Published: a new essay on The Learned Pig


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

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........"


A note on: performance videos from Soundings I & III, with Emma Bennett and Maja Jantar

Two highlights of 2015, amazing performers and artists both Emma and Maja. So excited I get to do 7 more of these collaborations in 2016 with the help of the Hubbub group in residence at Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Library

Upcoming: Four events - aWwW / EVP / Globe Road / Soundings

Nov 13th: A World Without Words IV
Nov 14th: Electronic Voice Phenomena
Nov 15th: Globe Road Festival Walking Tour
Nov 18th: Soundings III

November Friday 13th - A World without Words IV at the Frontline Club: 7pm
The fourth event in the series exploring neuroscience, aphasia, the brain and language, this time at the incredible Frontline Club. With a talk by Professor Barry Smith and the screening of a series of anthropological short films from Vincent Moon. Curated by Lotje Sodderland, Thomas Duggan and I.

November Saturday 14th - EVP Sessions at Shoreditch Town Hall: 8pm
Electronic Voice Phenomena hits London once again, I'll be presenting a new commission in full skeleton embodiment, exploring disembodied voice and death

November Sunday 15th - Globe Road walking tour for the Globe Road Festival: 11am
A Sunday morning stroll up Globe Road in the company of Gareth Evans, Elaine Mitchener and the Bohman brothers, all of whom will present brand new performance commissions related to the road itself, finishing with a reading in York Hall with Stephen Watts, Richard Scott and Jonathan Mann

November Wednesday 18th - Soundings III with Maja Jantar at St Johns on Bethnal Green: 7pm A collaboration with the incomparable Maja Jantar for a new sound poetry / avant-garde music performance as part of the Soundings project with Hubbub at Wellcome Collection responding to prompts from the Wellcome Library. St Johns on Bethnal Green, an early 19th-century church, is an amazing venue too.

Upcoming: Soundings - a project with Hubbub & Wellcome Library

Soundings is a series of collaborative performances I will be presenting from August 2015 to October 2016, in conjunction with Hubbub and the Wellcome Library. There will be ten editions, each in a different location in and around London, each with a different


Each edition of Soundings will begin with Wellcome library staff raiding the library's extensive collection to suggest items, including images, manuscripts and books, in response to a title inspired by the Hubbub's research strands and initiated by Hubbub curators. These prompts will form the basis for the public performances of sound poetry, sonic art or conceptual performance, devised each time by myself and my collaborator. Collaborators include Emma Bennett, Dylan Nyoukis, Maja Jantar, Patrick Coyle, Sharon Gal, Tamarin Norwood and James Wilkes, with more to be announced.

Hubbub are the first residents of The Hub at Wellcome Collection, an international team of scientists, humanists, artists, clinicians, public health experts, broadcasters and public engagement professionals. We explore the dynamics of rest, noise, tumult, activity and work, as they operate in mental health, neuroscience, the arts and the everyday. I'm fortunate to be part of this extraordinary enterprise, as a poet and artist in residence, and you can read more about my work with Hubbub here: 

Soundings #1: August 18th
at Camley Street Natural Park
with Emma Bennett

Time: 1pm – 2pm (12 Camley Street, London N1C 4PW). Free entrance.

Soundings #2: September 4th 
at Wellcome Collection Late
with Dylan Nyoukis

Time: 19.40 and 21.30 (183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE). Free Entrance

Soundings #3: November 18th
at St Johns on Bethnal Green

with Maja Jantar

Time: 8pm to 9pm (200 Cambridge Heath Road. London E2 9PA). Free Entrance.

Upcoming events / exhibitions / publications

Some upcoming events, publications, exhibitions, including the launch of my new poetry collection with Test Centre (June 3rd) and a performance at Tate Modern (July 18th), plus a few things that’ve happened in 2015.

May 2nd – Celebrating Jackson MacLow’s Light poems, reading at the Wellcome collection. 

May 8th – Feinde: Austrian Enemies, collaborating with Jorg Piringer at the Rich Mix.

May 13th - reading at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, for an event discussing Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s relief The Wrestlers, drawing on my work for the Tate.

May 14th - for UNESCO’s European Literature Night Edinburgh, I’ll be launching my collaborative poetry collection,Oberwildling: on the life of Oskar Kokoschka, with Colin Herd, at the Sutton Gallery.

May 15th –a reading at Little Sparta, the garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay.

May 17th – a reading at Five Years Gallery, for the ‘How to write’ project 

May 18th – a reading at Cog Arts, Dalston

May 19th to 27th I’ll be reading in Newport, Cardiff, Swansea, Bangor & Aberystwyth in Wales, as part of the Enemies project: Gelynion, collaborating with Joe Dunthorne, Nia Davies, Zoe Skoulding & co 

May 29th – Reading at the Hay-on-Wye festival to close Gelynion in Wales.

June 3rd - I’ll be launching my new poetry collection {Enthusiasm} published by Test centre on June 3rd in London. 

June 5th – Gelynion in London, at the Rich Mix Arts Centre.

June 6th – Stoke Newington Literature Festival, reading with Iain Sinclair & Tom Chivers for Test Centre.

June 6th - My solo exhibition, Mahu, opens on June 6th at the Hardy Tree Gallery in Kings X. 10 events follow in the 3 week run.

June 11th - a reading at the Garden Museum, London, for my residency with J&L Gibbons Landscape Architects

June 21st – Reading at the Berlin Poesiefestival.

July 18th – a performance & discussion at the Tate Modern 

A recent interview on Sabotage Reviews, by Will Barrett, a comprehensive discussion of the purpose behind my work.

In February I attended the Salzburg Global Seminar for a program called the Neuroscience of Art: what are the sources of Creativity & Innovation? A report

I attended the International Literature Showcase in Norwich, produced by the Writer’s Centre and the British Council, speaking on a panel about technology & literature. My writeup here.

Since January I’ve been in part-time residence at the Hubbub at the Wellcome Collection, which is exploring the nature of rest through neuroscience, social science & aesthetics. 

I performed with Zuzana Husarova for the Parisian sound poetry festival Festina Lente in February.

I attended the Lettretage conference in Berlin, in January, giving a presentation which describes the history and purpose of the Enemies project.

I now have a page on the Poetry Archive

I launched my collaborative book 1000 proverbs with Tom Jenks, at a Liverpool Camarade event, published by Knives, forks & spoons press.

For Wrogowie: Polish Enemies, I performed with Milosz Biedrzycki, celebrating the work of Tomaz Salamun

For Enemigos: Mexican Enemies, I collaborated with Amanda de la Garza, via video.

I read at the Whitechapel Gallery with Chris McCabe, for Stateland, curated by Gareth Evans.

Fourfold, a press in Glasgow, published my collaboration with Ross Sutherland, nick-e Melville, Ryan Van Winkle & Colin Herd: the Auld Fold.

The new Penned in the Margins 2015 programme features details on my first play, a scratch of which is scheduled for October.

At Hay-on-Wye this May 29th 

Nicer even than reading at Hay-on-Wye for the first time, is to read there alongside, in collaboration with Nia Davies, Joe Dunthorne, Rhys Trimble, Joe Dunthorne and Eurig Salisbury, at the head of an Enemies project in Wales, after a six date tour www.theenemiesproject.con/gelynion

Below Ground: a book with J&L Gibbons selected for On Landscape project at Materia Gallery

So pleased to be associated with the amazing landscape architects J&L Gibbons and to be a part of their beautifully produced Below Ground publication was a lovely thing, with my poems on Soil. 

Now to find out that work has been selected for the On Landscape exhibition at the Materia gallery, is a grand and unexpected development.

"Matèria is proud to announce the results of the On Landscape #2 book call. On behalf of the judging panel we would like to thank all the participants; the response and quality of submitted work has been exceptional. After careful deliberation the judges selected 44 books that will be exhibited at Matèria alongside work by Dafna TalmorEmma WieslanderMinna Kantonen and Marco Strappato."

my summer reading on 3am magazine 

summer reading: steven j. fowler

By Steven J. Fowler, Poetry Editor
Stephen Emmerson’s Comfortable Knives
Colin Herd’s Glovebox
Tim Allen’s Tattered by Magnets
James Davies’s Two Fat Boys
Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water
Tom Jenks’s On Liberty, Repressed and Crabtree
Anna McKerrow’s Regressive Poetics
Tom Chivers’s Flood Drain
Chris McCabe’s in the catacombs 

Tom Chivers & Martin Kratz’s Mount London 
Tomaz Gonzalez’s In the Beginning was the Sea

Knowing your Enemies by David Berridge

"Over at Sabotage Reviews David Clarke has written a fascinating review of Enemies: The Selected Collaborations of SJ Fowler. Drawing on Bakhtin’s arguments around the dialogic text Clarke (as I understand it) argues that the dialogic elements are actually most evident in texts that refuse a clear sense of who wrote what, maybe even of form and subject. Without this certainty, the reader has to get involved, and the possibility of the text as a multiplicity of possible and actual voices emerges.

I found myself relating Clarke’s ideas to some of the decisions Steve and myself have been making regarding the book form of our collaboration, forty feet, an extract from which appears in the Enemies book. Something of the process Clarke describes has been evident in our ongoing and changing decisions about how to arrange the text on the page, what kinds of sections and designation to give the writing, to what extent the text should indicate the presence of two authors, and/or a more general process of exchange and response by which the book’s writing unfolded.

Originally our text had forty distinct sections, in which we took turns as author. Although we never had a manuscript that named our respective contributions one early idea was to have two distinct fonts for our respective writings. For the extract in the Penned in the Margins book, sections were cut up, placed in columns, our separate contributions mashed one to the other. I thought the book might take this further, but instead it seemed right to go back to 40 numbered sections, although now those numbers broke up some our existing sections, whilst the text itself no longer had each section starting neatly on a new page.
cyril-connollyCyril Connolly Enemies of Promise (1): Getting Blocked in By Your Own Book Collection

Reading what we have now, I no longer know who wrote what. This isn’t entirely true, of course, but there are specific lines and sections where I mean this literally, and the whole text has moved, in my reading of it, beyond that sense of two alternating voices as its organising principle. This unknowing in the face of my/ our own text made me think of Maurice Blanchot’s comment about the text that removes itself from its author. I could only remember Blanchot’s view in these most general of terms so I went back to The Space of Literature and read on page 24:
The writer cannot abide near the work. He can only write it; he can, once it is written, only discern its approach in the abrupt Noli me legere which moves him away, which sets him apart or which obliges him to go back to that “separation” which he first entered in order to become attuned to what he had had to write. So that now he finds himself as if at the beginning of his task again and discovers again the proximity, the errant intimacy of the outside from which he could not make an abode.
All I have said here, of course, is from the writer’s point of view. Clarke’s review focuses on the experience of reader and reading and how the knowledge that a text is a collaboration (more particularly in the case of Enemies: some sort of couple) relates to the sense of voice, location and exchange that is  named or intuited by that reader in the text’s form and content. The (currently) final version we have made of forty feet seems one where writer and reader find some sort of equivalence.

One other point that I found useful in Clarke’s review was his sense of why the book – and Steve’s collaborations project as a whole – should be called Enemies, a title I realised I had responded to primarily as a provocation that cleared away a certain complacency about what might be involved and at stake. For Clark, again, it is best understood through how we read:
His collaborations are not friendly: neither in the sense of seeking to arrive at a position of harmony between those producing the work, nor in the sense that a finished artistic product offers the reader any easy answers. In fact, these collaborations are the opposite of a ‘finished’ product: they remain open to a dialogue with the reader, indeed to many dialogues (as in many re-readings) with the reader.
Steven’s own introduction to Enemies can be seen hereForty Feet will be out soon from Knives Forks and Spoons Press.

Marianne Morris reading at Enitharmon, London - Dec 17th

Enitharmon are a publishing house with a powerful history, loyal to figures like David Gascoyne, vital to the lifeblood of British 20th century poetry and they are really putting out some exciting poets and collections at the moment. One need look no further than The On All Said Things Moratorium - a selection of Marianne Morris work from the last ten years.

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