A note on: Poem Brut III at Rich Mix and smashing closed my exhibition

Another remarkable night for the Poem Brut events. There is a community forming around the notion of literary performance through these events which is warm and welcoming but is producing some challenging, though often very funny, poetry. It feels, though early in the Poem Brut project which took years to begin, that the concept of the events, like with The Enemies Project, has grand potential.

The event also saw the closing of my exhibition Hard to Read. It was a privilege to have space at the Rich Mix for a whole month, but the exhibition was a collecting of previous things rather than a showing of that which is new, so I felt I needed to close it down with something memorable. 

A note on : Learning to letterpress for 'Hard to Read' exhibition

Had a grand time at the London Print studio, on the grand union canal no less, learning how to manually work a letterpress and how to turn works into photopolymer plates, in order to create a limited edition run of pansemic poems and new minimalist poems for my upcoming exhibition Hard to Read, at the Rich Mix this December. www.stevenjfowler.com/hardtoread

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A note on: an interview with Jana Astanov, published on 3am magazine

http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/poetry-is-an-opportunity/ 

3:AM: I recently had the pleasure of reading your four collections of poetry: the latest “The Guide to Being Bear Aware”, Enthusiasm, published in 2015, The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner, from 2014, and your first book, Red Museum, published in 2011. How is “The Guide to Being Bear Aware” different from your previous works?

SJ Fowler: Thank you. I’m sorry you had to slog through four of the, one is normally enough for people. As you probably picked up, each one is very different from the next – different style, method, tone, subject. You couldn’t tell they are from the same person, I’ve been told that anyway, and I take that as a badge of honour. The language I reclaim from the world and plop down on the page is not supposed to represent me as an individual but just some of my mental activity and inquiry. The Guide is different as it’s a return to more literary ground, it’s more notably poetic. That’s because I only discovered poetry in 2010 and this kind of writing, post war European poetry, is what got me into the field. So for the first time I feel I’ve been reading that work long enough to let it speak out. And I’ve also been more active with really experimental pieces of performance, visual art and theatre over the last few years, and so I felt, organically, my poetry could be a little more lyrical.

3:AM: In this collection you begin most of the poems with quotes from a wonderfully curated list of European poets. Could you explain the concept behind this?

SJF: When I first began reading poetry I would take out huge anthologies from Senate House Library in London, big dusty things from the 60s, 70s, 80s that no one else was looking at, and I would spend all day reading them, stopping only to write down lines from poets, both known and obscure, that struck me intensely. It sounds untrue but back then I would read poetry for six or seven hours a day, I was so excited to have discovered it. So for this collection I raided this old word doc of stolen lines. I assigned the epigraphs randomly, often, and I know people hate epigraphs, they take it to be the poet being a prick, showing off their learning, so I thought if I put one for pretty much every poem that’d be quite funny. It’d also force people to look for meanings between the poem and the epigraph which perhaps don’t exist aside from their own analysis, which is also nice. .... CONT'D

 

A note on: Launching The Guide to Being Bear Aware at Swedenborg House

A beautiful room to launch my latest collection within, and in generous company, I turned out a performance with increasing levels of bear awareness, from a bear poster, to collaborating with my friend Emanuel the Bear, to bringing the room's bear to human ratio into line, to transforming myself into a bear. Very grateful to see so many friends there, to have Tony Frazer do such a fine job on my book and to read alongside the great John Hall. www.stevenjfowler.com/bearaware

A note on: appearing on Resonance FM with Jude Cowan Montague

I spent a fine hour talking with Jude Cown Montague as the only guest on her The News Agents show, a longstanding highlight of Resonance's saturday programming. Jude is a really interesting writer, poet and musician, check out this for example, amongst many things. We talked about hmmmmm The Anthropocene, Education, Animals, Snobbery, Ethical Perspective, Language, Consciousness, Mortality, Epigraphs, Russian Revolutionary poets and soooo many other things, including some talk of my new book, topically, The Guide to Being Bear Aware. It was a lovely experience and I'm hoping I don't sound pretentious, certainly Jude was anything but and even made a new piece responding to one of my epigraphs https://www.mixcloud.com/Resonance/the-news-agents-8th-april-2017/

A note on: Launching my new book at Arnolfini in Bristol

Another grand launch, the third of four, at the world renowned gallery Arnolfini in Bristol. I read alongside friends and peers Holly Corfield Carr, Paul Hawkins, Matti Spence and John Hall, who is a great influence on my work, and Phil Owen, who is a curator as well as a writer, and was immensely hospitable to us. Shearsman Books and Tony Frazer, the editor, were on site too, being local, and it was a inviting, intellectually agile, open evening with some really fine readings. The weather in Bristol was beautiful, people sat along the dock before the Arnolfini and I had time during the day to really take it in, enjoy my book as an excuse to see friends, leave London and spend time busied with good things

A note on: Launching my new book at Kingston Writing School

I had brilliant fun creating a performance at Kingston University, as part of David Rogers longstanding Kingston Writing School series, 'directing' a film or montage while sharing poems from my new book The Guide to Being Bear Aware. It's a performance Im strangely pleased with, trying to find the right balance between concept, improvisation, spacial exploration, humour, complex undertone and actual poetry.

The experience was particularly gratifying, a really lovely, resonant evening, as my students from my Experiments and Innovations module, the mainstay of my teaching at Kingston Uni, read with me. Coming at the close of their degrees and my teaching year, it was their first chance to share a stage with me and I suppose engage with my work. They are a remarkable group of young poets, some of whom are featured in my performance. 

A note on: Swedenborg Hall : April 11th : London launch of new poetry collection

Swedenborg Hall, Bloomsbury - April Tuesday 11th 7.30pm : Free Entry
www.shearsman.com/shearsman-reading-events 20 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH

I'm happy to announce my new poetry collection will be launched in London at the home of the Emanuel Swedenborg Society, in Bloomsbury.  Part of the longstanding Shearsman Books reading series, The Guide to Being Bear Aware will be launched with a new performance relating to both book and place.

More info on the book www.stevenjfowler.com/bearaware and at the Shearsman site.

Also launching a new book on the night will be John Hall, who has been publishing extraordinary work for over fifty years in the UK and is a significant influence on myself and many of my generation. So come and see one real poet and I. 

The Guide to Being Bear Aware : my new new book

I'm happy to announce my latest poetry collection will be published with Shearsman Books. The Guide to Being Bear Aware.

More info on the book www.stevenjfowler.com/bearaware and at the Shearsman site.

The book will be launched in London on April Tuesday 11th, 7.30pm, at Swedenborg House in Bloomsbury, with further launches in York, Bristol and Kingston.

"... advice for living in a world gone awry. Wry, violent, contemplative, political, intimate and raucous by turns, these are poems that laze on your lap only to get their claws in. Morphing into unfamiliar shapes beneath the watching eye, these refreshing, quizzical, well-traveled poems forge a world entirely their own”   Sarah Howe

You can read a poem from the book published by Poetry Magazine online here: The Robin Hood Estate : Poetry Magazine October 2016 

"In SJ Fowler’s work, which surprises & delights by turns, I’m fascinated throughout by the fast moves he makes, quick on the draw & changing rapidly from image to image, meme after meme as it were. His is in that sense a markedly original enterprise, but one which carries with it another thrust – toward sharing, even collaboration – that has been central to much of his earlier work.  Here every poem starts off with the words of some other poet (present or past, close or distant) before his own voice enters & takes over, with those other voices, spirits, hovering around.  It is all new as I read him, all special, and I’m drawn to follow him now wherever he takes us."                             Jerome Rothenberg

About the publisher: Shearsman Books, who for nearly three decades have been a home to some of the most extraordinary high modern and literary poets the UK has produced since WWII, have published many poets profoundly influential on myself, from Cesar Vallejo to Fernando Pessoa in English, as well many peers whose work has given me much, from Vahni Capildeo to John Hall.www.shearsman.com

A note on: Visual Art South West - New collection launch in Bristol

http://www.vasw.org.uk/events/the-guide-to-being-bear-aware-a-poetry-collection-by-sj-fowler.php

Arnolfini, 16 Narrow Quay, BS1 4QA / 0117 917 2300 boxoffice@arnolfini.org.uk
http://www.arnolfini.org.uk/whatson/the-guide-to-being-bear-aware-a-poetry-collection-by-sj-fowler

Thursday 06 April 2017 19:00 - 20:00 Opening Hours: 11:00 - 18:00 Booking recommended
The launch of SJ Fowler’s latest poetry collection The Guide to Being Bear Aware from Bristol-based Shearsman Books, featuring performances and readings from Fowler and guest readers John Hall, Holly Corfield Carr, Paul Hawkins, Phil Owen & more to be announced.

"The Guide to Being Bear Aware offers advice for living in a world gone awry. Wry, violent, contemplative, political, intimate and raucous by turns, these are poems that laze on your lap only to get their claws in... Morphing into unfamiliar shapes beneath the watching eye, these refreshing, quizzical, well-traveled poems forge a world entirely their own: they won’t let you go of you easily.” Sarah Howe http://www.stevenjfowler.com/bearaware

 

A note on: York Literature Festival - March 29th

Very pleased to be reading at York Literature Festival on March 29th, launching my new book The Guide to Being Bear Aware, and reading alongside Antony Dunn, in an evening curated by Kim Campanello and York St John University. Details here http://www.yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk/event/contemporary-british-poetry-sj-fowler-antony-dunn/ It's a very impressive programme overall, if you're in the area, please come along.

 

2017 >

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curatorial

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and happy new year, Steven.

A note on: work in Test Centre magazine 7

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

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

A note on: Interview at Poetry Spotlight

Lovely to be featured on Poetry Spotlight's Meet the Poet interview series, chatting about some books out next year and other things. http://poetryspotlight.com/sj-fowler/ There is also a new poem published in the feature from my new book The Guide to Being Bear Aware


Hi Steven. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on the publication of your latest collection {Enthusiasm} last year. Can you tell us a bit more about the book and how you feel it compares to The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner?

Hello, thanks to you for asking. I’ll have to equivocate a fair bit, but generally speaking {Enthusiasm} is in one way quite a formalist book, in that it’s trying to emphasise how much the meaning in poetry is a meeting of subject and object.

The reader has an enormous role to play in the meaning of a poem through their endless, idiosyncratic individual experience of language and its impossibly intricate potential in their minds and memories. I really wanted people to feel like they had to engage with their own subjective reading of each poem more forcefully, as the poems are pretty consistently, structurally and semantically, frenetic.

In another way, thematically, the book is about death, hence the beautiful cover that the publisher Test Centre sourced for it from the Wellcome archives. It’s different from The Rottweiler’s Guide…, not only because every book I publish is different from the last, which seems intuitive to me, but also because The Rottweiler’s Guide… was more about love.

You’re a poet who seems to thrive on working with others, as evidenced by your recent KFS publications House of Mouse and 1000 Proverbs. I’m curious if there were any differences in your working approach to these collaborations with Prudence Chamberlain and Tom Jenks, and do you feel that mixing up your process is vital to your poetry writing?

I do thrive upon working with others. I find it generative as a poet, but also it’s a form of immediate pedagogy, and I think because I suspect myself to be principally anti-social and misanthropic, it’s a way of continually leaving my comfort zone in order to continue growing as a human being.

The processes with Prue and Tom were different, as I would say every one of my collaborations has been, in that people inevitably vary in the ways they like to work, even in the speed of their replies to emails for example.

Tom and I fired off quick responses to each other, the nature of the work being one line pseudo-proverbs, while Prue and I wrote over a longer time, exchanging large chunks, meeting, editing and working on the material until it became one text where both of us had lost our initial input to the other. It is about circumstance as well as preference, often. Both are brilliant poets and I learned so much from having the chance to write with them.

I feel like my process evolving is something I aspire to, yes. I would like it to always be so. It has a negative effect in practical terms, as many people who might read or discover your work will not be able to put their finger on what it is you’re doing as you lack one clear, consumable aesthetic or motivation. But that can be a benefit in many ways too, depending on what you’re after.

Perhaps the best example of your collaborative spirit is your involvement with The Enemies Project, which has quickly grown into an international phenomenon. What for you have been the most memorable moments of the project and how do you hope it will develop in the future?

That’s generous, thanks. It has been a pleasure to curate. The project has allowed me to discover, collaborate and learn from poets and artists I would never have met otherwise. It has also allowed me to promote many whose work has been considered too ‘difficult’ to be supported, which I’m proud of, and with the big Camarade events, where the atmosphere is so friendly and the work so intense, and the tours, where I’ve shared vans and trains with cohorts of writers all over the world, I feel like I’ve proven that groundbreaking literary and avant-garde work can be generated without snobbery, hierarchy and pomposity.

In terms of the future, I never want the project to have utopian goals – one can only end up disappointed – so I’m going event to event, making sure I still enjoy it, often responding to the ideas of my co-curators. Next year we’ll have another six or seven international projects, European Poetry Night, the English PEN Modern Literature Festival, a cinema and poetry programme, stuff like that.

You also work in an editorial capacity for 3:AM magazine. Do you think the proliferation of online poetry magazines and digital platforms for contemporary poetry in recent years signals a sea change in how readers consume poetry, and what would your response be to crticics who argue that online content like this is ephemeral?

I think critics who might suggest that would be of a certain generation that don’t spend most of their leisure time online, as almost everyone in the western world, under the age of forty, tends to do. I think this isn’t really an issue of online magazines, but of the internet itself.

Profoundly undersold in the literary world, it isn’t an alternative to the book, a ‘platform’ or whatever people say – it is a fundamental revolution in human culture, a global, unregulated communications mainframe, a nervous system for civilisation. The internet also happens to be made up of language, the same material as poetry.

I think it has changed poetry for the better. People already forget how much power some once had, just a few decades ago, by controlling what could be read and defining in that process what was supposedly, objectively, good. Ultimately it’s not a question of how readers consume poetry but how poetry adapts to being, like almost everything else, swept up in the technological revolution.

I understand you have a new artpoem book coming out next year with Stranger Press too entitled I fear my best work behind me featuring illustrations, logograms, and asemic writing. Do you subscribe to the notion that breaking down semantics in this way is an exercise in examining and questioning what exactly constitutes a poem?

I do, and I’m excited about it. Stranger Press is a really good press to work with, Christopher Stephenson does a grand job. I fear my best work behind me is primarily illustrated artworks, brutalist, child-like, comical paintings or abstracts, each with their own handwritten poem built into the work.

Just the fact that the poems are handwritten, often in coloured ink, might, in some people’s minds, make them visual art, rather than poetry. A lot of my work in this area is about my own curiosity. I can’t resist the idea that if I do something as banal as handwrite a poem, rather than print it, in a book, its meaning will change to readers exponentially and be considered experimental.

Context is absolutely equal to content, and yet the common understanding or perception of poetry at the moment, in the UK at least, is entirely focused on the content. Generally we have the same book, paper, font, letter size, language etc. But on that page the white space has meaning, the place of the abstract marking we’ve ascribed meaning to, has import. The logical conclusion of this basic realisation, which permeates all other arts (think film-editing, material and composition in painting etc) is that the poet has the potential to interrogate the context of their language.

So the book explores how image affects language, how they are interconnected, dead space, handwriting and its own aesthetic meaning, and so on. This is old stuff, I know that. I’m deeply interested in poets like Henri Michaux or the CoBrA group, and I’m aware they covered this fifty years ago or more. But it’s exciting to me and hopefully the book has more of a sense of humour than my answer.

Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?

This is from an upcoming collection called The Guide to Being Bear Aware, due out in 2017 with Shearsman Books. I’ve spent the last year or two really rereading poets for the first time, as I only started to read poetry in 2009. I had never looked at it before then. So I’m looping back and rediscovering the world poetry that actually brought me into the field in the first place – poets like MayakovskyEseninHerbertRozewiczCesaireEkelofSeferisSachs

It’s meant my writing has taken on a more conversational tone, maybe a softer tone, accidentally, perhaps ironising the first person, rather than avoiding it as I have done in the past. It’s also a book that’s trying to reflect on the Anthropocene – our relationship to language, consciousness and animals.

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

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

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

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

a 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.

 

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