A note on: performing at the institute of psychoanalysis in London

I had a blast performing in Sigmund Freud Lecture Theatre at Institute of Psychoanalysis! It was for The Poetry and Psychoanalysis Conference: Creative Borders and Boundaries brilliantly organised by Kathryn Maris, Catherine Humble and Susanne Lansman. Much to say about my performance, it was a conceptual satire on conference papers perhaps and the normative urge in poetry and psychoanalysis to 'fix' or to begin a discussion about these fields with the assumption that such 'fixing' is possible. Anyway I had fun and people seemed to enjoy my tomfoolery. https://psychoanalysis.org.uk/civicrm/event/info?id=531

Published: Who'll Guard the Horse? on The Learned Pig

A journal I’ve always read and respected, I’m very pleased to have a poem in The Learned Pig, as part of their Wolf Crossing series. The poem was written on a flight back from Bangladesh last year, after meeting the amazing Tim Cope and reading his book, which he generously gifted me at the festival where we met. Tim’s writing is wonderful, as is his humble and understated demeanour, given his almost unbelievable achievements. His is a book about stoicism, about endurance. I was very inspired by it, so it makes this poem all the more meaningful to me.http://www.thelearnedpig.org/wholl-guard-the-horse/4412

A note on: new BBC Radio 3's The Verb commission - An Incident of Originality

Very excited to appear on The Verb once again this week coming. Here is the page for the show : http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08n24fc

I've written a new piece about the concept of originality, authenticity and fake-ness for the show, as this is the theme. I'll be appearing alongside poet Ira Lightman, novelist Delphine de Vigan and comedian Mark Steel. 

The last commission I was lucky enough to do for The Verb, The Worm in its Core, actually began a whole new series of texts and so with this piece, An Incident of Originality, I've happily kept a certain aesthetic connection to this piece, which can be heard here https://soundcloud.com/sjfowler/theworminitscore 

The commission will be a collaboration too, with a small group of poets from across Europe whom I admire. I've asked them to contribute short bursts of new text, like a dialogue. My text is literary but quite computational too – abstract at times, using more common speech but also quite disembodied. I think modernist theatrical writing has been influence, as I’ve been writing more theatre – Pinter, Beckett, Churchill certainly. It is written for a kind of monologue delivery, addressing an abstract other.

It’s about the impossibility of originality, or something like that. It was in earlier drafts about literal thinking, how that is the root of nearly all ethical malignancy, on both sides of debate nowadays certainly – the false binary that drives the left and right, the death of complexity and ambiguity in discussion and often in poetry too, and how this is connected to the myth of the original poem / poet, and the traditional, formal, metaphysical and romantic notion of the poet as producing original work, as though they invented language itself.

But with further edits, its become more about me burying this commentary in strange tonal and conversational shifts, though it is still about authenticity being a fundamental acceptance of authenticity’s impossibility and the paradox at the heart of that. 

Listen in this coming Friday night! 10pm BBC Radio 3.

Test Centre magazine : issue 5

http://testcentre.org.uk/product/test-centre-five/ well pleased to be inside this. my poems wait for you towards the end. they are the end, the buttress, the bookmark, six of them, from my upcoming book {Enthusiasm} which Test Centre are kind enough to be publishing.

The fifth issue of our fiction and poetry magazine, with new work by Test Centre regulars and an exciting selection of contributions from writers published by Test Centre for the first time.

Released in a limited edition of 250 copies, the magazine is A4 and stapled, with cover artwork by A. Selby and H. Dunnell.

Contributors: Sophie Collins, Rachael Allen, Harry Burke, Sam Riviere, Declan Ryan, Patrick Sykes, MC Hyland, Russell Walker, Thurston Moore, Tom Clark, Mark Prince, MacGillivray, Damian Le Bas, Sophie Sleigh-Johnson, Paul Buck, Iain Sinclair, Chris McCabe, Tom Chivers, SJ Fowler.

£8 + p&p. A4. Stab-stapled. 44pp. 250 copies. Cover: A. Selby and H. Dunnell, Untitled, 2014. Printed on Risograph by Studio Operative. Designed by Traven T. Croves.

Auld Enemies diary - Edinburgh

The Auld Enemies project is quite obviously an experiment. We put a lot of time into making sure it was as well organised as it could be, that the pairs of poets we asked to collaborate were carefully matched, for or against each other, and that the venues and local poetry communities we asked to partner us were the right people to approach. Yet, after this event in Edinburgh, it became clear to me we needed a moment when it became obvious the whole thing was a good idea and that the experiment had been a success. It came at Summerhall, with a night so good, so full of brilliant new work, so full of openness and intensity and energy, a night that brought together a whole community, that I really felt if it had ended there, in Edinburgh, three nights in, it all was worthwhile. The Demonstration room was absolutely full to capacity, with people sitting in the aisles and standing, and the 22 poets in 11 pairs all used the rawness of the idea to bring genuinely exciting work, and poetry and performance that really showed the variance of responses to the open criteria. After the event, many said to me it was the best evening of poetry they'd ever been to, and it was undoubtedly one of the finest events I've ever put on. Already a creative crescendo for Auld Enemies, nights like this make you think of doing it all again. 
Auld Enemies Edinburgh:
Ryan Van Winkle & William Letford https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clX4wL6G2MM
JL Williams & J.Johanneson Gaitan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwP5R0Ttlx4
SJ Fowler & Ross Sutherland https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NT10PSFxCk0
nick-e melville & Jane Goldman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NgtoI73Hm8
MacGillivray & Andrew Blair https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CktB3yYAWP8
Mike Saunders & Karen Veitch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGOiyOozsvk
Rob McKenzie & Janette Ayachi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiGMT0VffPA
Colin Herd & Iain Morrison https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_LwXXfxzI8

Billy Mills reviews the Whale Hunt on Sabotage reviews

 "The whale hunt in the title of SJ Flower’s excellent chapbook is of the Viking variety, these being Viking poems. There is no clear evidence that the Vikings actually hunted whales, although whales and Vikings did most definitely co-exist and the one scavenged the carcasses of the other when such carcasses washed up on convenient beaches. Indeed, the limits of Viking whaling may well have been to injure whales in the hope of facilitating such scavenging. Sadly the Sagas are relatively silent on the matter.

Tilikum the captive orca, on the other hand, very definitely exists and is reasonably efficient as a people hunter, having killed three of them. Maybe he mistook them for Vikings? Together, Viking whale hunts, real or otherwise, and Tilikum the angry orca form the warp and woof of Whale Hunt.
As an object, this is the kind of chapbook that pleases my senses greatly. Its A6 page size is perfect for pockets, and the choice of a crisp serif font more than compensated for the small point size, meaning that the blocks of text are clearly readable. These untitled blocks, or poems, are nine in number and vary in length from eleven to seventeen lines, giving the whole the feel of a sonnet sequence. The inclusion of three interestingly complimentary illustrations, combining photomontage and angular line drawings, by publisher Nick Murray and the good-quality paper used add considerably to the pleasure.
The language of the poems is suitably jagged, given the Viking substratum:
Sparrows above, they are the size & colour of seagulls
Jokke saw they are so delicate, said their beaks
I told him & we throw rocks at them & eat them
with the preponderance of single-syllable words and fricative consonants combining highly effectively to create a suitably Nordic soundscape.
In a recent interview, Fowler mentions Pierre Joris and Tom Raworth as exemplars of the kind of poetic practice he admires. Anselm Hollo, a poet often associated with them, gets a name-check in the first of these poems; ‘now a skald in Valhalla’. On the evidence of Whale Hunt, what Fowler’s work most has in common with these older poets is speed. Speed of perception, of movement from one object to another, of language: these are the dominant characteristics of these poems. They are fast, disjunctive and unsettling of readerly expectations:
when war walked upright on the waves
bearpaw blackfish           red arts admin.
that I surely shouldn’t do the recorded ruins
resurrected in Englishness tracery
intact in the tombing, parted company
heat dissolving delicacy, bound up
clow clear framing everyward to be heard
There is an additional undercurrent of animism running through the poems. Fowler’s whales and other animals are shape-shifting totemic creatures inhabiting a world in which ‘Time began with a bear then it became a Viking’. The bear is almost as much a presence as the whale; indeed they cannot really be distinguished:
Becoming Bear from Whale
Turns out the Whale is a Beaver
Bear > Beaver > Whale
Like Housman’s hunter and sailor, whalers, even putative Viking whalers, come home in the end. In fact, ‘home’ is the final word in both the first and last lines of the ninth and final poem in the set. For poet and Viking alike, it’s a hard-won landfall, ‘famished but alive’, wearing an Orca skull as helmet, home at last. It’s a neat resolution for such a restless sequence, final but somehow lacking finality, home until the next time, language, for the moment, at rest."

Reel Iraq: Kurdistan diary #2

Spring in Shaqlawa is the time to be in Shaqlawa. Apparently in two months I would be lobster crisp. Now it is really warm but never roasting. I have a view of the mountains from my cabin. I slept little, as I normally do, but because I ate a whole sheet of dried apricot syrup paper and had at least 8 sugar teas the day before. Breakfast with Hosang, Dan and Ryan, already reflecting on how soon we will have to leave. Into the conference room, bedecked for the possibility of politicians, it is replete with questionable portraiture and decor, but we have baklawa in shaqlawa.

The translation process is full of potential. Literal translations of our poems have been made, and we are randomly paired, and do a round robin, working with everyone. We use different poems for each poet we work with, so a wide selection of the work we put forward will end up in Arabic or Kurdish. We then have two three hour meetings a day, for two days, to cover the four Iraqi poets we work with. An intermediary, who speaks the language, but does so much more than that, completes this translation triplet. And this is the work (!) I wrote ten new poems specifically for the occasion, about the history of Erbil, taking, in an abstract manner, ten points in its history, from 6000bc to 2014, as the beginning of each poem, linking them together through the place itself. Erbil claims to be the oldest town in the world, and so much has passed through it, Assyrians, Alexander, Romans, Timur, Genghis, Saddam etc...

My first session was with Ali Wajeh, the amazing Lauren Pyott as intermediary. Ali fits the notion I had in my mind of a male Iraqi poet to some extent, assured, lyrical in his style, full of poetic pontification. The main thing for me was that the translation of my work became new. Ali had no problem with that, my work seemingly 'inspiring' him onto his own track, and I welcomed his more careful guidance through his work, before I kind of wedged myself into it, opening up his dialogue structure with a wee bit of irony and references to Highway 80, the Highway of Death. Got in another gym session before lunch, bringing the poets Nia Davies and Ryan Van Winkle. Very funny mix, fitness and poets.
my work in Kurdish
The second session was the most engaging moment I've ever had in this kind of translation exchange, just really humbling and gratifying. I got to work with the female Kurdish poet Zhawen Shally and Hoshang Waziri, a playwright, man of the world and general literary fixer extraordinaire. The process of actually having to explain my own work line by line is deeply strange and discomforting. I write at speed, I defer care, and I welcome carelessness. Yet having to offer analysis of each line, in its deep and thorough explanation I find myself saying so much. Had I intended any of it? Is it just my verbosity in the moment, and not the text itself? A problem made a pleasure through the skill and interest of Zhawen and Hoshang. Zrwen could not be more kind and humble, and this poem I had chosen of mine to translate was about the year 1988 in Kurdistan, the height of the al-Anfal, Hussein's campaign of murder against the Kurds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Anfal_Campaign). The poem is abstract, but that is what it is about. Zhawen is the only Kurd in the group, so I wanted to work on this with her, but still maintain a profound respect of the reality of that history I can know very little about. She handled my words with a care they didnt deserve. As we were working through her work, a beautiful poem in praise of solitude, Zhawen then revealed her father was a freedom fighter for Kurdistan, a resistance fighter, and after being betrayed, he was killed in 1987. His name was Bayiz Shally. He was very young when he died. Again I am rendered stupid in the face of people's openness and profound honesty and warmth.

After dinner we returned to Shaqlawa again. We strolled through the town, much quieter on a saturday night than a friday, and made our way off the main promenade to what looked like a warehouse, but what turned out to be a local gaming hall, with pool and table tennis. The owner (with the photoportrait hung in the hall, above) was a bear of a man, grizzly beard and expert snooker player. Lauren had met him the year before, and his ebullient wife, now ill, sadly, and his initially fearsome visage took on a sadder shade. They had come from Baghdad originally, and had a hard life by any standards. After leaving the poolhall, Dina Mousawi, irrepressible in her energy, ushered Ryan into to a local barbers, where he proceeded to have his four month old mountain man hair and beard wet shaved and cut with an audience, and furore, as though he were about to fireswallow. Yas, the filmmaker in our crew, filmed him reading a poem as the cut took place. The men and boys in the barbers welcomed us all to sit down, joked with us and could not have been more friendly and hospitable, as everyone has been, relentlessly. As we left they refused payment and instead, insisted on a memento.

VLAK 4 imminent - contains Camarade texts

The powerhouse publication of avant garde materials is on its way in its 4th guise. Very privileged to be on the editorial board for VLAK, the new issue is just as groundbreaking as the last 3, and the production quality of what is essentially a massive perfect bound shiny tome is always remarkable. I'm happy to say in this issue I've burrowed out a small cave of Camarade texts from the events I've been running over the last few years, with work in there from Philip Terry & Allen Fisher, Tim Atkins & Marcus Slease, Jeff Hilson & Sean Bonney and quite a few others. I've written an intro to the selection, all of which I am very proud to have commissioned as it were. VLAK also has a new website at http://www.vlakmagazine.com and forthcoming events are listed at http://vlakmagazine2.wordpress.com/events/ -- if you happen to be in the vicinity of any of these, please do go and support the enterprise.

Full list of contents here http://vlakmagazine2.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/vlak-4/ see it to believe it, as ever - Notley, Sollers, Berrigan, Kinsella, Armand, Garcia amongst.