Published: a new essay on The Learned Pig

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As part of my new series of art book publications for Poem Brut I've written a series of essays. Each one acts as a kind of contextualised full stop to the books and their otherwise un-explained content, but they aren't explanations, just ruminations. The brilliant online journal The Learned Pig have kindly published the essay On Time and Mess, which closed out I fear my best work behind me, with selections of the work from that book

https://www.thelearnedpig.org/on-time-and-mess/5477

Once we understand excess, then we can get really simple.

– Robert Rauschenberg

Exploring poetry’s absent indispensable character

"Because poetry is not a thing that lives, to put it mildly, upon the regulation and control of grammar and correct spelling, in the final preparations for the publication of my book, ‘I fear my best work behind me,’ an exploration of the rudimentary character of poetry – that is letters and words – there was only one correction to make for my editor. Only one deliberate error, with all the obsequiousness that this phrase entails, for him to find and for me to defend. The title. I fear my best work is behind me. Remove the is. Then perhaps, to those dozen or so reading the title, and those few within the dozen who are concentrated by interest, the absence of the is will take on its proper significance. The primary significance I would posit that poetry has, outside of letters and words, is purposeful semantic omission.

I do not imagine my best work is behind me, literally, but in those whom I’ve discovered – and that is the right word to use (for they have to be unearthed, do poets, in England) – who have given me permission to make such works as those that often litter my pages, they are behind me, and are the best work, for they were and are not making what can be mine. What they have made was original, or based on poets they have buried with themselves, as I shall not do........"

 

Published : I fear my best work behind me

'm happy to announce the release of my debut art book, in a limited edition, from Stranger Press. Available to purchase here I fear my best work behind me

The book will be launched on December 15th at The Poetry Society's Poetry Cafe at 7.30pm, free entry. Details here www.poembrut.com/ifear

Produced to a remarkable standard by Stranger press, I fear ... is a book exploring poetry as a fractured, overwhelmed, handwritten victim of colour, brutalist child-like portraiture, abstract illustration and negative space. 

I'm just messin' about, Karel Appel once said. Nothing was further from the truth. 
I'm just messin' about, says SJ Fowler. Nothing is further from the truth. Bas Kwakman, Director - Poetry International Rotterdam

i fear my best work behind me presents raw simulation of tentative and tender frailty. The respondent stares at fragments of attachment comprehension lost comprehension, becomes involved in a relationship of mark facture and scripted text applied sequentially or contemporary with each other, scripted in tandem or over the smudge. It is as if the intent has been hidden and that there rests an implicit coded discrepancy in each smudge demanding a decode, a search in the rubble, a decipherment that matches the pages of fleeting uncertainty and assured presentation without transcription. The work shakes with an engagement with these conditions.     Allen Fisher poet & artist

The volume features works published by Oxford Poetry, Test Centre magazine, Gorse Magazine, Fractalia and others, and an example can be found online at Partisan Hotelhttp://partisanhotel.co.uk/S-J-Fowler The book is closed by an essay, soon to be published onThe Learned Pig.

The works call back to the post-war and latter 20th century explorations of Henri Michaux, Jacques Racquet and the CoBrA group especially – Christian Dotremont, Pierre Alechinsky, Asger Jorn, Lucebert, Gerrit Kouwenaars, Karel Appel. This book is a reconnection to their principles and practises, knowing it to be familiar ground, but one rarely tread and increasingly necessary in a still predominantly colourless medium.

Part of Poem Brut, supported by Arts Council England.

Published: new artpoems in the latest Gorse issue 8

I've said before that I think Gorse to be one of the finest literary journals in the world. I read their impeccably produced issues cover to cover and feel the journal to be edited as beautifully as it made. To have some of my art brut poems, from my upcoming I fear my best work behind me book with Stranger Press in the latest issue is wonderful, not only to share that work, aberrant as it would be to most publications, but also because I knew how beautifully they would present the works. They look amazing on its pages, I couldnt be happier.

You can pick up issue 8 here http://gorse.ie/book/no-8/

Published: 3 poem-bruts on Partisan Hotel

Very happy the brilliant Partisan Hotel magazine have published a set of three of my poem-brut artpoems, all taken from my upcoming Stranger Press book 'I fear my best work behind me' due out in the summer. http://partisanhotel.co.uk/S-J-Fowler

From the magazine bio "These works are taken from his trilogy of books in the poem-brut tradition, exploring ready writing materials, the composition of handwriting and mark making and the role of illustration and legibility in determining poetic meaning. The three books are to be published in 2017 and are entitled I fear my best work behind me (Stranger Press), New prim (Hesterglock Press) and Aletta Ocean Empire (Blart Books). A sequence of Fowler’s poems will appear in Hotel #2."

2017 >

2017: Some new books / plays / courses / exhibitions / events for the first half of the year upcoming.

New Publications
 
The Guide to Being Bear Aware : a new poetry collection published by Shearsman Books. Launched at York Literature Festival on March 29th, Kingston Writing School April 5th, Arnolfini in Bristol on April 6th and in London, at Swedenborg Hall in Bloomsbury, on April 11th www.stevenjfowler.com/bearaware

I fear my best work behind me : my debut art book - art brut portraiture, abstract illustration and handwritten poems, published by Stranger Press. May 2017. www.stevenjfowler.com/ifear

Subcritical Tests with Ailbhe Darcy - A full length collaborative collection of poetry and one of the first titles, and the very first poetry book, to be published by Gorse. Summer 2017. www.stevenjfowler.com/subcriticaltests

The Words Moving : poems on cinema - Limited edition poetry collection, each poem responding to a film, from The Devils to Angel Heart, from Salo to Jurassic Park, published by Pyramid Editions. Summer 2017 www.stevenjfowler.com/wordsmoving
 
Theatre

Mayakovsky As part of Rich Mix’s programme exploring the centenary of the Russian Revolution, a new experimental play on Vladimir Mayakovsky. Performed alongside new works by playwrights Petra Freimund, Larry Lynch and others. www.stevenjfowler.com/mayakovsky
 
Courses

Inventing Rauschenberg at Tate Modern - Exploring the life and legacy of Robert Rauschenberg, with a course following his innovative and wide ranging practise connected to the exhibition ongoing. 20 Feb – 20 March - Monday evenings : 18.45–20.45, in the galleries at Tate Modern. Booking here.
 
Exhibitions

Worm Wood with Tereza Stehlikova - A collaborative exhibition at Kensal Green Cemetery Dissenter’s Chapel and Gallery running 100 days from May to September 2017. Featuring new works of video, text art and installation, the exhibition will feature an event programme, including guided walks and workshops, exploring disappearing west London. www.stevenjfowler.com/wormwood 
 
Visual Poetry at Museum of Futures : February 18th to March 5th. A group show of new visual and concrete poetry, text art and avant-garde sculpture, drawing in artists and poets from South West London for the exhibition in Surbiton. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/futures

Curatorial

North x North West Poetry Tour : Visiting six cities across January and February, this tour of collaborative 'Camarade' events will draw in dozens of poets from across the region, endemic of the resurgence of avant-garde and literary poetry in the north of England in the last decade plus. New collaborations between myself and Chris McCabe, Amy Cutler, Nathan Walker & more. Curated with Tom Jenks. Supported by Arts Council England. www.theenemiesproject.com/northwest

Fiender: Swedish Enemies - January 28th at Rich Mix: Free
20 poets present 10 brand new collaborations to celebrate the visit of some of Sweden's, and Europe's most interesting writers. A new collaboration with Aase Berg, alongside poets including Elis Burrau & Holly Corfield Carr, Kathryn Maris & Patrick Mackie, Annie Katchinska & Mark Waldron. Curated with Harry Man. Supported by Arts Council Sweden. www.theenemiesproject.com/fiender

University Camarade II - February 25th at Rich Mix: Free
The University Camarade asks pairs of creative writing students from different Universities in the UK to collaborate on short new works of poetry or text, for performance.  The second event in the series features students from Kingston University, Oxford Brookes, York St John, Kent, Essex, York and Royal Holloway www.theenemiesproject.com/unicamarade

English PEN Modern Literature Festival - April 1st at Rich Mix : Free
30 contemporary UK-based writers present new works in tribute to writers at risk around the world. The festival continues English PEN's relationship with innovative contemporary literature over an extraordinary day. The 2017 festival will feature Denise Riley, Hannah Silva, Sandeep Parmar, Vahni Capildeo, Luke Kennard, Nathan Jones, Tony White, Matthew Welton, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, Sasha Dugdale & many others. www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen

Thanks for reading and happy new year, Steven.

A note on: work in Test Centre magazine 7

Very pleased to be in the always brilliant Test Centre magazine. Generously the editors accepted work from three of my upcoming projects, a range of approaches, with poems from my next collection The Guide to Being Bear Aware, poems from a limited edition book with Pyramid editions about cinema and my debut art book, from Stranger press, entitled I fear my best work behind me - which is a series of brutalist illustrations. http://testcentre.org.uk/product/test-centre-seven/

The magazine is released in a limited edition of 250 copies and includes work from Allen Fisher, Holly Pester, MacGillivray, Pierre Guyotat, Daisy Lafarge, Joseph Persad, Rachael Allen, Sam Riviere, Francine Elena, Erik Stinson, Chrissy Williams, Wayne Holloway-Smith, Jen Calleja, Vahni Capildeo, Iain Sinclair, Ralf Webb, Angus Sinclair, Paul Buck, Caleb Klaces, Stephen Watts, Laura Elliott, A. K. Blakemore, Nick Thurston, SJ Fowler and Ahren Warner.

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.

Published: an artpoem in Oxford Poetry

Grand to have this art poem, on the left page, in the latest issue of Oxford Poetry. Thanks to Lavinia Singer and the editorial team at OP, which has been publishing since 1910. The work will be featured in my debut art book, published by Stranger Press in 2017, called I fear my best work behind me. This is what I wrote to contextualise the poem...

"The poem on the page is first a series of markings made upon a surface. Obvious, but it seems to me a great source of often profoundly underexplored potential for the poet. That is the continued realisation of this fact - of black on white, of colour, material, front, handwriting, of dead and living space, of a computer screen or piece of sliced tree - all that is happening aside from semantic content, and the relation of these things in changing, fluctuating, the semantic meaning and content the poet should worry over. 

This work draws from the influence post-war central European avant garde pioneers like Henri Michaux, Christian Dotremont and Constant Nieuwenhuys have had on my work, all of them poets in the purest sense, all too erroneously and conveniently labelled artists. It draws on asemic writing, experimental logograms and illustration but it also a poem in the clearest, anthropomorphic sense" 

And from the editorial ... "Encrusted in paper word impasto, this issue of Oxford Poetry celebrates the relationship between the verbal and the visual. Some poets respond ekphrastically to works of art (Richie McCaffery, Jeremy Valentine Freeman Ganem, Pascale Petit, Nancy Posey). Others paint worlds through bold metaphor and surreal imagery (John Burnside, Rebecca Perry, Mark Waldron, Astrid Alben, Martha Kapos) or evoke the subtleties of consciousness, memory and perception (Dominic Hand, Fiona Sampson, Denise Saul). Others step into the realm of visual poetry (SJ Fowler) to shape their words on the page (Chris Kerr, Elaine Feeney)." http://oxfordpoetry.co.uk/

A note on: footage from Milosz festival with Tom Jenks & Weronika Lewandowska

Beautiful to have this footage from a great collaboration in Krakow this past June. Performance art, video art, poetry, theatre, it was a grand pleasure making the work with Tom and Weronika. For more info www.stevenjfowler.com/krakow

A note on: My Century / Mój wiek' at the Miłosz Festival June 2016: Krakow

An amazing few days in Krakow to attend and present a brand new commissioned collaborative performance for the Miłosz Festival, thanks to the brilliant curator Justyna Jochym. The project came about thanks to the International Literature Showcase Fund and I was able to work with Tom Jenks and Weronika Lewandowska on the piece, which was a multi-part experimental response to the book My Century / Mój wiek, essentially a massive interview Czesław Miłosz conducted with Aleksandr Wat at the end of his life.

The book has been a favourite of mine for a very long time, I found it so extraordinary when I first came across it, learnt so much about the Polish avant-garde, Polish political history and developed such a powerful respect for Wat, his work and his character, that this opportunity, to connect to the Milosz Festival, was a perfect way to express my feeling that the work should get more attention.

I've written a whole webpage dedicated to the trip with detailed travelogue. Please visit http://www.stevenjfowler.com/krakow

a World without Words begins May 6th at Apiary studios

I'm delighted to announce a new project: a World without Words, exploring the nature of human language, bringing together contemporary practitioners & pioneers in neuroscience and sensory aesthetics, to offer a fascinating and playful exploration of how words form our world. www.aworldwithoutwords.com

Co-curated by writer & filmmaker Lotje Sodderland and artist & material engineer Thomas Duggan, a World without Words will present artworks, installations, performances, talks, discussions and readings that call into question how meaning maps into the brain over a series of events throughout 2015 & beyond, taking place in bespoke venues across London.

Across artform & discipline each event will explore that notion that while language is considered perhaps the most characteristic ability of the human species, very little is known about it. When curator Lotje Sodderland had an unprovoked brain haemorrhage, she woke to find a familiar stranger inhabiting her body, where her 'self' used to be. Unable to read, write, speak, or think coherently, she used this unique opportunity as a lens through which to explore the everyday assumptions of how we wield words to express ourselves, bringing a profoundly personal perspective to the contemporary Copernican revolution of neuroscience. A World Without Words is the latest in Lotje's body of work around visual perception and neurolinguistics, and you can read / see more about her previous work in the Guardian & in the film, My Beautiful Broken Brain.

The first event takes place at Apiary Studios May 6th 7pm - 10.00pm
458 Hackney Rd, London E2 9EG. Entrance is free. http://www.apiarystudios.org/

The event will feature:

Noah Hutton & Ben Ehrlich: founders of The Beautiful Brain, a website that explores the juncture between neuroscience and art, based in New York. They will present on the theme of discontinuity in neurobiological, cultural, and linguistic systems. As well as discussing The Beautiful Brain, Noah will show a brief clip from his most recent documentary film Deep Time (SXSW 2015) and Ben will share from his research about the life and work of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, "the father of modern neuroscience."

Harry Man: will lead an artistic examination into dyslexia and its potential advantages including identifying black holes and visualized data based on research by Dr Matthew H. Schneps at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics. Using gravitational wave detection data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) collaboration, Harry hopes to illustrate how dyslexia might be an advantage to those studying the origin of the universe.

Malinda J. McPherson: a neuroscientist and musician who studies the link between emotion and musical creativity. Malinda will be discussing the human ability to ascribe meaning to sound, as well as the connections between abnormal brain states and creative musical expression.

Nick Ryan: a multi award winning composer, sound designer, artist and audio specialist, widely recognised as a leading thinker on the application of emerging and future technologies to the creation and performance of sound and music.

Lotje Sodderland: artist, writer & filmmaker, who present framed artworks created after she lost the ability to communicate with words, exhibited in Apiary Studios. An excerpt from her documentary My Beautiful Broken Brain will also be screened as part of the evening's program.

a World without Words will present further events in June, August, October & December, with more details to come.
The project is generously supported by Arts Council England

www.aworldwithoutwords.com
www.theenemiesproject.com/aworldwithoutwords
www.stevenjfowler.com

the end of Kakania, for now...

In uploading the videos of the 4th and magisterial final act of the Kakania project I waded through all the Kakania webpages to change the tense from future to past. Not too sad a labour as I have stated so often, especially in the light of such an amazing final act, how satisfying the project now seems, how complete.

You can read all my past tenses here www.theenemiesproject.com/kakania

Kakania at the Austrian Cultural Forum - March 26th 2015

The end, for now. But as Kakania ended with war, perhaps our hopes should be too high. This incarnation of the time certainly ended with a beautiful, graceful, varied and dynamic evening of works in the appropriately resplendent salon-like surroundings of the Austrian Cultural Forum. A night for me personally to appreciate just how extraordinary the project has been, and how much this is owed to the generosity of the artists and the almost unheard of support, trust and enthusiasm of the Austrian Cultural Forum itself. Theodora Danek and her colleagues have been remarkable, and this was a night where I able to thank them.

The final event was not to be a culmination, it was, as each event has been, it's own entity, curated with it's own rhythm and feel, relative to the venue and artists. Yet, there was a natural build towards it. It was built on language works, poets, both new to Kakania and those who have acted as a sort of creative spine to the project, read - Stephen Emmerson so beautifully engaging with Rilke (his son is called Rainer), Colin Herd so brilliantly evoking Kokoschka, George Szirtes born to write about Schnitzler. These poets were complimented with some radically different mediums, Josh Alexander with his abstract film on Paul Wittgenstein, which when screened in the dark of that room genuinely moved me, Fabian Faltin with a conceptual performance on Otto Wagner which was utterly unforgettable and witty and energetic, and finally Ben Morris, a sound art beast, on Ernst Krenek. 

The point was to create a specific energy and experience throughout the evening that rested upon complimentary and responsive artforms, artworks and artists. And more than that to show how powerful the connection is in 21st century London to the iconoclasts of early 20th century Vienna. Each work spoke to the next, as together they were far more about the artists through the ghost voices of their Habsburg predecessors, than the details of the individual artworks themselves. It was like all of Kakania, unique, and warm hearted and brilliant.

MY DANCE THE SKULL: Lauren de sa Naylor - Dreams

a Brazilian fueld soundart / avant text publishing enterprise operating out of London MYDANCETHESKULL are a really amazing repository for genuinely cutting edge work. I nearly had them on at the Hardy tree gallery last year, but dates nixed, but their site evidences their work with aplomb. Names like Ludo Mich, Dylan Nyoukis, Thurston Moore and Jaap Blonk speak for themselves http://www.mydancetheskull.com/
the next newest text from the outfit is Lauren de sa Naylor's Dreams, a beautifully designed chapbook, cover splashed with reed bamboo monochrome cut which can't come close to the consciousness language cut of the work itself. It's an epic prose poem, about things that cannot be reduced from their complexity. This snippet in the pic below says all that needs saying. Buy it.