character (both good and bad of course) who did one hundred years ago, it’s only since then the rest of society has been allowed to have their say. So poetry is not alienated, to me. It is an utterly personal pursuit, wholly about the individual and their attempts to understand, when reading, or express, when writing, the infinite ambiguous complexity of their thousands / millions of experiences, sensations, emotions that make up their life and their being. This is a completely secular and profound engagement with our possibility, and it is for us, alone, to mulch through life with poetry. When we share ideas or meet to read, well then it’s about people first, people who share an interest, but it ends there. And so poetry, again just for me, has its limits and expansiveness built within it, and questions of its place within or without culture are arbitrary, I don’t care about them at all, because I’m happy alone with my books, humbled by their immensity.
Interviewed by Marek Kazmierski

maintenant #97 – tadeusz różewicz

A poet who changed the face of twentieth century poetry, Tadeusz Różewicz is a giant of Polish literature and undoubtedly one of the most important poets the country has ever produced. Still writing in his 91st year, his lifetime engagement with groundbreaking poetry, fiction and plays has spanned, and often encapsulated, the seismic tumult of the past century in his home nation. His poetic is the rarest of things, an anti-art that resides still within the realm of the explicable, and the ethical, striding between the utterly personal and the political – often brutal in its beauty and intensity, it is an aesthetic that is wholly his own, unique and unwavering. His first poems were published in 1938, before he served in the Polish underground home army in WWII. His brother, Janusz, also a poet, was executed by the Gestapo. This desolate chapter in our collective European history produced few artists and writers able to even begin to make sense of such destruction, but the eruption of poetry and dramaturgy that followed the war experiences of Tadeusz Różewicz has set him aside as one of the most respected innovators and stylists in modern European history. In the decades since the war he has continued to produce extraordinary literature, winning the Nike prize, the Griffin prize and the European literature prize, and now, on the eve of a brand new translation, into English, of his work ‘Mother Departs‘ by Stork Press, we are proud to elevate the Maintenant series with the inclusion of Tadeusz Różewicz, our 97th poet.

Far and away this is the edition of Maintenant I am most proud of, Różewicz's work being so fundamental in the beginnings of my own. I want to thank and acknowledge the tireless work of Joanna Zgadzaj for making this interview possible, and draw attention to the extraordinary celebration of Różewicz's work and life that happened last Saturday evening at the Southbank centre, as part of their literature festival, and for the launch of the brand new translation mentioned above. Here is a podcast the Polish institute produced about the event I was so sad to miss, being in Norwich, finishing off the EVP tour 

Maintenant #96 - George Szirtes

Conventional wisdom would suggest when a poet leaves their country of birth at a young age, for a new nation, they might bring to bear both traditions upon their writing. Perhaps it is possible, though arguably reductive, that the poet in question would be of neither nation truly - forever an immigrant in one and a stranger to another. What seems assured though, is that this sense of displacement, ambiguity of tradition and identity, this fundamental plurality of language and culture, would seem to find its proper place in the intangibility at the heart of a forceful and considered poetic, where such equivocality is not only welcome but perhaps necessary. At the core of the last century's European poetry tradition lies the notion of trace, of multiplicity, invention, migration and these are the defining characteristics of George Szirtes' oeuvre. His body of work, 40 years in the making and prolific in that time, has carried across forms, mediums, language and tones. It is the poetry of a singular individual extolling individualism, a poet whose responsibilities towards generosity and openness of spirit seem gracefully self-imposed across writing, translating, teaching, editing and anthologising. Moreover, it is the not the work of a man trapped between nations and histories, but one who has been emancipated by a lifetime's fidelity to poetry, never bound by a national dualism, despite the complications of being explicitly Hungarian and implicitly English. Author of over 20 collections, winner of numerous prizes including the TS Eliot, the Cholmondeley, the Gold star of the Hungarian republic and the best translated book award, George Szirtes is an immense poet and undoubtedly the greatest translator of Hungarian into English of the last century, if ever. In an wide ranging and generous interview, we present the 96th edition of Maintenant.

Alongside the interview, 3 new poems by George have been published, including one that forms part of his Camarade project commissioned collaboration with Carol Watts 

Interview at Dept with Richard Barrett and Marcus Slease for Elephanche


Richard. Hi Marcus and Steve. We’re talking today about your joint work Elephanche published by Department Press. I was familiar with both your work prior to reading the text yet nevertheless was taken completely by surprise by Elephanche – it seemed so different to me; that’s different to both the work of your own that I’d read before and different to pretty much anything else I’d come across previously. So, I have two initial questions then: how did Elephanche come about? I mean in terms of what influences etc fed into it? And, thinking of continuities and differences, how do you two view Elephanche in the context of the rest of your work?

Marcus. For me Elephanche is an extension of my fascination with the poet Kenneth Koch’s crossing and recreating genres. He has done some terrific comics that are somewhere between poetry and comics. He wrote a terrific novel, The Red Robbins, where Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are mortal enemies in a post-colonial context. His plays are unlike any other poet’s plays. He once said in an interview that we tend to remember only a few minutes of a play. He wanted his plays to be a condensed form of a play. Sometimes his plays are between minimalist poetry and vaudeville theatre. In all of his work he displays a light touch. What others have called a non-oppositional avant garde.

Steven. Hey Richard! Well I think Marcus’ passion for Koch & co really seemed to align with an interest I had in theatre that was clearly against ‘theatre’, most especially the avant garde tradition of the 20th century, people like Ionesco and Ghelderode are big for me. I kind of hate theatre, I certainly hate going to the theatre. But I read the texts of plays, and have found so much in quite obscure playwrights. In a way reading these plays through the lens of poetry I came to similar conclusions as Marcus, that the play as a form can be eminently, and vitally poetic, only my influences were less aware of this context. I thought Elephanche could allow me to take my own poetic into a new form and somehow subside it, or conceal it, knowing most readers would be thinking through the elephant in the room, that the lines were meant to be acted out, and that would allow a kind of aesthetic juxtaposition to take place between contextual expectation and reality.

R. How did you two come to collaborate? Did you recognise a complementarity about each other’s work which suggested a collaboration might be fruitful or rather was the opposite the case – you were curious to see what would result from a coming together of differing styles?

S. Elephanche truly began from Marcus and I being friends I think, I’ve got so much time for him as a human being and liking his work too, appreciating its quality and its difference from my own work, I really wanted to develop something substantial with him as a collaboration. I think the reason I’m in poetry as a community act is to find people who write so well they make me think I could never come close to achieving what they do, because of the originality of their expression and voice, or whatever you’d call it. I find this in Marcus’ work.

M. Steven and I began working on the plays over a year ago and performed a few at the Writer’s Forum. I think we had two very different aesthetics at work. I think one of the differences is maximalist versus minimalist. I was working with minimalism and Steven was working with maximalism. Another difference might be that Steven was working within the tradition of the historical avant garde and I was working within first and second generation NY School poetry.
As you mention, I think there is a precedent for this with the work of Tom Raworth. Raworth is obviously influenced by NY School poetry (among others and vice versa) but his writing is nothing like what we might typical associate with NY School poetics. His poetics is something entirely unique both on the page and in performance. I can only hope we achieve some of Tom’s originality in our plays. For me he is a huge inspiration.

R. And could you tell me how you both managed the collaborative process on this project – maybe talking as well about how this project compared to previous collaborations you’ve been involved with?

S. Yeah in the last year I’ve been involved in over eighty collaborations. At first we exchanged whole plays, going from one to the next and sitting them aside each other in the collection. More recently we truly integrated those texts, writing over and through our lines, adapting our own poetics to each others, depending on the nature of each separate piece. There are 9 plays, and I think the book is actually quite concise, it captures a certain narrative between us that actually ends up being very sympathetic.

M. In terms of process, Steven wrote a play and then I wrote a play. We went back and forth one play at a time. Gradually our plays started to speak to each other. For example, Steven wrote a play with a character named Marcus in Trieste and I wrote a play with a character named Steven Fowler on the London tube using the poetry of Lisa Jarnot. The creative translation of Tim Atkins and the disparate collage techniques of Jeff Hilson were an influence in this process for me.

The final editing stage was more radical. Steven realised that we needed to collaborate more fully. So I edited the plays he wrote. I inserted some of the minimalist non-oppositional aesthetic of NY School poetics. Often this took the form of random lines from selected poems of Frank O’ Hara. These were chosen randomly. Or perhaps random is the wrong word. I don’t know if random exists. They were chosen without the interference of the sometimes rational fascist mindset. Steven edited the plays I wrote and expanded them with his maximalist approach. I think we both realised we did not want to iron out the tensions between the maximalist and minimalist or the humour/light touch and  grotesqueness. An issue for me in collaboration (whether writing with various selves or another human body) is whether to keep it chunky or smooth it out. Both chunky and smooth have their merits. I would say we mostly have chunky here. 

R. What general thoughts on collaborations do you have? I mean, what gains and losses (if any) does the collaborative process bring?

S. All gains for me. The collaborator becomes a source for new work, and new work is the life of life. I grow when engaged in that process with another human being, as long as I admire them or their work as a human being, then it can only allow me perspective on my own ideas and work, and more understanding of why I like what I like and write what I write.

R. The cover image of Elephanche – that’s by Tom Raworth right? How did Tom become involved with the project?

S. Tom has been immensely generous to me over the last year or so, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with him a few times, having some tea and scones and that. One afternoon the conversation between myself, Tom, his wife and my wife ended up exploring the notion of an elephant who was employed on a barge floating down the rhine crushing grapes to make wine while firing grapes from its trunk at tourists, and similar things. The Elephanche artwork was born that night I believe and Tom was kind enough to let me use it for the book.

R. Raworth’s presence does seems entirely fitting though of course given the use you make in Elephanche of text from O’Hara and Berrigan (someone, I forget who now sorry, having once wondered how Tom Raworth could ever be described as anything other than a New York poet). Could you talk a little bit about why the New York poets for you both at just this particular time? What was it that drew you to their work now?

S. Honestly my knowledge of the New York poets in quite shallow, they don’t exert an influence over me because I seem to be saving them for the future and they didn’t naturally come up in my strange, individuated reading arc. I will do though, Marcus and Tim Atkins have been generous in allowing me educated access to that world of work.