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: The Learned Pig - Julia Lewis' Rottweiler


A deep poetic compliment from a peer and friend, referring to my 2014 book, - a new poem! as part of The Learned Pig's Wolf Crossing season, which is as excellent as this poem

"If you were a fruit,
what fruit would you be?
Black banana, fruit flies,
les ananas ne parlent pas,
(a little song of two children learning french on Canadian TV)."

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.

The Midsummer Poetry festival in Sheffield

Really pleased to be in the company of so many good poets and I get the chance to speak about Maintenant / Enemies, and really how they are strategies to avoid anthologising in the formal sense!, before I then read as part of an event celebrating the dear world anthology. An epic lineup, and a chance to visit Sheffield, all power to Agnes Lehoczky 

Steven Fowler, ‘Anthology: The Form of the Innovative’ SJ Fowler discusses his projects, the Maintenant series, 100 interviews with contemporary European poets, and the Enemies project, exploring innovative poetry and collaboration, as forms of non-traditional anthologising practise.

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

EVP Stockton

mad maxville, the place the students used to call mount doom in durham. actually an enjoyable day, a train over Yorkshire from Manchester to start, to Thornaby. Then it was explained to me what MadeinChelsea was, sonic interruption, a t=rex swipe into buildings, half the shops shut, like depression shut, tattoos on the back of a man's head in caffe nero. The Arc is a beautiful theatre, like a roman outpost for art. Wandering Stockton for hours and hours. I'd been before but why? I did many circles. Lots of charity shops. Bought a blue crocodile, a pig and a whoopie cushion. Listening to arvo part, a mistake, too many ideas for novels. The show itself was good, nerveless again, swishing, seemed to be easier now. Even the closer wasn't too hurtful and draining, but enough. A couple talked in the front row, I cane pointed them, adlibbed the most since Brighton. Premier fucking inn again, but a privilege even that. Second to last. Such fast passing, sad, learned too much.