Published: Versopolis Poetic Articles #2 - Animals as Humans, can only monkeys laugh?

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The second in my series of articles that are prose poems that are anti-opinion / anti-conclusion / anti-journalistic. It’s an interesting challenge, a long form poetic reflection, for an English person anyway. This one, following the theme of Drugs, is on the theme of Animals.

https://www.versopolis.com/times/essay/730/animals-as-humans

“Things obviously to be regretted in the future. The way humans educate their children. The way humans treat and consider their own planet, their own environments, their own place. The way humans treat and consider animals, as meaningless, stupid, brainless nothings. As food, to be made and unmade for a belly that might be full of whatever it likes. 

What the bloody hell is this massive weapon? It protects us, splits us homidiae from the pan pongo interface. Yet we cannot know each other’s self-consciousness, let alone that which lies in the grey brain of other creatures. A funny assumption begins a history. 

The octopus compared to the human. The chimpanzee compared to the human. The otter compared to the human. The bear compared to the human. 

The human glad in misadventures, harsher and more ravenous than anything you ever heard, anything in all other creatures born days.

Dogs. That perpetually dogs the footsteps of humans. Dogs as a verb. Dogs a best mate. Dogs as a fetching machine. Dogs who need defending. Dogs who defend homes. Dogs eaten in China, South Korea, Vietnam, and Nigeria. “

A note on: new articles commissioned for Versopolis

The European Review of Poetry, Books and Culture is an online literary journal, funded by the European Union, aiming to create an anglophone publication platform with a focus on continental Europe and world beyond. www.versopolis.com

A sample of the articles I've commissioned recently.

Published : my essay The Online Empire : on sex and poetry on Versopolis

Nice to have this essay on sex and poetry published, forever locked onto the internet, readable in perpetuity, appropriately, by Versopolis, and the european review of poetry books and culture. It was written for my book Aletta Ocean's Alphabet Empire, which is tangentially about pornography and will feature in an upcoming volume of my selected essays too. 

http://www.versopolis.com/long-read/604/the-online-empire-on-sex-and-poetry


"The whole business of eroticism is to destroy the self-contained character of the participators as they are in their normal lives.            Georges Bataille

You can never discover for yourself what you’ve been given. Bodies and knowledge, both. The primary purpose of this book is to worry about the division between the experienced and the perceived, and what is lost between that ever expanding gap.

Bataille suggests that you try to imagine yourself changing from the state you are in, to one in which your whole self is completely doubled. He means this to be a disturbance. He reminds us, you would not survive this process since the doubles you have turned into are essentially different from you. Each of these doubles is necessarily distinct from you as you are now, as while you’ve split into two new versions of yourself, you cannot be the same, twice over. A kind of procreation is what he is suggesting and the metaphor is about writing, I think. To mark the pages then release them is to indulge oneself, fundamentally, in a productive onanism. Cells dividing, with some of that division escaping you. No wonder it feels sad, a let down, to release things into the world......"

A note on: first commissions up on The European Review

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So far executive editing The European of Poetry, Books and Culture is pleasant pleasant, working with some really remarkable writers to shape new pieces. Online already are articles by the authors below, all of whom have produced really striking pieces, with dozens in the pipeline.

A note on: an interview with Kate Mercer for Wales Arts Review on Night-Time Economy

In the run up to the opening of the Night-Time Economy exhibition in Newport April 6th 2016, Ben Glover of the Wales Arts Review has interviewed Kate Mercer and I on our collaboration. The full interview is here http://www.walesartsreview.org/24536/

"Welcome Kate and Steven, I was hoping initially to find out a little bit about your project The Night-Time Economy. What drew you both to explore the night-time economy?

SJ Fowler: For me, it was meeting Kate, and discovering her work when visiting Newport for a poetry reading last year. I believe collaborations fundamentally grow from relationships between people, creative friendships, and a desire to see them grow, and the concept or direction comes as a secondary focus. Undoubtedly what became the subject of our eventual collaboration emerged from experiences I’d had in years past, things that have shaped my experience in much wider ways, but none of this would’ve been actualised into this exhibition without it being a shared point of contact between Kate and I.

Kate Mercer: I have to concur with Steven. It started from a shared experience that Steven and I found we had much to talk about and identify with. When we began discussing the respective roads we’ve since travelled, for example, pursuing poetry and photography as our careers, it struck us both how pivotal these experiences had been on us as individuals, but equally how far apart these two mediums are with regard to how they communicate with others, either explicitly, emotionally or figuratively. Whilst the experiences, anecdotes and observations we have shared have been helpful through out his project, it has as much as anything been an exploration of the capabilities and limitations of the others’ medium, developing a creative partnership therewith.

How to you think that previously working in this environment has influenced this project?

SJF: I think working in such environments changes your perception. This is true of all work perhaps, that one gains new perspectives when you are present for money and not pleasure. And Britain’s nightlife, it’s social culture, is extraordinarily intense. I think witnessing that intensity, the release people seek in such environments, has formed the underlying impetus for the whole project – because I think we’re not trying to document, nor judge, nor comment even, but rather encapsulate this intensity and its ambiguities.

Published: Hugh the Iron in the Black Market ReView

very happy to have one of my Gates of Paradise poems, part of a series of texts I've written over the years about the history of christianity, this time about the child crusade, published in the Black Market ReView, edited by Luke Thurogood and co, all student led at Edge Hill University.

A great edition, features Robert Hampson, Daniele Pantano and other fine poets http://blackmarketre-view.weebly.com/

< 2015

As the year dies off, it's a chance to reflect on a really remarkable 12 months past and say a few thank you's to those who  have been so generous as to make everything that transpired, mentioned below, so remarkable. Here is 2015 in review:

  • a launch for my latest book {Enthusiasm} this June past, published by the amazing Test Centre press. Gratitude to Jess Chandler & Will Shutes. A discerning review here by Richard Marshall.

  • debut solo exhibition, Mahu, took place across June and July, at the Hardy Tree Gallery in Kings Cross, a book handwritten onto the walls, with 11 events across the run. Thanks to Cameron Maxwell & Amalie Russell, and the over 50 poets and writers who contributed.

  • Throughout 2015, I was in residence with Hubbub group at Wellcome Collection, sharing the space with neuroscientists, social scientists and other researchers. I launched my Soundings project with Hubbub and Wellcome Library, performing with Emma Bennett, Dylan Nyoukis & Maja Jantar. Thanks to James Wilkes, Kimberley Staines & many others.

  • a debut play, Dagestan, was produced to scratch at the Rich Mix Theatre, thanks to an amazing cast, director Russell Bender and producer Tom Chivers, of Penned in the Margins.

  • I performed a new commission for Tate Modern in June, and then taught a course for the institution in November. Thanks to Joseph Kendra & Marianne Mulvey, and everyone who attended.

  • Really wonderful to join the faculty at Kingston University, as a lecturer in the Creative Writing department.

    With The Enemies Project, I had the pleasure of curating multiple international collaborative projects:

  • Gelynion, with Nia Davies, thanks to Arts Council Wales. Remarkable events from Newport to Bangor, finishing at Hay-on-Wye Festival.

  • Feinde, with Austrian poets, thanks to the Austrian Cultural Forum, including multiple events & an exhibition celebrating concrete poetry.

  • Croatia, with Tomica Bajsic & co, thanks to Croatian PEN and others, a wonderful mini-tour of Croatia and an event in London.

  • Enemigos, with Mexican poets, thanks to British Council, Conaculta and the London bookfair.

  • Wrogowie, with Polish poets, thanks to Polish Institute London.

  • Nemici, with Italian poets from across Europe.

  • Kakania, celebrating Habsburg Austrian culture, supported by Austrian Cultural Forum, saw memorable events in the Freud Museum, the Horse Hospital and the ACF, with over 40 new commissions. It also produced two books – an anthology of the project’s work and a new collaborative collection written by Colin Herd and I, about the life of Oskar Kokoschka.

  • a launch of the 2nd edition of my book Fights, published by Veer Books, at Apiary Studios in October. Big thanks to the publishing committee at Veer and the authors who celebrated the sport of boxing with me on the night.

  • A World without Words, curated with Lotje Sodderland and Thomas Duggan, saw 4 events in 2015, including at Somerset House and the Frontline Club. A remarkable success exploring the human brain, language, neuroscience & art with some amazing thinkers, not least Lotje & Tom.

  • I spoke at the School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt University, Berlin, thanks to Daniel Margulies, and became a Salzburg Global Fellow, for a conference on creativity and the brain. also attended the International Literature Showcase in Norwich thanks to the British Council and Writer’s Centre Norwich, and contributed to a panel on technology and literature.

  • attended the Berlin Poetry Festival in June and curated a Camarade with Lettretage while visiting the city. The same organisation kindly hosted me for their Literary Activists Conference in February.

  • attended Festina Lente in Paris in March, hosted by Martin Bakero and collaborated with the brilliant Zuzana Husarova.

  • curated many stand alone events, including the European Camarade, which brought together 18 poets from across the continent, the Norwich Camarade, thanks to Writer’s Centre Norwich and UEA, Global Cities for Southbank Centre & the London Literature Festival, European Literature Night in Edinburgh and a Cemetery Romance, thanks to Czech Centre London. Pleased to be a part of the Globe Road Festival too, leading an artists tour of the road.

  • had the privilege of being hosted by Edge Hill University, thanks to James Byrne, and co-curate a Camarade in Liverpool, which included a launch of my collaborative book with Tom Jenks, 1000 Proverbs, from Knives forks & spoons press.

  • amongst readings / performances: at Whitechapel Gallery for the launch of the New Concrete, edited by Victoria Bean & Chris McCabe, at the Stoke Newington Literature Festival & at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s The Wrestlers, thanks to Sarah Victoria Turner & co.

  • Wonderful to again teach for the Poetry School, sharing my passion for European and world avant-garde movements in the courses Maintenant and Mondo

  • continued in residence with the brilliant J&L Gibbons landscape architects and had the pleasure to share the stage with them at the Garden Museum, London for the Big Tree Debate.

  • Amongst some lovely conversations / interviews documented this year, this one on Sabotage Reviews with Will Barrett really stood out and I was grateful to the response of many to my short article on the passing of Tomaz Salamun. 

  • Poems in Modern Poetry in Translation, Poetry Wales, Test Centre, Gorse, Long Poem magazine, Lighthouse & others, thanks to the editors. My work was also included in the Poetry Archive.

    And knowing no one is reading at this point, simply, it was a great pleasure to collaborate in one form or another with so many extraordinary artists in 2015 - Noah Hutton, Rebecca Kamen, Tereza Stehlikova, Endre Ruset, Alessandro Burbank, Joe Dunthorne, Eurig Salisbury, Zoe Skoulding, Rhys Trimble, Daniela Seel, Anna Cady, Amanda de la Garza, Harry Man, Prudence Chamberlain and Tom Jenks among them.

I'm grateful to have met and worked with so many generous people throughout this year. There is more to come in 2016.

A note on: Richard Marshall reviews {Enthusiasm} on 3am magazine

A really discerning review, one that roots my work in the world and gets to the heart of of much of my purpose. I have (or try to have) an ambivalent relationship to reviews, but then reviews are different from criticism. None the less the nature of my work means that I always feel lucky when someone seems to connect with it, let alone extrapolate what Richard Marshall has here. I can't pretend it's not enlivening, that it doesn't fill me with optimism, to read how clearly and incisively he's recognised the purpose and philosophical context of much of what I'm trying to do, especially in {Enthusiasm}. http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/enthusiasm-review/

{The pictures below are my own, from various travels over the last year, a way of repositioning this text as a new thing in this new space.}


"Fowler works in the line of poetics that sees poetry as a way of changing its reader perhaps first put out in 1751 by Sam Johnson in ‘The Rambler’ where he writes of ‘the Force of Poetry’ being able to change and shape its readers. Pound writes of poetry’s rhythms being ‘forced onto the voice’ of reader’s speech. W.S. Graham, who haunts this collection as a lost poetic daemon, wrote in 1946 about a ‘poetry of Release’ which makes ‘the readers change.’ What Fowler is doing, it seems to me at least, is evoking a readership, seeing poetry as an activation in living and an intersubjectivity in reading. All sorts of things tug at this idea. JS Mill wrote of poetry being something overheard in contrast to being heard, a view resulting in the private vector of its influence;

‘ … the peculiarity of poetry appears to us to lie in the poet’s utter unconsciousness of a listener. Poetry is feeling confessing itself to itself in moments of solitude.’

Well there’s something valuable in this. Fowler’s war poetry – I’m labeling it thus just to exaggerate a point – can be read as ‘apostrophes directed elsewhere’, to use Coleridge’s useful phrase, to emphasise that Fowler’s poetry protects poetry’s special value, & is much much more than mere propaganda. Yeats as always helps: Fowler is assuredly quarreling with himself not others in this. Yet his imaginative links are nevertheless public too, as public as Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ or Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ and if Mill helps there’s always the fear the definition pushes poetry further into the unheard margins. His poems require more from us than brooding reflection and mute feelings in domestic solitude. There’s a somatic demand: poetry urging us to rewire body and nervous systems as well. The disturbances of syntax and unexpected diction are ‘political engagements with consciousness’ to bring about the ‘making of the reader.’ And it’s not a one way street. As Auden writes in his Yeats elegy; the words of poets are‘ … modified in the guts of the living.’"

"Reading this collection in the context of terrorist threats, Syria, the inequality class wars, domestic hells, all the nightmares roosting, what we realize is that Fowler is our war poet, breeding his lilacs out of the blood soaked April ground of current history:

‘should I begin as if it were a story for in (not during wartime)/ they mistook a story for a poem as often as/I’m not saying you never had it so good/but that is a fact , isn’t it?’.

He’s grappling with the extreme consciousness of these mediated discharges of extreme violence, the weird collision of mutable elements of the everyday with an excessive, unavoidable degradation of sensibility constantly bombarded by violence and names of violence and symbols of violence and effects of violence and rumours, denials, gratuitous, unclear, unclean of such. ‘You’ve never had it so good…’ is where the war starts, and places the reader squarely there, ‘in’ not ‘during’. If taboos are a way of vanquishing violence from the everyday then our contemporary context is where taboos are being reversed. Fowler mixes actor and costume, mask and dance, plays choric master to the Dionysia of this reversal , is a voiced chorus of phallic tragedy played across the broken-hipped syntax of polyphonic marginal identities.

‘ how long would you like to fight? You pick the term/ for we are not under bombing we are facing it/what is feared is a story that explains itself/ so much it almost isn’t there upon its ed/the helicopter gun that’s known as birth control.’

This is chorus intruding the action, standing at the centre which years ago didn’t hold but imploded. So the fragmentary, uncentred is everywhere. It’s an ironic usage, ‘ prepared like a kidsaw in a cat’s paw/ happy hinged to lift a black eye..’, with domestic violence and domestic pressure nose to nose with helicopters and bombs somewhere else, but intimately ours nevertheless, addressed simply and partially as it disappears from view in the poem ‘done the line’ for example or ‘Black Eye’, for instance, an experiment as notable as Racine’s ‘Esther’ or Goethe’s ‘Faust II’. What’s the reason for saying there’s a chorus element here? Throughout the sequence there’s an interplay between actor speech and what, loosely, I’m thinking of as a chorus with richer imagery contrasting with the movement preceding. There’s often a pairing of actor voice and choral in the same broken-backed line, so we have ‘I have been to prison and patted down on the way in this sorry event…’ which then is infused with the chorus ‘…my being birth well blue/truffling up the treegrove…’ which seems to abandon its dramatic identity just for that moment before returning it, ‘… I missed my pet/>my training partners> friends>family>wife>children..’ and then letting go again to the margin where images crank up once more, ‘… who in the night were snowly peaks…’ This is interesting because the use of the chorus died out when private subject matter replaced the public. Fowler’s versatility is partly his recognition that the private and the public infiltrate themselves more than ever before, that we’re both bombarded with news of other’s lives whilst channelling private echo chambers of solipsistic narcissism.

"That the mind holds to illusions, that we are able to function as if there’s no horror happening just over the horizon, or even in the same room, is something that Fowler is drawn to again and again. The suffering that grows so deep you can’t bear to pay, though pay you must, is a central theme, and a conceit that makes his war poems resonate with a felt truth about our special kind of modern warfare, for our wars reveal ‘… the possibilities /of the human mind to pretend everything is fine.’ In a particularly subtle physicality his poem ‘the bleached is not a white’ takes the death of a whale as a way of showing the heartbreaking route away from civilization we’ve taken, a place that’s as public and as private as can be, a narrow road to the interior that is literally broken up:

‘… as it perishes it’s heart bursting in attack, the salt/ water damning its arteries, the whale turns eyes down/ to watch its deathplace rise into view…’.

There’s a marvelous, deadly, hard-won simplicity and directness in this that can evoke the physicality of his spiritual journey, a kind of Zen mixed with highest art, Basho’s journey to Oku recalibrated as allegoric caustic satire. He also evokes the elisions we remember from Emily Dickinson, perhaps her ‘a bird came down the walk’, as well as cumming’s ‘since feeling is first’ so like a child, like a foreigner, a joker, he plays, compares, couples, contrasts, double arranges, jams semantic enquiry into fragments, anti-paradigms, colloquial, dialectical, vulgar, irregular arrangements that seem to forget what they started or else never intended a main clause to have any fina closing heft, which after a while may be taken to be a political stance. In this at times he is Beelzebub in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ who refuses the conventional obligations to honour what he starts with a completion, ie; ‘ If thou beest he; But oh how falln, how changed/From him…’ Milton wrote to confound the poetasters of his day who would put together edifying verse for educative reasons: he deliberately wrote so that his poetry could not be easily chopped into such squeamish morsels. We’re reminded of Dylan here: whatever they’re up to, ‘its not wallpaper.’ Shelley moved towards the impenetrable, shifting expectations by removing closure commas, staying on the side of grammar but posing something unacceptable to the reader not wanting to think recursively.

‘The extreme hope, the loveliest and the last,/The bloom, whose petals nipped before they blew/Died on the promise of the fruit, is waste.’

Shelley is asking the reader to puzzle with him, and reminds us again that language isn’t always, nor essentially, communication, but keeping a difficult score."

"So too the poems track dark nights of the soul where if we’re lucky it’s ‘the smaller death drive today, a near tendency’ and that nearness is the key, as if Fowler is drawing everything from a distance into a circle of reach, his ‘close shaves’ are those at hand and the dark enchantments he extracts are ways of bringing everything, no matter how huge and distant into his circle of intent. If anyone can restore the price of the stumbling block to poetry then Fowler, devouring whole the evil spirits in his figures and tropes, is our best last bet. An abbreviated tour of this road trip reveals the considered will of his haunted poems, the spectral momentum that comes with the names of animals and the numerous maledictions of children and child birth, as if birth was the fault and the gift immersed in the primal, maledicted horror of poetry’s elemental violence.

Our blind activities are overheard as chunks of patter in a public space. It’s like we get what Bruno Ganz’s angel in ‘Wings of Desire’ hears before he resigns himself to the voracity of the human: ‘… painted pink dips, the day of the dead… liver fluke packing ready bags…not born children… elicited sympathy… apart growing closer slower… frosted grass.. the recent meat… non-homo… empty space… new towns like Swindon… off limits… water rats… bear traps… salmon… ghosts of the civil dead… cut bone and cocktails… deaf dolphins… my human skull… cat’s paw… prison… Vietnam doubt/death/debt, bleeding nose and raw potato… comets… a lost jelly eye… your own regret/in gardens… further nosebleeds… vigilante justice… auditioning in szerz/with michelle wilde… born again, born again… the eyes of children… cutting off people’s heads… the venus nebula/is ever expanding… the gypsy wound… a tomb of trinkets… a baby dies in Bristol (if)… thinly veiled my dog is on the fellows… a baby is cruel… muslim.. is a hard hunter… eats the bed… god himself before social services let him down… Cristy’s clit… morals not changed from 2013 years ago in the middle eastern desert… baby mutu… the baby of the north… an alcoholic, unemployed + eating the fatty foods like chops… not good news, not good + abortion… choosing between money and life… the English longbaby made chain/mail redundant… baby men have always had murderers + mistresses… baby in the bath… baby bullet… bad parenting where the baby grows up to be a duck… baby bowie… she runs where once she crawled… a baby being made in the oven… a shoal of baby Orcas… butter my brother says/is very tatty… she’s descended/from sunflowers which is a bath of balls… death throes is not a dance… as ephemeral as it is a colon is not a delusion… day of the dead parade sober… figure hush in the crib… saw to Ealing as a planet earth… a Tetris elephant… the butt of an Angolan rifle smashed the natural eye from his head… older/in the last white sun… horsepower colonies… a filial son, how long would you like to fight? You pick your terms… weeping & smiling fits of those still asleep… Kaspars still dead is missing strings… a victimless act of catharsis… I have not killed a day so small… his black dolphin… spectre of miniature women… a nightmare about a millipede /with pistons… I sniffed the crotch the other girl soiled her underwear… the doctor stands by/fondling the crease… a sheep floats, is all but eight months old, into a black rubber bag… ancient karian on a bier east greek strictly frontal stance… quarter naked who dwarf… my prostation at gunpoint/& a small one… the rains of Castemere… Tatar. tamerline eats babies… slug trails… the will fall blinded…’ These voices convulse with disclosures that come from what is left behind, or is destiny, or a hiding for nothing. Fowler catches the protean energies that tune our sentiments and reasons: he’s showing us the decomposed contagions of our lively souls, their desire to touch and be touched without pacification."

an interview with Polly Dickson for King's Review

"What a poem can ‘do’ is accelerate the complexity, accelerate the density of life and existence, which is essentially complex and adversarial, and therefore make people who are aware of that feel more at home in the world. The actual thing, the actual block, the actual piece of poetry, it won’t make you feel better. It shouldn’t make you feel better. But when you experience it, it should make you realise that you’re not alone in knowing that things might be hopeless. There might be no point to everything. And that’s okay, because other people feel that way too, and I think that’s very beautiful, but it takes a kind of care and patience to get to that most people are really not interested in. They just want poetry to give them this glow, this tingle in their spine. The world’s full of shit that makes people feel I’m okay. You’re not okay, fucker! You’re gonna die! That’s the real root of it, and this is one of the few mediums that I think is supposed to be about that."

a new reveiew of the Rottweiler's guide ... by Colin Lee Marshall on Intercapillary Spaces

http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/sj-fowlers-rottweilers-guide-to-dog.html

 

But it is more typically through modifications to language itself that Fowler unsettles the act of easy assumption. At the end of the poem ‘Scent’  (via the rendering of a hairdresser’s comment, only partially overheard) the modifications are orthographical:

[…] “…exicans have been decapitating
peeple for thousands of years
it doesn’t mean there,
what it means here.”

The aphaeresis of “…exicans” is a sly lexical analogue to the decapitations to which the text refers—assuming, of course, that we take “…exicans” to be an aphaeretic rendering of “Mexicans”. Irrespective of whether we make this readerly decision, and supply the missing ‘M’, the sense of violence, of complicity in what things “mean”, and of ultimate detachment from what they are is insurmountable. This is further reinforced by the fact that “peeple" are being decapitated, and not ‘people’. ‘Peeple’ and ‘people’ are homophones (what looks like it should be a diphthong in the standard spelling isn’t) and as such, whoever overheard the hairdresser’s words would not have been able to infer any orthographical difference by sound alone. Contextually, the subtle de-anthropomorphic tweak makes perfect sense, given the implication that the value of human life is lower in the culture in question than it is in the “here” of the utterance; but the homophony preserves the problem of whether we are to read this as satire, or as a straight-faced semantic downgrade—a problem compounded by the ambiguity as to whether these are words cognized as heard, words cognized as (vicariously) spoken, or words that have been tinkered with at the extradiegetic level. Regardless, the text aims deliberately to upset the facile imputation of the spoken words—and perhaps, by extension, any facile imputations that we might be tempted to make upon reading it.

 

a pre-eulogy to Tomas Tranströmer

Reading over this review I wrote of Tomas Tranströmer's second collected poems in 2011, it rather seems I was alluding to the volume being a pre-eulogy, and so reading it now, just after the great poet's death, it feels appropriate to repost it, in tribute to his life's writing.

http://www.swedishbookreview.com/show-review.php?i=329

".... Mortality has always been a fundamental theme of Tranströmer’s work and in the tone and subject of these slight poems, one could even compare these final works to that of the Buddhist monk’s death poems, solemn, accepting and imperceptibly wry.

The funerals keep coming
more and more of them
like the traffic signs as we approach the city"

Rottweiler's guide ... reviewed in Poetry London : Spring 2015

Pleased to hear, as a surprise, that Adam Piette reviewed my 2014 collection the Rottweiler's guide to the Dog owner in the latest spring issue of Poetry London. I shan't lie, being attributed Mayakovskian bounce pleases me deeply. I've had Mayakovsky's 'A few words about myself' stuck to my wall, ripped from an anthology, for five years, next to my bed. The opening lines, 'I like to watch children dying,' Anyway, get the new Poetry London, a fine magazine indeed.

http://poetrylondon.co.uk/magazine/spring-15

Review of the Rottweiler's guide to the Dog Owner by Jonathan Catterall in the Wolf magazine : issue 31

Considering the prodigious work of SJ Fowler, I find myself wondering whether I (and the rest of the poetry world) aren’t maybe subject to a brilliant and utterly benign hoax? In the first place surely one man can’t, in four years, with five collections, and hundreds of collaborations, with hundreds more shows, events curated and web-pages written for the leading online magazine 3 AM as its Poetry Editor, not to mention a flourishing mixed martial arts background, a doctoral thesis bubbling under with said Carol Watts, a course in avant-garde poetry he’s just beginning to deliver at the Poetry School, and a job at the British Museum, just be one man? Does he cook too?

And secondly, because try as I might, with antennae quiveringly extended, I can’t, reading his latest collection, The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner, quite grasp many of the poems, the mystery of their underlying principles of construction, or explain to myself, initially at least, why I find them so goddamn superb. Yet finding, occasionally, poems among those impenetrable ones which seem completely transparent in meaning, makes me feel like an idiot who ought to ‘get’ the rest. So let’s wrestle awhile with this Renaissance uomo, this human dynamo, this arch-channeler of the Zeitgeist, setting to one side whether the S and J are identical twins or an entire collective, in deference to a Barthesian insistence on the text(s) being father to the man. In their exquisite phrasing, their ear for the sublime and the ridiculous, their seemingly frictionless absorption not only of the Poundian mien but, according to the Poundian mantra, all human life, Fowler’s poems at their best are jewelled masterpieces, constructions that thrill with endless possibilities and no one dominating as in ‘Unicorn Baby Shower’:

unison singing future family folkbank
a herd of buffalo’s trying to fly is AIDS apparent heir
we’d never go to marry new york when it was enough for
mexico
heat & even the women said she looked beautiful dressed
as curbs of terror
are all the more risk of horror now
DON’T RUIN it


Even the apparent typo of ‘buffalo’s’ here is intriguing as to its purpose, those wayward buffalos being sternly corralled by the capitalised and underlined announcement on one of the frontispiece pages that ‘ALL ERRATA IS INTENTIONAL’ (itself a slyly self-mocking grammatical error).
In tone mandarin, limpid, hard-edged, amused but curiously accepting and resonant, Fowler’s poems are redolent of the early Pound of Lustra, seeming almost to find their subjects as luminous details by the wayside, yet wiped clean of Pound’s belittling scorn and democratised for the twenty-first century. More surreal than Pound though, elements occasionally seem to belong to a decidedly private language. Unlike the approach of Watts, where one is cast straight among the wonderful tendrils of language as if bathing, swimming for a shore that is always shifting, arrived at for just long enough to catch one’s breath, only to recede, I return to the jewel metaphor for Fowler. I think of surfaces, endless reflections. Depths that are found only by living with the jewel-poem and returning to it, until one’s imagination perhaps projects something into the crystalline structure.
                                             Jonathan Catherall

2014<

Dear friends, happy new year. The happenings of 2014, a bit of an epic email. It’s been another immense year, and more than ever before I have to express my debt of thanks to collaborators & friends, one + the same, who have helped me so.

In April I had the chance to visit Iraq through the Highlight Arts project in Erbil, collaborating with Iraqi and Kurdish poets and reading at the Niniti Literature Festival. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/reel-iraq/

In October I visited Hay Xalapa and the Cervantino festival in Mexico thanks to the British Council. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/hay-xalapa-cervantino-mexico

In June I launched my sixth poetry collection, the Rottweiler’s guide to the Dog Owner with Eyewear publishing http://www.stevenjfowler.com/the-rottweilers-guide-to-the-dog-owner/ The book had a commendation from the Forward prizes.

Thanks to Creative Scotland, in July I toured Scotland with the Auld Enemies project, with over 40 poets involved over 7 readings from Edinburgh to Lerwick. There’s a documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8Pz-z8z8_w & all the videos, blogs and information http://www.stevenjfowler.com/auld-enemies/

In September I toured Ireland with the Yes But Are We Enemies? project and with Auld Enemies, it was one of the most extraordinarily warm and creative experiences of my life. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/yes-but-are-we-enemies/

In June I toured through the Baltic countries, reading in Vilnius and Talinn and performing a new conceptual piece for the Free Riga festival http://www.stevenjfowler.com/free-riga-festival/ Thanks to the British Council.

In May I had the chance to participate in the Crossing Voices project in Venice, curated by Alessandro Mistrorigo and James Wilkes http://www.stevenjfowler.com/venice/

In August, in Liverpool, I was commissioned by Nathan Jones’ amazing Syndrome project to create a performance piece based on the use of Choros body movement mapping technology, and did so using Kyokushin Karate https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxeGbdAAHlM

In September I was the guest of Croatian PEN and read in Zagreb, thanks to Tomica Bajsic & Damir Sodan http://www.stevenjfowler.com/croatia/

In May I visited the Prague Microfest, thanks to the Czech Centre London, to perform with the TRYIE collective http://www.stevenjfowler.com/tryiecollective/

In March I performed at the Festina Lente sound poetry festival in Paris, curated by Martin Bakero, and held in a circus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xjIb3yalRM

In late August I read at the 9th international Novi Sad Literature festival in Serbia http://www.stevenjfowler.com/novi-sad-literature-festival/

I was shortlisted for the White Review prize in early 2014, for my story MueuM http://www.stevenjfowler.com/white-review-prize-mueum/ I performed the text at the Whitechapel gallery in August, in an evening curated by Holly Pester.

Across July, the Poetry in Collaboration exhibition, co-curated with Chris McCabe, was the Saison Poetry Library’s summer exhibition, drawing from contemporary and historical sources http://www.stevenjfowler.com/saisonexhibition/

In 2014, the Enemies project was behind over 50 events, with over 200 poets and artists, in multiple nations, in many new forms and spaces, and was supported by Arts Council England http://weareenemies.com/

I curated Camaradefest II in October, with 100 poets reading in 50 pairs, with brand new collaborative works being premiered.

In November the Kakania project began thanks to the Austrian Cultural Forum, with an amazing event at the Rich Mix. www.kakania.co.uk

During 2014 I was poet in residence at the extraordinary landscape architects J&L Gibbons, writing new sequences on soil & trees, the former published in a unique book of essays and reflections on the city of London & its earth http://thegreenerinfrastructure.tumblr.com/

Thanks to the Danish Cultural Agency and the Danish Embassy in London, the Fjender project, a Danish Enemies project took place in March & April. I read & exhibited in Copenhagen, the Fjender event at the Rich Mix in London was a great success, and Morten Sondergaard’s extraordinary Wordpharmacy exhibition at the Hardy Tree, running throughout March, also featuring a reading, was brilliant.

In July I curated a night of new artworks and literature responding to the life and legacy of Bohumil Hrabal for Czech Centre London, called Cabaret Hrabal, at the Horse Hospital. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6HysePkAY0

I co-curated an exhibition with Tom Jenks celebrating the avant object press Zimzalla in October at the Hardy Tree gallery in London, which featured two readings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UauBZpo9vY

I was pleased to teach two new courses for the Poetry School, Maintenant & Vanguard, both of which explored avant garde poetry post WWII, in Europe and Britain respectively. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/poetryschool/ Both courses were full & extraordinary experiences for me. An interview here with Sarah Dawson with the Poetry School http://campus.poetryschool.com/maintenant-interview-s-j-fowler/

In February I launched a pamphlet called Whale Hunt with Annexe press, thanks to Nick Murray, launching it thus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saUebKuHKao

In June I performed at the Museum of Water, at Somerset House, thanks to Penned in the Margins, protesting water cannon policy by trying to drown myself in a shallow bowl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqpJDPBp7gw

The first Mopha collective performance took place at the Rich Mix Theatre in late September http://www.stevenjfowler.com/mopha

I collaborated with the videoartist Joshua Alexander to produce the first of a series of videopoem collaborations, Animal Drum http://vimeo.com/105849417 with footage taken from a performance at the Science Museum.

The Hubbub residency at the Wellcome Trust began in October, and I contributed to the Being Human festival in November http://www.stevenjfowler.com/the-hub-residency-at-the-wellcome-trust/

I had an essay featured in the amazing Mount London anthology from Penned in the Margins. My collaboration with Sam Riviere was also featured in Penned’s ten year anniversary anthology, Marginalia

I had the chance to read in Sheffield for the first time, at Banks Street Arts, for the Midsummer poetry festival, thanks to Agnes Lehoczky, in June https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IFrkTk6s5E

I had the chance to speak at the Poet as a Boxer event at the Saison Poetry Library in February

As poet in residence of the Translation Games project, I was live writing during the Saison Poetry Library special event in March

In March I curated a special Camarade event in Edinburgh for the Hidden Door festival, in the cities abandoned arches.

An event celebrating the work of Tim Atkins, and his marvellous collected Petrarch poems from Crater press was one of the year’s highlights http://blutkitt.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/petrarch-celebration-of-tim-atkins_29.html

A Slovakian Enemies project took place at the Freeword centre in November 

Wrogowie: a Polish Enemies project, took place at the Rich Mix in London in February https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=us2sNV3kDDE

An event was held in February to celebrate the work of Bill Griffiths, coinciding with the launch of a second volume of his collected poems from Reality St. press.

I was happy to read the work of Jiang Tao and Ming Di at an event celebrating contemporary Chinese experimental poetry at the Poetry Café in June.

A special Camarade event was held for the Interrobang bookfair in November 

As poetry editor of 3am magazine I published two dozen poets in 2014 http://www.stevenjfowler.com/3am-magazine & a few issues of Maintenant, most notably with Ukrainian avant gardist Volodymyr Bily

I published a special feature on collaboration for Cordite magazine with new works and an essay

3 poets were published as part of the Anglaise Actuelle project with Recours au Poeme magazine, new translations of contemporary British poets into French       

I had sound recording profiles up at Tapin2 (France) and Phonodia (Italy)

Visiting Hannah Silva in research residence at the British Library we had an interview / discussion, excerpted here http://hannahsilva.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/the-prolific-myth-interview-with-sj-fowler/

I was part of the first Penned in the Margins podcast with Hannah Silva, Siddhartha Bose and Tom Chivers, recorded here https://soundcloud.com/pennedinthemargins/sets/penned-podcast-1-poetry-and

I was on BBC radio 3’s Free thinking talking about boxing and poetry http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03t0d9 

I was happy to read for the BAMS Modernism Now conference thanks to JT Welsch in June https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXuC4AdG7m8

& to read for Akerman Daly at the London Artbook fair at the Whitechapel gallery, celebrating Fabian Peake, in September.

& to read to celebrate Antonio Claudio Carvalho’s POW series at the Juggler in Hoxton, London, in June https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKmnFmUI0B0

I was privileged to read at the launch of the wonderful Coin Opera 2 anthology in November https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8XAoLotL1g

Thanks to the editors of Gorse magazine, Colony, the Bohemyth, the Honest Ulsterman, the Morning Star, Huellkurven, the Wolf, the Quietus, Test Centre & others.

& heartfelt thanks to everyone who made the year such a memorable one, I’m grateful for all the generosity and hospitality that’s been visited upon me. 2015 will be better yet, plans to follow. Best wishes to you all, Steven

2 new poems up on the new issue of Cordite from Australia

http://cordite.org.au/ Really happy to be in Cordite for a second issue running. This one is edited by Corey Wakeling and is themed on constraints. Some incredible poets in the issue, Emily Critchley, John Wilkinson et al, and as ever with Cordite, its a sprawling, ambitious engagement with the theme.

You can read Corey's intro here http://cordite.org.au/essays/constraint-editorial/

My poem Split here http://cordite.org.au/poetry/constraint/split/
My poem No limit to the resources http://cordite.org.au/poetry/constraint/no-limit-to-the-resources/




a review of Yes But Are We Enemies? Cork by Rosie O'Regan on Sabotage reviews

"Yes, but are we enemies is the intriguing title for a refreshingly eclectic group of touring and local  poets. The TDC (Theatre Development Centre) at Triskel was a very suitable venue for this well attended event in Cork. It’s about twenty by sixty feet of windowless dark grey painted stone and concrete with a modest but adequate lighting rig. I call it the cave. It’s perfectly conducive for intimate happenings in theatre and poetry alike. All in all there were about fifty bums on seats (that’s bums attached to legs and spines as opposed to bus shelters and park benches) and another fifteen or so leaned on the wall or sat on a platform at the back, an impressive turnout for an experimental poetry gig.
Steven J Fowler and Christodoulos Makris who have co-curated the Irish leg of this innovative and ambitious project, graciously introduced the evening. S.J Fowler has already brought the project to four other countries, his stated aim being to encourage experimentation through poetry in collaboration, to question how we read or listen to poetry and to find new ways of composition. The Irish poets, Ailbhe Darcy, Billy Ramsell and (Dublin-based) Christodoulos Makris, along with English poets Patrick Coyle, Sam Riviere and S.J Fowler, are now coming to the tail end of the Irish tour  which has included Belfast, Derry, Galway, Cork and Dublin. It will finish in London on Saturday the 27th at 7pm at the Rich Mix Arts Centre. In each city they visit, they are joined by six local poets. The collaborative combinations are ever changing, so each event, while relating to the theme, is its own animal.....
The person responsible for inspiring so many excellent poets with the undoubtable worthy concept ‘Yes, but are we enemies’ was next to take the stage. Steven J.Fowler was joined by Ailbhe Darcy. They delved into the theme of a nuclear holocaust, managing to lighten the severity of their subject with a dark wit. Ailbhe spoke ‘imagination is the worst part of torture’, to which Steven quipped ‘the redemption’. I saw a mischievousness in Ailbhe. Steven had a steady self assuredness, ‘one golden boy’ appearing totally at ease with his audience. I wasn’t quite sure where the poetry was taking me, however. Like I said my attention span was wavering. I did feel safe in their hands and took this line home, ‘inundated by rude people as though we were computers and they numbers’.
Christodoulos Makris and Sam Riviere engaged in a clever letter writing exchange. It was a game of top dog that lightened the mood and inspired much laughter from the audience. ‘What is the use in talking to people who think they know better?’ None I suppose, but listening to two trying to prove the same is entertaining. When one of them piped up with ‘ignoring women is the only thing that turns me on’, I thought to myself, now that’s good comedy. Why? Because with some women it might just be a good strategy. I was happy to be introduced to Christodoulos and Sam, two new voices. Their straight talking made the overall experience a bit more playful around the concept of ‘enemies’. ‘savages come from everywhere’, yes indeed and ‘every arrival is the story of a departure’.
Patrick Coyle and Billy Ramsell were a great combination to round off proceedings. They put the performance into the poetry that was perhaps a little lacking with others who relied solely on reading from the page. Patrick had an energy to him that was buzzing. He was having so much fun himself that it couldn’t not be felt. ‘Oh de do da day’ yay! His approach was spontaneous in that he incorporated seven syllables from every other reading of the night to his, ‘do da do da’ and when he took out his smart phone, used the taping tone of the digits to emphasise a line, I was fully with him. I relished in the daftness of ‘orange rhymes with orange’ and ‘these camp-town racists who sing that song, oh de do da’ gay racists? I suppose it takes all kinds of enemies to make this special, spatial planet. Billy Ramsell who probably won’t like me at all for putting his name after that last sentence was a worthy candidate to end with. No one else enunciates quite so deliberately. He gives every word its full shape, started into his poem slowly, tasted the snap of every consonant, then gradually found himself swaying, eyes closed and words flowing. It was about memory, memory extraction, harvesting and transfer. It was memorable."

Richard Marshall reviews the Rottweiler's guide to the Dog Owner on 3am magazine

A very humbling, incredibly generous piece of criticism from Richard Marshall. An artwork in itself that supersedes my book in places. http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/the-rottweilers-guide-to-the-dog-owner-2/

"There’s no point in arguing against poetry like Plato did – not just because it would be barbaric but because we might say something forgivable and convincing. A pataphysicist might suggest reverting to inconsistencies just in case the imagination might addle. Which comes to asking : what’s best? – Useless information? Anxiety? Historical solutions awaiting their problems? Nihilist somethings for cute materialists? Poetry that is about the yearning for a moment you missed and couldn’t ruin, poetry that goes to an imagined community of real people who rightly fear the known, poetry that reverses justice, becoming the carrot with the stick taken out, poetry that comes out of bars as philosophy, that never forgets nor forgives Eliot, that is taller, that from afar can be mistaken for tomorrow and from a distance yesterday and from here neither yesterday nor tomorrow nor either proven until false nor shown to be true, poetry that is always losing the connecting verb, that arrives incognito by mistake, that, given a presupposition of well-being and confidence, resists opinions and clings instead to the inward silent atmospheres of Werner Herzog and Bowie’s ‘Heathen’/’Reality’/’Outside’, leaving a distant recorded message because it’s caught in traffic wanderlust or some indeterminate clause… the binaries all left undone and untidy. Somewhere SJ Fowler is sitting quietly at his desk avoiding the bands of deconstructionists on the march. His poems are strange arguments with conclusions missing the middle, are jealous myths that wish they didn’t know where they came from, where men ‘… are forever praying death/against one another’ and only the dead know the end of war.

Stephen Yablo quotes a joke from Wilde that gives a crank to his philosophy but also to Fowler’s poetry so far as we ask: what’s the subject ie what’s it about? So Wilde asks for a subject to pun and someone says ‘The Queen’ and straight back Wilde rebukes; ‘The Queen is not a subject.’ So Yablo riffs on this to show it’s a subtle distinction between Queen and the concept of ‘the Queen’ that’s in play, and the pun plays with just that and in doing so shows that what something is about doesn’t bring with it everything it contains. To talk about the Queen is not to talk about the concept QUEEN, even though it seems that you’ve got to have the concept to talk about that, ie that one, her, the doxie there! So what Yablo has recently argued is that we take too lightly the subject matter of what is being said. Theories of meaning have tended to ignore this matter and yet it’s what we need if we’re to make any sort of sense of sense. Sometimes often it’s only what its about that makes a sentence make sense as a kind of remainder subtracted from logical space. Rules of combination – fusing semantics and syntax, cry out for more and ‘aboutness’ is the missing factor.
Put another way, George Szirtes writes of Fowler’s poems as dealing with: ‘ … disjunctions and interjections. They present us with a world that moves fast and often violently , where the lyrical impulse flowers, breaks and flowers again, too briefly to assert its full syntactic argument. We have to trust our ears, both the music and the rush of fragments. Individual poems and sequences deal with personal feelings, with politics, and, are often engaged with other writers, other places. Fowler’s poetics are an open space packed with brilliant intensities. The reader has to live among them not to get blown away.’

Fowler’s aboutness is a fragmenting that gives us secret aboutness, a partial truth in every shard of language – partial in Yablo’s sense that part of it is true, cocooned in falsehood or secreted in irrelevance. So instead of building up into a big picture via the fragments – as earlier modernism did – Fowler’s fragments need to be reduced, constantly subtract parts of themselves – ‘eg so much/noise/at home’ is reduced to ‘(love; too brief)’. How the hell to know what the algorithm is for the reduction? But the line’s meaning shoots out in the opposite direction to how we might read Pound who over 50 years built and built up. Instead, Fowler’s cutting a content down to size, takinge back a subject matter out of the heap of cholera and cholera fly. The poems are the result of a studied logical subtraction with variations on the theme going to a silent intensity.
So Fowler’s allusive content comes out of sentences that overstate, shoots over and then pulls back from its noise, or winds out of a great dark pool lines like gleaming fish that dazzle briefly before falling back into a massy dark. We end up with fragments that are the end result of these processes rather than the foundations for something yet to come. This poetry is happening and gone. Whilst knowing that every thought is someone else’s and our passions are quotations Fowler is hanging on to what he’s about, deftly reinventing what Eliot noted of Milton, that ability to make each sentence ‘… an active complication, a complication deliberately introduced into what was a previously simplified and abstract thought.’ Sometimes something in the line is a part of that and other times it’s a mere consequence. New subject matter can change what you know and presuppose and so forth. Fowler’s aesthetic works with this, shaping his images into situations of deliberate functional obscurity.

‘There are more than twenty poems here’ implies there are numbers. Assertive content become’s whatever is left after identifying the subject matter. An anti-Platonist doesn’t think numbers exist. But she can say ‘there are more than twenty poems’ by focusing on the subject matter, the poems and dividing through to them, subtracting any commitment to there being numbers. Something is bridging the gap between literal content and what is being said. That’s what Fowler is doing. Who knows what’s making the trick work as poetry, but it does. There’s nothing stranger than what we say is what he says in his poems. It’s not clear any appeal to context is going to resolve what is happening. It’s not forced by the semantics of the words but it’s an elective process that readers engage with to work out what’s the matter. We have to enrich the content along the way that it’s already going and that’s always going to be a matter of tuning in and picking up on the atmosphere.

We hear things that conventional meaning disallows. We hear them in the night, on the streets, on tired trains and fucked dawns, and over that last, too long dream or drink. We hear the sentences and we hear extra things but the sentences don’t have in them the possible meaning we find are there. Eg ‘the dancing bear/teaches hibernation/how useful/on such a long journey’ – how do we know this is saying something the words disallow, or which is the truth surrounded by falsehood? Is there an incremental content – some adding to what was already understood – but there’s a sense in which incremental content only works with implications. But the assertive content is not part of the implied content or the presupposed content. The meaning is the result of that twisty dance from convention to elsewhere. Sometimes he’s pivoting off a presupposition and we have to follow. You pivot too far then there’s no way of grasping what is happening. But that can be ok when the primary thing isn’t to say but maybe to guide an atmosphere. Perhaps its best when metaphoric content needs explaining. This is poetry from a last chance saloon where it’s before the dawn and the drink and despair is thick on your soul.

Fowler’s in a world of dark play and his make-believe things specify what is to guide the imagination. The poems have a content dictated by props and rules based on properties of the props – the list is protean e.g. ‘ road, travel, perfumier, doctor, cat cancer, afterbirth, ambergris, lid, eye, hartpoon, whale, tourists, horse skin, cooking meat, animal shit, coffin pine, pommel horse, cruel portion, skips, blue overalls, young girls, red scarves, plaster casts of Venus, fruit stall, charred apples, orange steam, old woman, army coat …’ it is vast. Other writers emerge out of the dim lights and are allowed to float as gentle reminders that we’re playing with the world as it shudders. And the more we understand the world the harder everything else becomes. You could just enjoy meditating what could be the case and comparing it with the actual and how things would be different if there were fewer or longer adjectives. Or it might help to shed light on the properties of the props. You look to what is to be imagined to look to the real life. Where would I have to be to license that ceilings are horror, or answer the direct question, ‘how do you cope with your past?’ It’s what you have to plug into and what it gives you, to get what comes out of your mouth and the truth of it as something that’s more than just ordinary consternation. Sometimes the shortest lines are too long because so loaded with terror or pain of regret.

Fowler: ‘tomorrow it will be herbs/on the moon’. This alerts us to Wittgenstein; ‘it’s five o’clock on the moon’ which we should understand, everything in it makes sense, but the combination is senseless, so we don’t. Yablo quotes an Einstein story to illustrate – I loosely recall it:

‘Man: I don’t understand how telephones work.
Einstein: Think of a giant dog with its head in Hamburg and its tail in Munich (or wherever). The message goes from the head to the tail.
Man: But it’s the wireless phone I don’t get.
Einstein: The same only without the dog.’

Wittgenstein’s explains the intention to lift your arm as lifting your arm but without the arm going up. There’s some kind of pretence going on. And we don’t know what to make of these but the strangeness is that we seem to know what literal content would require and what it would be to know what is being said. ‘Five o’clock on the moon’ is that sort of illusion. In our everyday world it’s strange but totally normal. In Fowler he finds it out as a tricky process, as in: ‘ I bring you seaweed/emotional/ and yet, you just want tea…/ this will not work out’ and what we always have to do is see that something is being pivoted from literal understanding and it gets us somewhere else, includes a whole lot of things with a single sentence, like a whole lot of metaphorical meanings from a single sentence, where the person giving seaweed is like giving tea but without actually giving tea. And there’s the distress of our modern world where what we want is to be at peace without, you know, stopping war. Like wanting war to be lost in the post. Fowler: ‘today there are hands I love/ yesterday it was an ape’ Piggybacking on a pretence (hands I love – His? Hers?) and pivot on a presupposition (All men are apes, all lovers, all are barbarians outside love). There are missing links that are crying out, but from outer space – these are, after all, poems and there’s nothing required here except some occasion being created to allow us to plug in props so the game can begin. And you can’t pretend if all you’re doing is describing what the game would be, saying ‘this is a hold up’ without pointing your finger like it’s a gun and without expecting the others to stick their hands up – or start firing back. Poetry is where living works even if the end of the world is in the next minute. This is what the last scene of Lars von Trier’s ‘Melancholy‘ shows.

Fowler’s poetry is sometimes just brinkmanship with prose, as life is with suicide, walking with falling over. Sometimes his poetry is prose. The sections of prose are form without form, which is to say they have form in the same way that prison cells have ‘breathtaking views’. The worlds we extrapolate from Fowler’s world is what we might have already taken advantage of. There are certain ways that carry falsehoods which are compatible with them being true. We are being pushed beyond boundaries. One eyed poets dish it out but can’t see it back home, whereas Fowler is at home with the remainder, the stuff that is left when we just obtain what is right. He has ten eyes, like certain spiders. As in his question: ‘were it not for the spines/ would it rather not be a fish backwards?’

Each poetic fragment is a life gesture: a life gesture is unambiguous, perfect in itself, and yet is hollowed out by what Lukacs, writing about Kierkegaard, says: ‘The gesture alone expresses life: but is it possible to express life? Is this not the tragedy of any living art, that it seeks to build a crystal palace out of air, to forge realities from the insubstantial possibilities of souls, a bridge of forms between men? Can the gesture exist at all, and has the concept of form any meaning seen from this perspective of life?’ – so many times there are moments when Fowler in a flash of energy catches the shape of a disappeared gesture: ‘ an easy way to loose a leaf/to drag bird shaped rocks from coal, as a cloud/& assuming , nothing will now abstain from grief/& mischief filth/a lost dog still must ‘strain its greens’/as fingers that remain attached/were not meant to remain/clean/moving in, as a profession marching/& now not to bring sheets/but plenty for the stuffing/the greened/unbroken//& brown flitter, the dropped/Water/a mattress made of what is dead’… here in this brief extract there is in some ways the backdrop, the gesture, the dire multiplicity of a concrete life presented as a place where monumentality has ended in psychology and materialism, a fist of shitty stuff and an allure that is mortally wounded, maybe dead, certainly unseeable. In Fowler we go to the gym ‘to learn how to fall…’
Class is what you need to beat people who look like you at the moment they’re making you disappear. There are poems where we have the characters, plots, asides but no one’s fat enough to be playing the part of Jerusalem. This is where he’s playing, in a fictional place , ‘… at the start/ of Alien on the eve of Prometheus… ‘ where great beauty is being timed by incoming horror. You don’t need to be a cannibal to know clowns taste funny. We read; ‘is it remarkable how much pain the bodies can endure?/the spiny po/cket puffer granade/the oligarch, raping the maid…’ You know these lines are squaring up to the crapola of our dissolving world and then going out, further than the premise, and we know it’s about that maid and that oligarch and then all of them.

What’s Fowler about? Burial at sea will fuck over anyone wanting to dance on your grave. There are two styles: the one we read and the one we can’t. Who knows whether the invisible ink ran out? Die quietly sleeping, not screaming like your passengers. Fowler knows the quickest way to the heart is with something sharp enough. What kind of an achievement is it to have a disease named after you? These poems don’t always care what they’re about but sometimes they’re about what else they could have been about, like the way men aren’t interested in the programme they’re watching but the programmes they’re missing. We’re all approaching a certain age but god knows from which direction; our time is nothing if not ambiguous. Well, we know that writing’s a mug’s game because you’re never as good as what can’t be written. Some poets don’t get writer’s block and can write anytime – best choose early 20th century –or Elizabethan/Jacobean.
I deliver my criticism in earnest – they’d prefer it in prose. Whoever discovered milk from cows raises the creepy question of motivation. Fowler is deadpan: ‘sarcastic Chinese/asking/why…milk?/ because of breats/& because udders just hang there’. Fighting fire with fire ain’t what the fire brigade are looking for. Fowler isn’t looking to put out any fire. If the world is bleeding he knows it’s because that’s what it’s for. That doesn’t mean he likes it. Some things you need a reason; other things a place. When it gets too cold flashers just draw a picture and hope the thrill carries in the line. Morality, recall, is like art in that it means drawing a line somewhere. It’s a cold time in the world and it’s all about money, disease and violence. No beauty therapy took place in a museum nor library. Beauty’s not truth. So Fowler, amidst chaos, works a fresh modernism with a gimlet eye, hard and flash, and the intention of high serious calling, the poet who knows ‘this is this’, our idiot mortal dangerman. His ‘aboutness’ is the curse of prayers being answered.

Fowler shuffles his business cards to cause discomfort. If they don’t want poetry to do more than entertain then what are they saying?- the rape, sodomy and drug addiction they can get at home? The peril of the modern time is a clear conscience. It catastrophically indicates memory loss. Ever asked how many poets stop writing one day because they don’t know how to conclude? Not enough. Fowler resists the call of the age to be temporary and new. He has discovered – or is in the process of doing so – a way of not being new, of not being a beginning. To be satisfied with just being the start of something, to not draw a conclusion, that is the pitch of what Kierkegaardian derision labeled the ‘premiss-author.’ Fowler is an anti-premiss author.

When Eliot said ‘Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality’ he made sure that what was being subtracted remained as its hinterland: ‘But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.’ It’s like snoring: if you’re going to, do it whilst not asleep. Or else like what Van Gough took from Dickens, which was that an artist should use the model but not make it the purpose. Fowler has an enormous capacity to resist spectatorship, to take instruction from the modernist moment. One element is done as Rimbaud: ‘one must be absolutely modern’ and ‘inventions from the unknown demand new forms’; and Marinetti : ‘Why should we look back?’ ‘destroy syntax’ and ‘parole in liberta’; and Hugo Ball ‘Poems without words’: whilst another element is done as Eliot, Pound, Rilke, Montale, as Saba arguing for an ‘… historical sense … not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence;’ ‘the poem that is absolutely original is absolutely bad; it is, in the bad sense, ‘subjective’ with no relation to the world to which it appeals;’ and Graves : ‘ …the divorce of advanced contemporary poetry from the common-sense standards of ordinary intelligence;’ and Yeats: ‘…this love of allusion;’ and Valery’s ‘I banish myself’ . Well, this is a wide learning curve, like he’s got a sequence of Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’ doing a thing thing of Rilke with a bunch of Acmeist stuff too ie Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Gumilev et al captured all at once and refusing to talk. Reading, you keep waking up each line, each word, with a jolt, so that the modernist poetics of a century is always there, in the margin that surrounds them, the special atmosphere he’s always asking to prove itself.

He also reverses modernism’s predilection for pride, elitism and self-indulgence (in this he’s the desert poet Dante with Virgil outside the city of Dis , the only place Virgil can’t enter unimpeded in the ‘Comedia’ imagine, the city of the Epicureans whose great sin is a damning intellectual pride) via the technique (cold word that, but you get the idea as in e.g. ‘disappearance of the poet as speaker’ in order, to quote Mallarmé, ‘… to unravel the word into qualities belonging to inner realms.’ For Pound technique is ‘ a test of a man’s sincerity’; for Stevens it extends to ‘ the poem of the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice’) of a partial intensity of feeling wrapped in one and a half truths. The universal intensity of the poetic machines Fowler runs is felt through what may well be superfluous, crazy, particular, peculiar and personal wiring. Fowler has adopted the paratactic method of Pound’s ‘Cantos’ – a process-orientated form of writing that stretches over great time that’s not ultimately about history but is rather a juxtaposition of various legacies – public and private, concerned and bottled, reminding me of the Scottish modernist MacDiarmid who wrote poetry as ‘.. a stand made against intellectual apathy/It’s material founded, like Gray’s, on difficult knowledge.’

As a rule I never get involved with possessed people but to be fair it’s more of a guideline than a rule. Like the rest of us, sometimes I worry about beige fanatics. ‘I told the truth once and they didn’t believe me so what the hell, I’m not telling anyone anything anymore.’ That’s actually the last line from ‘Lost in Translation’ that the actor Bill Murray says to the actress Scarlett Johansson. What we see is him whispering but we never hear the line. It is a secret that Murray revealed later in an interview. It is a heroic line, a fragment of reality that is possessed neither by the film nor its characters and yet finds a way, a realm that weaves a different history, time, existence, eloquence and reality into an elegant modernist spirit. Similarly ‘Fire Walk With Me’ was the name of the David Lynch sequel to the ‘Twin Peaks’ tv series. Lynch revealed that it was what Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper, had tattooed somewhere on his body in the film ‘Blue Velvet’. Hopper didn’t know this. It’s never shown in the film. Hopper, needless to say, had no such tattoo. It was Lynch’s secret. Both the secret Murray line and the secret tattoo add meaning to the world in a mysterious addition of aboutness. They are metaphors for the inward silence of poems, their atmosphere and sensibility. They are versions of hidden allusiveness. Allusion is a form of inheritance, as Christopher Ricks reminds us, that alleviates the poet’s loneliness.

What’s Fowler about? It’s impossible to generalise. You’re unique like everyone else. Language undermines itself, self reference conjures some a kind of spandrel. Will fake poetry fail if no one pretends to like it? Wanna look glamorous? Be symmetrical. We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know. I like long walks taken by other people. The mediocre are always at their best. You try and fall into the arms of poetry without falling into its hands. Best advice: be obscure clearly. No one is a vegetarian once they start leaning towards the light. I was his imaginary best friend, next door to Pete’s only twin. Live to 150 and you’re made – no one has ever died after that. Some things you wear just to know when you’re upside down. Some things you read to realize you were dying all along. I’m as loyal as my options. Most poetry is based on a dare. Don’t address the necessity of the superfluous.

If this is the poetry of film rather than music then it includes videogames. Topically we might mention Okinawa and Chris Marker’s film ‘ Level Five’ because the horror of that is just the kind of knowledge presupposed by Fowler throughout, as in e.g. ‘when a hole in them/like a tree syrup did leak out & they died’ . What the poems do is gather us the instruments – earlier I called them props – same thing – to investigate properties of our world. We know about modern war via its videogames: Marker’s film begins the necessary process of thinking hard about this. We know about oligarchs, people trafficking, modern slavery, darkpornographic history and empires through video games, action films and snuff documentaries. Fowler’s poems make us think hard about this condition. The video game and the film give us abstract mannerisms. They allow us to do something passively. Fowler wants a definite thought out there, against the inflexible empirical facts that we know and absorb and skip away from, wants the ‘faded mythology’ of Schelling that emerges in the fact, as Andrew Bowie puts it, that ‘…neither language nor mythology is consciously invented, but both are crucial to how sense is made of things. Metaphors give us one way of seeing what he means: some metaphors will be cashed in and become literal, but others live from the way they, as Davidson puts it, make us notice new things, even though we couldn’t say what they literally mean.’

Subject matter in Fowler comes within the blurred visions of logical space as if we are seeing this space from a distance. This cashes out the idea – we find it in Schelling, in Heidegger and that lot – of ‘ground’ and ‘light’. For Schelling language is grounded in a fixed number of signs but expands beyond the pure syntax rules of combination to be able to speak into the world where we actually are now. Heidegger’s dasein is a kind of ‘hello’, I’m here.’ The actual world is in some blurry cell near the world where the sentence is really really true. The actual condition of the subject matter is totally cool with it being totally true. Fowler is working in these distant logical spaces.

Puritanical attitudes towards truth miss what poets are doing in extremis and what the rest of us do all the time whenever we even just speak according to Stephen Yablo. Truth isn’t just a style, and there’s no need to be skeptical, but when truth puritans think only total truth is truth Yablo’s unhappy and compares them with kids who haven’t yet learned what Klein the child psychologist says they actually learned at about 4 months, that what pleases them and what doesn’t can be the same thing. This ends black and white thinking, which must be a kind of relearned fault education puts back on the table, the kind of thing we get in the kid who wants to know whether the Shrek donkey is good or bad, or the adults who want to know the same about Putin or whatever. We’re uncomfortable with this in the moral sphere, preferring nuance, but when it comes to truth there’s a black and white thing going on that seems regressive. Saying everything’s either true or not is, from this perspective, like being brilliant with people with hangovers over toast.

A poetry of partial truth isn’t used to downgrade truth. But what we have here is the William James thought that we need to let false beliefs in so we can get to true beliefs unobtainable without the falsehood. James wasn’t thinking that some truths come wrapped in falsehoods in the same sentence. But Yablo’s thought – that some propositions can’t be assrted if there is no sentence to express it – is that thought – like using numbers in a sentence without believing numbers exist, for example which is where we are overshooting the bar, saying something false in order to say it. The linguistic flux in Fowler isn’t that he’s forgotten the English language, as Leavis famously said of Milton, whose ‘… departure from the English order, structure and accentuation … produces passages that have to be read through several times before one can see how they go through…’. Fowler is continually pivoting and piggy-backing – whichever is required, relying on whatever will cue you in to the truth of the thing. The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner is funny because of what we know we are expected to know about Rottweilers ( huge sinister kill dogs), guides (sensible, over-focused doggy geek manuals) and owner’s of Rottweiler’s (huge sinister kill folk wannabees) but also we cue the fact that it’s poetry, where we can get, for quick starters, rot for a while and Kurt Weil which we can swiftly morph into a world where rotten time, Denmark, Hamlet, death,Threepenny Opera, Bowie singing ‘Port of Amsterdam’, all sorts of miracles, become the truths of the collection as a whole from the off. Is France hexagonal? Partly; it’s about an approximate shape minimizing non –overlap with minimal number of shapes to choose from. Same with the title.

Boundaries get shifted – ‘there’s nothing in the fridge’ stays true only so long as people don’t start shifting the line and counting the smear of butter, for example – boundaries shift readily out but not inwards. In Fowler there is the constant allusion to some things without them being the subject matter – ‘it is better to be a thing of wool/and rag/that provokes freedom from fear/than a golden couch that brings trouble and woe.’ The allusion is to the golden fleece of course but that fleece didn’t exist any more than Pegasus did. So its an impossible reference. Perhaps impossibility doesn’t entail impossible to certain constraints. Things are impossible in virtue of certain items. Bachelor is unmarried but being a male who’s unmarried doesn’t mean I have to to make it being about a bachelor. How can Fowler refer to the Golden Fleece if there isn’t one? Perhaps we’re talking about the poetic mental state so the part of reality we’re talking about is true. Or the golden fleece is a fleece in the same way as a wooden duck is a duck.

Yablo says translation schemes tell you in what world would make the model true and how it then maps onto the real. But the apple falls once; it doesn’t harbour the faster fall implied by the law of nature. There’s just one fall. Where gravity calls the shots Gallileo is right. But it never did here. Ever. Everything that exists plays a role and can be a disqualifying property. Pure maths is false but we want keep on saying things with numbers. But what’s the true part of pure math? Does a hand prove there is an external world? I lock the door so evidence that I didn’t is misleading. It’s five after five so I conclude the watch is accurate if it says it’s five after five. I’ll be reading Fowler next year so I won’t die before next year. The closure principle is that knowing a thing puts you in a position of knowing the entailments. Deduction extends knowledge. This where the fun starts trying to grasp the difficult knowledge in the poems, and how he stays fluid without the fatuity of smooth.

So Fowler: ‘the clumsy odd/a family friend for fourteen years/now plant stalks your daughter’ – so do you lose your nerve, pay respect to confident deduction, adding conjuncts – you know the implication before the implier? It’s already there, or what? Or is it outside? That is, are there things we should be presupposing that then we’ll pivot off, like a dancer, or piggy back onto, like Billy Childish playing dinasaurs with his boy? If you know a thing you know its parts. Unless someone throws in a new subject matter. Then new subject matter makes new vulnerable flanks of its meaning, so we have to be careful. Don’t add anything that would make it false; make sure what is added is added to make it true. Presuppostions in hearing this make it a very dark saying for there are now new ways for it being false. As Fowler comments, ‘this is not anxious to please the mob,/for what pleases them, it does not know,/and what it does not know is far removed from their comprehension.’ Fowler understands that in his poetic act there are dangerous counterpossibilities. We can be a witness to the odd etc but not more stuff ie the biographical detail implied entailed or just contingently the fact of the matter. What confirms the belief about ‘the clumsy odd’ isn’t all counterfactuals, because there are new possibilities they might give which we’re not talking about here. Fronting and backgrounding makes a difference to implication. ‘it knows that when flesh cries aloud,/not possessing flesh/it is unnatural that the mind should cry aloud too./ a silent stomach communicates in sweeping thoughts.’ What will calm each reading down is grasping what it’s about when read from another, truer space than this one.

For the line: ‘on the banks of the yellow & black/don’t live in leeds/beat quarter’ would Manchester be a counter-possibility? What if there is no beat-quarter in Leeds? Nevertheless the matter isn’t that but living. We can divide back and avoid the falsehood. The partial truth is the bit we care about. Let’s fudge what is being noticed here, what beliefs, a part is not assured if it requires greater sensitivity to new subject matter. I can have Leeds beat quarter without a beat quarter, or know it’s Leeds and it’s this way, it’s like this … without knowing whether there’s a beat quarter, whether this is it, whether it’s one of those ie a beat quarter.

All my dreams are not this lifelike. Allusion accommodates two way traffic when we draw on myths, as in, say, Pounds ‘Cantos‘ 39 and 47.

These restless poems are wondrous strange and mysterious. Fowler’s astonishing ‘Maintenant’ series of interviews with poets here at 3:AM gives his work a contemporary international and cosmopolitan flavour that adds to the excitement of the atmospherics in his works. As we’re told by the publisher’s: ‘The collection is made up of 13 different sequences or commissions, including works written for VerySmallKitchenZimzallaThe Enemigos projectLush and the Wortwedding gallery. The book also features works that call on, or celebrate, the poetry of Anselm HolloTom Raworth & Jack Spicer.’ This is a significant addition to his already impressive and growing oeuvre. There is much more going on in the poems than I’ve managed to chew on. There are going to be new things discovered on each reading . It’s about noticing closure features that weren’t counted first time round, like inverting cartoon image Nietzsche to eyebrows rather than moustache, for example. What I think I like best is the way Fowler manoeuvres the language to create patterns of impact rather than straightforward logical or grammatical sequence, and there’s a constant downward movement that seems brilliantly attuned to the inward silence his poetry is about.

London Review Bookshop - new & recommended poetry

http://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/on-our-shelves/on-our-tables/new-and-recommended-poetry

New and Recommended Poetry

Our pick of poetry. Here are six of our current favourites, as chosen by our poet in residence, John Clegg.
The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner

The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner

S. J. Fowler
From the publisher:
A groundbreaking, aberrant but ever ebullient love letter to those who deserve it, The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner refracts marriage, death, friendship, violence ...

The Rottweiler's guide to the Dog Owner launched

I was trepidatious about the launch of my new collection, the wine-ing of the event not being my normal outmode, but in the end it was a lovely evening, and I owe a debt of thanks to everyone who was kind enough to attend and buy a book and to those who brought it into physical form. It has been extraordinarily well produced and designed, don't think it could be better really, and the people at the London Review of Books were amazing too, John Clegg making me feel as at home as was also possible.http://www.eyewearpublishing.com/products-page/books/s-j-fowler/ Here's the vid