Ledbury Poetry festival is an internationally renowned fest, one entering its 21st year in fact, and for my first time attending I was happy to perform and organise a small Camarade with poets local to the festival or tied to it in some fashion. Set in the beautiful Malvern hills its very much a festival aligned with the more formal in British poetry than myself and the Enemies project, but as I’ve repeated a lot -my tastes and work is what it is for my own ends but that can only exist within the range and width and panoply of traditions, and it’d be hypocritical to not seek out difference in poetry, to not always be open to generous invitations, and be ready to listen and learn and discover what people are writing. I found the festival to be utterly welcoming, hospitable and full of interesting work. Myself and 11 other poets in the Camarade were treated so well, we had a lovely audience in the Market Theatre, a great space and in fact were asked to be the very last, 87th, event of this 10 day incarnation of the festival. My work with Harry Man, one of my closest friends in poetry, went down well and though my visit was brief, it was a really positive experience.
Such a great group of people to work with Seryu Oh, Chaikwan Lee and all the folk from the WOW festival who will host myself, Hannah Silva and Luke Kennard in September following this duo of events in London at the start of June. Check it out proper here http://www.theenemiesproject.com/southkorea
Friday night was a panel talk in the very jazzy Korean Cultural Centre in central London. It was crazy at times, 2 hours or more of winding chat, swearing, funny questions, in a hot basement without a break, but the discovery of the poets from South Korean in the project - Kiwan Sung, Minjung Kim and Hwang Yuwon - was fantastic, so talented and sooo funny all three of them. Such a great vibe immediately upon our meeting, a great laugh, and Kiwan and I worked out our collaboration that night.
Saturday night was the big event at Rich with loads of pairs. Kiwan recorded my heartbeat live, then his own, merged them with a live coding programme the audience could see before I sounded out the consonants our our alphabet and he did the vowels, while I held the camera. Was peachy. All the pairs were great in fact and we went out afterwards to solidify our new poet friendship over tapas. What more can one ask for?
Had a fun burst of gab chatting with the folk at Monocle Radio about internationalism, collaboration, poetry and stuff that's done wrong / right to change people's perception of poetry in the UK, if that's even desirable. Broadcasts 7.30pm on May 29th 2017 and then available as a podcast after that
This is a project I am delighted has come off the ground, it features a second leg in South Korea too, which will be my first time there and a grand privilege.
Three of South Korea's most brilliant and innovative contemporary poets visit London for a dynamic new collaborative project, where they will present new live works created in cahoots with British poets. Introducing South Korean writers Yuwon Hwang, Minjung Kim and Kiwan Sung, all three remarkably original poets and artists, to a British audience this headline event at Rich Mix London will feature new works for the night, as well as new collaborations from multiple pairs of locally based poets .
Hannah Silva and Minjung Kim / Kiwan Sung and SJ Fowler / Luke Kennard and Yuwon Hwang plus Edward Doegar and Anna Selby / Dacy Lim and Cheryl Moskowitz / Dorothy Lehane & Elinor Cleghorn / Joe Turrent & more
With a program visiting both nations, Beyond Words will explore the 21st century international avant garde which has seen poetic pracitioners engage in performance and collaboration in a way never seen before.
Beyond Words is part of UK/Korea Creative Futures series, sponsored by ARKO (Arts Council Korea) and ACE (Arts Council England). Curated by Seryu Oh, Hyounjin Lee, SJ Fowler and Chaikwan Lee.
The future is in good hands if this event is any indication. Though ostensibly about pairing students across the country, and allowing them to experiment / collaborate / create new friendships, what it is really about is giving a platform to younger poets who might be locked into the boundaries that come with being a 'creative writing' student or in a university. It's just a way to discover people, to see them shine, and they were really remarkable on this occasion, all 22 poets, from all over the UK. A really resonant evening, all the videos are here www.theenemiesproject.com/unicamarade worth watching.
The University Camarade II : February Saturday 25th 2017 - 7.30pm - Free Entrance
Venue 2 : Rich Mix Arts Centre (35-47 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6LA)
The second University Camarade presents pairs of creative writing students from seven different Universities in the UK to collaborate on short new works of poetry or text, for performance. The only participants are students, and writing with poets they've never met before, who study within a different institution, this initiative allows them to expand their practise, knowledge and networks, and takes a stand against purported factionalism or department competition. The innovative collaborative methodology also allows them to include experimentation early in their writing careers, and perform to a large audience.
Students have been drawn from the Creative Writing departments of Kingston University, Oxford Brookes, York St John, Kent, Essex, York and Royal Holloway and the project has been curated by SJ Fowler with Kim Campanello, JT Welsch, Dorothy Lehane, Robert Hampson, Prudence Chamberlain, Philip Terry and Niall Munro.
Leeds was fire. I’d heard it was a quiet town for the avant garde or literary poetry but this proved untrue, or we got unlucky. In the wharf chambers we had over twenty poets and from many different scenes and backgrounds. From first time readers to folk like Ian McMillan and Robert Sheppard, it ran the gamut. I got there early, in the snow, to be met by Ian in fact, whom, ever the gentleman, helped me shift 100 chairs into the basement punk venue. So many poets I was excited to see and meet for this one, and there was a uniformly playful tone, with a noticeable investment by many. For my own work with Patricia Farrell we wrote a collaborative poem and then I played with some ideas around memory and recitation, recording her poems onto my phone, popping in earphones and reciting from that audio file at parts, and at others, just trying to copy what she had said. Nearly 100 crushed in all told and some of these collaborations will be long remembered, everyone was buzzing
Sheffield was interesting. Again there was talk of a quiet gig but our room at Bank Street Arts was chocked, even dangerously so with much of the gig standing room only with people blocking my camera or stepping on each other’s feet, literally. Some great works here, punctuating a range of stuff, from the high literary to the amusing. At times it leaned into the self-referential, the audience having its favourites / friends, which is really the opposite of the deliberately open Enemies mode, but this is inevitable with such an intense room and a single city scene.
To be honest for me, the whole time in Sheffield was clouded by hearing of the death of Tom Raworth, who was a great influence on me and a friend. I wrote a piece remembering him, feeling emptied and deeply sad, in a Travelodge in the city, having travelled from Leeds and so it was a melancholy day. It took me many attempts to write the piece, I was feeling quite out of sorts. We ended the event with Chris McCabe and I reading some of Tom’s poems and this I will never forget, to have the big audience to read Tom’s work to, a day or two after his passing.
Liverpool is a city I love and this sprawling reading in the beautiful Everyman playhouse, who could not have been more generous as a venue, brought together many friends and great poets from across the region, being the final gig. I had the grand pleasure of working with Nathan Walker, whom I respect immensely and our improvised sound poetry vocal piece was a joy, though it was maybe too intense for the audience. Some fine works here but it was a rare misfire over all in terms of the Camarade tradition. Not quite sure why, but there was an imbalance in the works overall, perhaps a lack of identity in the event, a lack of successful experiment, or engagement with liveness. Happens sometimes.
Certainly I left the event happy because it was the summation of the project, and the final moments of that were spent with my friends, Tom Jenks especially, a brilliant poet and a great person to work with. As ever it’s a privilege to do this work, to such large audiences and such enthusiastic and varied writers.
Fiender: Swedish Enemies in London - Rich Mix : Saturday January 28th 2017
Free entry 7.30pm - 35-47 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6LA
Brand new collaborations of poetry and text for one night only, written by pairs of poets commissioned for this unique literary event. Visiting Swedish poets will present new works of avant-garde and literary poetry with their British counterparts alongside other 'Camarade' pairs especially for the evening.
Featuring: Aase Berg & SJ Fowler - Harry Man & Jonas Gren - Elis Burrau & Holly Corfield Carr - Kathryn Maris & Patrick Mackie - Fabian Peake & Jeff Hilson - Nick Murray & Joe Turrent - Prudence Chamberlain & Eley Williams - Hannah Lowe & Richard Scott - Annie Katchinska & Mark Waldron & more
Fiender: Swedish Enemies is multifaceted transnational collaborative poetry project engaging poets from both Sweden and the UK. Taking place in both nations across 2016 and 2017, Fiender is an ambitious, exploratory engagement with contemporary poets across Europe.
Curated by Harry Man and SJ Fowler, with curatorial assistance from Emanuel Holm and Madeleine Grive. Supported by Arts Council Sweden. www.theenemiesproject.com
So happy to be co-curating another Enemies tour in the UK, this time with Tom Jenks, visiting cities in the North and North West of England. It is no exaggeration to say that the presses and poets at the centre of the current modern / avant garde scene in this region have supported and inspired my work as much as anyone else.
So many of the poets, publishers and organisers who have been based there during my time in poetry - people like Tom, Scott Thurston, Alec Newman, James Davies, Sandeep Parmar, James Byrne, Richard Barrett, Tim Allen, Mark Cobley, Nathan Jones, Robert Sheppard, Patricia Farrell, Nikolai Duffy, Philip Davenport, Ben Morris, Chris McCabe, Daniele Pantano - have been key in my development, both as a poet and as someone trying to understand the best way to organise events. The Other Room series was an early and pivotal inspiration for the Enemies project, and it reflects what I'd happily generalise for poets and readings in the region, that its defined by strong, complex, challenging work underpinned by a very dry sense of humour, and surrounded by unpretentious, friendly people, who believe in a community of writers without talking too much about that.
So it's important to me to keep going back to cities like Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, where I've been treated so well so often, as well reading for the first time in cities like York and Leeds. We've got over 60 poets involved, and we'll create over 50 new collaborative works. It's such a pleasure to do, and with the arts council supporting us, it's grand we can do it properly. Visit http://www.theenemiesproject.com/northwest for the full lineups
The Enemies Project & ZimZalla presents:
A collaborative poetry tour visiting York / Manchester / Edge Hill / Leeds / Sheffield / Liverpool
January 13th - February 11th 2017
The North by North West Poetry Tour features over sixty poets collaborating in pairs to produce brand new collaborative works for performance, commissioned for each event, over six nights in January and February 2017. Poets local to each of the six venues will perform on each night alongside a core group of touring poets, who will perform at every venue. These free events will aim to draw in the amazing, experimental, dynamic resurgence in literary and avant-garde poetry which has so marked the north and north west poetry scene over the last decade. For full details visit this link, or see below:http://www.theenemiesproject.com/northwest
The project is curated by Tom Jenks and SJ Fowler, with local curators Christopher Stephenson, JT Welsch, Linda Kemp and Robert Sheppard. The North West Poetry Tour is supported by Arts Council England.All events are free to attend with doors at 7.30pm for an 8pm start, unless stated otherwise. The poets, pairs and links continue to be updated.
January Friday 13th - York : City Screen
January Saturday 14th - Manchester : International Anthony Burgess Foundation
January Thursday 19th - Edge Hill Arts Centre
February Thursday 9th - Leeds : Wharf Chambers Co-operative Club
February Friday 10th - Sheffield : Bank St. Arts
February Saturday 11th - Liverpool : Everyman Playhouse
One of the most comprehensive sound collaborations I've ever undertaken. One month of recordings, an entire lunar cycle, Maja Jantar and I exchanged sonic responses to the moon over the summer, including poem, songs, found recordings, mixed for publication. I was the 11th collaborator in Maja’s remarkable series. This was a brilliant, often intense process, another lovely moment in a series of works I’ve had the pleasure to collaborate on with Maja. And as before, I learned an extraordinary amount working with her, with her in my mind as I tried to keep up to the daily recording schedule. I’m proud of the result, it’s extensive, a real record of a time in my life.
All 30 files with adjoining blogs are available http://www.stevenjfowler.com/lunalia
August 18th: Worm-moon Wormwood Scrubs is a place most in London would associate with its adjacent prison. Outside of London it’s hardly known. It’s where I go to exercise, often at night, especially in the summer. It’s totally dark, surrounded by a belt of light, and the industrial trains entering and exiting Willesden Junction. From the middle of the scrubs I can see the moon, first 2/3 blood moon, and by the end of my exercise, the full red moon. I took the recorder to the middle of the open expanse of grass, empty of people aside from the odd dog walker emerging from the darkness and let my exhausted breathing ebb as I watched up. By complete chance, a genuine coincidence, earlier in the day, someone had said to me that I should watch for the super moon that night, that the celts called it the Dispute Moon, others the Hunger Moon, Corn Moon and Wolf Moon....
The Elit article series runs very regularly from Literaturhaus Europa's base in Austria and always has some fascinating insights into the wider European literature scene from writers, organisers and journalists. I've written for them a few times before, and they asked me to pen a short piece on the CROWD Literature bus tour which I partially participated in this summer. I wrote about my experience of being at the Krokodil fest in Serbia during Britain's exit from the EU. http://www.literaturhauseuropa.eu/de/observatorium/blog/crowd-literature2019s-omnibus-project
For latest blogs on the tour visit www.stevenjfowler.com/southwest
A collaborative poetry tour of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset spread over a week in August 2016. A project I co-curated with Camilla Nelson, bringing over 70 poets together over 5 nights, the first Enemies project style tour I've done in England, writing new works every night with core poets JR Carpenter, John Hall, Matti Spence, Annabel Banks and Camilla herself. It was a memorable week, a return to old places and friends, and the beginning of new ventures. For much more information and documentation visithttp://www.theenemiesproject.com/southwest
St Ives - August 1st 2016
I was born in Cornwall, in Truro, and I grew up as a small child in Newquay. This was the first reading I'd ever given in the county and the first time I had been back since I was a teenager. St Ives, famous for its artistic community, welcomed us with torrential rain. Annabel Banks drove me from London, picking up other poets on the way, for a rare and joyful road trip south. We arrived at night, nearly ten hours on the road, and accommodation famously being at a premium in one of the UK's summer tourism hotspots, I jumped out of the car in a dark lane to enter a property called the hobbit hole, which was a shed with a bed in a garden. Actually quite fun to live, briefly, like a hobbit.
The reading itself was held at the Barbara Hepworth museum, and supported by Tate St Ives. I was told afterwards that we were in the very room in which Barbara Hepworth died of smoke inhalation. Surrounded by her sculptures, it was an unforgettable space to read within. I met many poets for the first time, some after long correspondence, met the core touring poets as a group for the first time, and had the great pleasure to read with John Hall. His work has been influential on my own ever since I began to trace the line of my own interests back through British poetry to the 60s and before. He published his first book in 1968, and his rare poise, presence and judgement as a poet and a person was great to share, if briefly, as we read our piece in such a special room. I tried simply to follow his rhythm, his play with silence and pause and I felt very comfortable in that space, almost not like a reading for me, closer to a performance of reading.
St Ives provided a fascinating beginning to the tour, quite intense in a strange way - the weather, the tourists, sleeping in a shed, bombarded with new faces and hearing new poetry and being responsible for that. Already a sense that things are moving quickly, picking up steam, switching modes to performance and travel, and to start this near the very foot of the country, to work north, as feels natural to me.
Falmouth - August 2nd 2016
A journey across Cornwall, weather lightening, energy rising, travelling with Camilla, a remarkable poet and immensely organised and responsible as a co-curator. Luxurious accommodation too, with a landlady who even came to the reading and insisted on baking me vegan cookies. We were housed at The Poly for the event, with young, helpful, accommodating staff. And I got to work with Matti Spence, a fascinating and generous man, a fine poet. I first met him after he returned to London from some years away in Australia and after he had studied a UEA. Completely assured and singular, while being essentially warm hearted, Matti is a peer to learn from. We wrote a poem I was very happy with and decided then to turn it performatively, breaking the fourth wall, and using the assumed context of the reading against the audience, in a light-hearted way. A lovely touch for me was that my old friend and collaborator Thomas Duggan attended, his studio being deep in the Cornish countryside, and I hugged him mid reading. Everyone seemed lifted by the event, the format of collaboration once again creating ties and bonding people from different scenes and styles.
Dartington - August 3rd 2016
Back into Devon, driving up with Camilla and Matti, skirting Dartmoor, crossing the Tamar, heading to Schumacher College, near where I grew up as a teenager in Exeter. Another strange return, but realising on the tour that it isn't a return when the company and purpose is utterly new. And in Dartington it felt the most fresh, like I had not been to this part of England before. This is perhaps because Schumacher College is so unique, set apart in the countryside, an ecosystem unto itself. Staying in dorms too, cells, made the experience feel really embedded and somehow enclosed. This was a remarkable evening of poetry too, a full house again, with some brilliant collaborations highlighting an evening that felt complete, energised, memorable. It was inevitable the lineage of Dartington College of Arts would cast a spell on the reading, and so many in the room had ties to that institution (more here on that), and multi-disciplinary practise and performance art was a key feature of the collaborations.
Collaborating with JR Carpenter was a blast. We took a text she had generated with her computer, basically three simple phrases and then, introducing ourselves with a little bit of water pouring, on theme, used repetition to build an improvisational structure. I love this kind of work, completely open, free and high pressured. It requires time and expertise to do well, and can be a dud on the wrong night. This wasn't, it flowed, as we leaned into each other, swaying slightly, the clear purpose of the work was well expressed, well received and seemed all the more satisfying to me because in a way, it was a small work, miniature and light. It represented the moment, it was of the space, and very much a product of the tour.
We finished the evening in the White Hart, where Dartington College of Art, before it's merger with Falmouth University in 2010, held many events, many long nights. I sat with John Hall, who taught at the institution for 34 years, and he told me of the poets who had read in the room and the history of the place. It felt a very special privilege to hear that from him and to imagine our event as a small, brief, resurgence of that tradition in the area.
Poets rarely cover their peers or poets from the past who have influenced them. The Covers Project began in 2011, and has run intermittently, as a video series, allowing myself and the poets involved to choose from their contemporaries or those who have had a profound affect upon their work, and read their work, to make it new in their voices. Over 50 covers are available https://coversproject.wordpress.com/
I began to record my own covers more regularly in 2016, not only to show testament to those who have helped me grow as a writer but to document spaces I find myself in when travelling or in London. On the page you'll find covers of Blaise Cendrars, Tom Raworth, Bill Griffiths, Christodoulos Makris, Nikos Engonopoulos, Chris McCabe, Anselm Hollo, Marcus Slease and a few covers of my work, offered by those I've met when travelling. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/covers
An extraordinary week in Georgia - I had the chance to read at the second international literature festival in Tbilisi alongside some brilliant poets from around the world, organise an Enemies project in Georgia, collaborating with Georgian poets, explore the city of Tbilisi, visit the Caucasian countryside, enjoy the remarkable hospitality of the Writer’s House and the Georgian people in general. An unforgettable trip, an immense privilege. Gratitude to the International Literature Showcase Fund, the British Council and the Georgian Writer’s House for their support. http://writershouse.ge/eng/new/573
A GEORGIAN DIARY
Day One – May 16th
A trip I have long looked forward to, ever since meeting the Georgian playwright and organiser Davit Gabunia at the International Literature Showcase in early 2015 in the UK, and we began plotting. To Georgia, for the sake of poetry, absurd from the off - somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit, having avidly read about the place, following history, from early christianity, to the mongols, to timur, to the soviet occupation, to the present, looking west while further east than most British people travel. I had the pleasure too to travel with fellow poets Eley Williams and Luke Kennard, both friends, and as apt a representation of the Enemies project unofficial dictum for those who participate as there could be – good people / good poets, the sweet middle of that Venn diagram for those I love to write and travel alongside.
We travelled into Tbilisi via Istanbul and were met by Sandro Jandrieri, as dry as a desert, as hospitable as can be. We had a hilarious potted history of Tbilisi, and at midnight, the city feeling very much alive, the equivalent energy of early evening in London – friendly, familiar – Sandro took us for food and drink, skirting the tourist places in the old town, where we were staying.
Day Two – May 17th
A strange insomnia is affecting most of the writers visiting, we’re in the same hotel. Maybe it is the hotel itself, or the travel. We meet up, meet the others invited to the festival, some friends, some new friends – DBC Pierre, Yuri Andrukovych, Tadeusz Dabrowski, Sergio Badillo Castillo, and have a chance to explore Freedom Sq before we’re on our first bus trip, led by unfailingly bright and brilliant student volunteers. They take us to a few of the dozens of near ancient churches, a waterfall in the middle of the city then up in the famous funicular where we have our first experience of being stuffed by Georgian food. The view is extraordinary, over the whole city – it is strikingly beautiful, the golden domed cathedral, the hills ringing the city, the iron woman looking down upon the terraces, the cable cars, the modernist architecture recently shocked into place alongside crumbling flats. It’s a powerfully romantic vision, Tbilisi. Eley and I, and the Swedish poet Kristian Carlsson clamber into an art installation on the hill – a massive steel storage container, with a tiny hole, so when you are closed inside, in the dark, a camera obscura shows the city vista within. They lock us in the darkness and we wait. The image never arrives but the utter darkness makes the light of the city all the more palpable when we emerge, sweating.
Our first meeting as a group too, for the Enemies project I’ll be curating. We meet the Georgian poets and Davit, co-curating, is there too as we exchange ideas. My assumption had been that with the Georgian tradition only 25 years out of Soviet rule, that the mode of poetry would be classical, and so maintain the trace of the cult of personality which has dominated poetry for so long, with such ill effect, and so collaboration would feel unnatural to our new friends. Not so, Davit has chosen some radical writers, Lia Liqokeli, Zaza Koshkadze … All of them are making a new tradition for Georgia, looking west, but not being western, like the city itself, daring, idiosyncratic but ever hospitable to collaboration or conversation. We eat with new friends at the Writer’s House, which is the host of the festival and us for our whole time. We have nothing like this in the UK – a locus for writers, epic like a country home in the heart of the city, with amazing food (a theme) and many rooms for the readings and conversations which are scheduled every night for the next week.
Day Three – May 18th
Our ‘work’ day, we have to write and present 11 new works for the Enemies project performance the next night, two as a group and 9 as pairs, short bursts of poetry and performance. This means frantic emails between the six of us participating, ideas shifting, performances forming. We have time to walk further, our own time to explore. People are so friendly, everything is so easy and safe to navigate. It is impossible to imagine we are beyond Turkey. It feels so European. I find, by pure accident, following a giant painting of a Kiwi on a bicycle, Georgia’s only vegan restaurant, and am greeted in English, then fed with the refusal of my money (another theme – this even happened to me in a tourist shop, I was given a postcard), then taken to see the patrons (quite excellent) artwork. We end up talking for over an hour and I meet his family. Hard to not feel embarrassed by how warm everyone is. People hold their stares at me, being tall (er) and pale, but they finish this with a smile, even on the highstreet. I take the chance to have a run, not wanting to bloat out from all the Khachapuri and Khpali I’m shovelling. I have the hill with the funicular in my mind, steep as it is, I want to try it. I run some, walk some and crawl the last. I see the city in blue, my burning thighs and oxygen depleted brain showing Tbilisi in new light again.
Day Four – May 19th
The day of our performance. We need our further time to write, I have another hill run and seek out some exquisite coffee places. Eley, Luke and I have lunch together, they are beautiful company – erudite, kind, engaging. I have known them both for a number of years now, but such is the nature of readings, you often don’t get to cross paths without ‘business’ and for no longer than an hour or two. We are becoming friends, I am richer for that.
We head over to the Writer’s House early to begin rehearsing. Usually, at this stage, in the other 20 or so international Enemies project’s I’ve curated, most of the writing is done and we do a cue to cue, line up the reading order to be complimentary, get the works printed out in order and then practise things out, tweek words and gestures – I’m always emphasising context, to control one’s body and voice, to understand space. I stress this a lot. Tbilisi though, and it’s poets, are enviably laid back, and though Lia is there early and Davit too, there are some delays which make the process quite rushed and a bit hampered. We persevere, make adaptations and bring everything together.
The performances themselves are really fun. There’s a good audience, a palpable enthusiasm from poets and watchers alike, and a playful spirit. I always seek a balance between intense, quality poetry collaboration between more conceptual, performative works. The balance here is tipped to the latter, and with humour perhaps overriding, as perhaps the nature of the collaborative mode doesn’t quite land for the Georgians, and they have a touch that ends up too light. But this is the energy of the night and we go with that. Some really great moments emerge. Luke and Eley are brilliant and we share some special exchanges, it all feels a great beginning, a fine showcase. All the videos are herewww.theenemiesproject.com/georgia
Day Five – May 20th
We get snatches of the city in the mornings, walking down the river, and I veer out into the suburbs. The city is undoubtedly growing, older buildings propped up with girders, some rotting away, but being developed. What a time to visit – everything is here, everyone wants to talk, yet it is indelibly unique, I’ve never been to a place like it – it feels powerfully authentic. We have a huge late afternoon meal at a restaurant none of us could ever have found without the brilliant people behind the festival – Natasha Lomouri guides the festival beautifully, Nana Jandrieri. the matriarch of our daily lives and Davit, always spinning 20 plates. There are rounds of Georgian toasts, more writers join us, Edgar Karet, Dato Turashvili, Susan Shillinglaw. We eat until we’re immobile.
Back at the Writer’s House for the evening, every poet attending the festival will read one poem, everyone has had one poem translated into Georgian. The audience is large, but with the reading outside many are eating their dinner, still talking. I like this background noise, this diffused attention. I declare my allegiance to walnuts and drop to my knees as Davit reads my poem about a ‘newly deaf dolphin.’ I like to send this work to translators, proves a challenge, makes a new work in the new language. Great too to see Yasuhiro Yotsumoto, Sergio Badilla Castillo, Tadeusz Dabrowski, Kristian Carlsson, Yurii Andrukoych and others read. Eley, Luke and I have our farewell dinner, again in the Writer’s House. We talk intensely, as we have all week, hard to believe how quickly it has passed, but as always with these strange, bracketed, intense travelling weeks at festivals – the bonds are made strong.
Day Six – May 21st
With many poets departed, I have booked a few more nights in Tbilisi, staying on. This day I get to join an excursion out of Tbilisi and out into eastern Georgia, to Karkheti, through hills, to the brink of mountains, looking south and north as we go. It’s a bus of us, with Nana and more amazing volunteers. I am seated next to an irrepressible and charming woman called Salome, just 19, speaking perfect English, amongst many languages, and she talks to me all day. She is full of life, so enthusiastic and humble. So wonderful to meet Georgians of this generation. We visit a new Chateau made to look old, an ancient church, then the most ancient church. It is interesting, but not deeply absorbing for me, I’m more taken with the general history, the people on the bus and the stray dogs in the countryside, melancholy, friendly creatures, and the views, which are stunning. I’ve always wanted to visit the Caucasus, from reading Hadji Murat on, from wrestling with Caucasians in London. It is everything I hoped. The women on the bus burst into song, three generations. They have beautiful voices and all know the same songs, and frequently halt into laughter between numbers.
We visit Tsinandali, where Alexander Chavchavadze lived, a famous Georgian aristocratic poet, and Lermontov visited, amongst others, and walk the grounds. Free wine tasting leaves me and driver the only sober ones. The songs go up in volume. I am only a little scared. Then onto another huge dinner. They always accommodate my not drinking alcohol and my being vegan, with curiosity. The food is amazing. The 19 year old women and the 60 year old women all smoke around the table, in the restaurant. More toasts. The drive back to Tbilisi is sleepy but doesn’t make a dent in Salome’s energy. She is practising her English with great verve. It’s dark when we rejoin the city.
Day Seven – May 22nd
My last day in Tbilisi. I’ve acclimatised, have my favourite spots and can finally sleep a bit. I know what I want to do, the only day I’ve been alone, and that’s to walk for hours on end. I head down to the famous art market, beneath a bridge, next to the river and spend all morning talking to young artists, who exhibit each Sunday, and antique sellers. I walk up to join Rustiveli street and walk its length for over an hour. Thousands of faces pass by, a mass of human movement, catching eyes with many, music in my ears. I walk to the zoo, made infamous last year as animals escaped after a flood, most famously, the hippo. I formed this story into my collaboration with Luke a few days before, much to students delight. The zoo is half empty of animals, but those there have space and it seems for children more than adults, as it should be. Again people talk to me randomly, freely, with a real kindness. I come closer to a rhino than I should be allowed to me, and pet its horn. Beautiful to be alone here.
I walk back into the city, trying to get partially lost. I discover a disused water park and then climb back to Rustiveli street before visiting the Modern Art Museum, with a retrospective of Tsereveli. I cross Freedom Sq and begin to climb the hills east of the city, wanting to be high above, at the feet of the giant statue of an iron woman. wine and a sword in her hands. I sweat to reach her but the views are stunning. I sit and watch the city for a long time.
My last hours in Tbilisi are spent over dinner with the Swedish poet Kristian Carlsson. A Swedish project looms. He tells me about his publishing house, his work with refugee writers in Malmo as we try and decipher some abstract translations on the menu. The last page of the menu is for cigarettes. Both of us are marked by the city, by Georgia itself, by its people. Kristian orders a ‘sweet barbecue’ and gets roasted sunflower seeds and eats them while smoking. We say farewell and I have to jog back to the apartment I’ve rented in a torrential downpour. In between sprints I hide in doorways, and under bus stops, and under the lip of a soviet era train station. In more than half, someone asks me where I’m from and says how much they love London when I answer. Me too, but Tbilisi is something London will never be.
I am really lucky to have the chance to visit various European nations across May and June through a series of festivals and commissions. By chance, they've aligned around each other and allowed me good time to travel between countries and make a tour of it. More details on the below soon.
May 16th to 23rd – Tbilisi: Mtrebi: a Georgian Enemies project as part of the 2nd International Tbilisi literature festival with Eley Williams, Luke Kennard & co
May 27th – Istanbul: a reading at the DamDayiz Cultural centre with Efe Duyan & others
May 29th – Venice: a reading with Alessandro Burbank, Alessandro Mistrorigo & others
June 10th to 14th – Krakow: a commissioned collaborative performance from UNESCO City of Literature for the Milosz Festival with Tom Jenks, Weronika Lewandowska & Leszek Onak, responding to Aleksandr Wat's 'My Century'
June 16th to 18th – Graz: Forumstadtpark Conference curated by Max Hofler on poetry & politics
June 18th to 24th – Omnibus Tour through Austria, Slovenia, Croatia
June 25th - Belgrade: Krokodil Festival
Obviously a fair sized undertaking, with 24 poets from 19 countries, but a wonderful event to celebrate the first European Poetry Night. Very easy to work with Jon Slack and the folk at European Literature Festival, revamped for this year, and we managed to get around 150 people into Rich Mix on a balmy night. The great joy of balancing all this curatorial work, all the small details of travel, tech, order etc... is that I'm surrounded by friends from all over the world, from Billy Ramsell who drove me around Ireland, to Sasha Filyuta who introduced me to Berlin, from Alessandro Burbank who made me love the backstreets of Venice, to Efe Duyan who took me for a coffee in Istanbul before I'd published a book. And new friends made too, Niilaas Holmberg, who sang in Sami and Ulrike Ulrich, Swiss by way of Germany now in residence in London. It felt like a real collective effort, an example of community and collaboration at its best. Their performances were uniformly good and all complimented each other in their differences. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/epn
Working with Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir is an amazing experience. She is masterful - so funny, so innovative, a great improviser, and so much fun to play with. Both of us seek out strong concepts and have a certain sense of humour and really we achieved something on this night. I couldn't believe the audience would believe as they did in our concept, and we really ran hard into making them believe once we sensed their absolute awkward excruciating silence. A beautiful thing. I did feel a tiny bit guilty that some friends bought it too, but the notion of truthfulness has been such a concern of mine this year, this collaboration felt like the apex of that. I hope to work with her again and again into the future.
The next instalment of the Soundings project, this time in Wellcome Library itself, with the brilliant Tamarin Norwood. The piece was fashioned just for the camera itself, a closed performance, intended to respond to and interrogate the notion of film editing or performance video, and how it relates to notions of authenticity and naturalness, while all the while following the process central to Soundings, that we respond to Wellcome Library resources provided to us by the librarians and 'sound them out' in conversing. Thanks to Ed Prosser for his brilliant camera work too. www.stevenjfowler.com/soundings
Lovely to be invited to present a Camarade event, where poets write new collaborations in pairs, to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Rich Mix as part of the festival of events and general festivities put on for the occasion. I owe Rich Mix so much, and without it, there'd be no Camarade and Enemies project I think. The event was wonderful, with 10 new works, all of which complimented in their difference and compelled in different ways. Great to get such a nice audience too, on a rainy bank holiday Monday at 6pm. A grand birthday for us all. All the videos www.theenemiesproject.com/richmixcamarade
A wonderful, positive evening with new collaborations from student, and inherently young, poets, from six universities across the UK. I decided to curate this event for multiple reasons - to show that collaboration is immensely helpful for the development of young poets (into interesting directions anyway), to show that creative writing programs deserve more respect for the quality they can produce, to get past the supposed 'competition' between creative writing departments and to begin to inculcate communities between young writers, or at the very least, to make them feel there are communities out there for them, that people do want to hear and value their more innovative ideas.
The works on display were genuinely brilliant, across the board, the event had been taken so seriously by all 20 poets. Everyone felt it had a been a grand success and will likely happen again www.theenemiesproject.com/unicamarade