A journal I’ve always read and respected, I’m very pleased to have a poem in The Learned Pig, as part of their Wolf Crossing series. The poem was written on a flight back from Bangladesh last year, after meeting the amazing Tim Cope and reading his book, which he generously gifted me at the festival where we met. Tim’s writing is wonderful, as is his humble and understated demeanour, given his almost unbelievable achievements. His is a book about stoicism, about endurance. I was very inspired by it, so it makes this poem all the more meaningful to me.http://www.thelearnedpig.org/wholl-guard-the-horse/4412
Visit www.stevenjfowler.com/peru for the full whack with pictures, videos and a full travelogue
Day Three: December 9th 2016
I have an event to begin the day, the festival now officially in full swing. It is part of the Hay Joven programme, where the festival presents its authors to local school children and universities. I am bussed to Universidad San Pablo, accompanied by the poet Javier Manuel Rivera, who quickly becomes a friend, as we laugh through our broken English / Spanish.
This event proves to be a magnificent experience, one of the very best workshop type events I’ve ever had the pleasure to partake. You are always somewhat blind to know what students will make of you, especially with my work being a little strange, but the enthusiasm and warmth I was greeted with will live long in the memory. The university staff, including Kevin Rodriguez Siu, who will be my host for a Q&A, can’t do more for me, and for 10am on a Friday morning, there are plenty of people in the audience, though the hall is immense. I begin reading a few poems, but the live translator keeps interrupting, telling me to speak slower so she can translate my poems as I speak them! I begin to just turn my conversation with her into the performance, checking with her before each poem and line. The ruse is landing, the students laughing. Then I decide it’s time to interact, to meet each person who has been so kind to attend one to one. I take my book and tear pages from it, walking into the seats to give each person a poem of mine. Then I ask them to switch places with me and step onto the stage. Sheepishly they do, clumping together. Soon there are 60 or 70 of them on the stage, and I am beneath them, in the audience. I ask them to read the torn poems in their hands. The Q&A that follows is so generous, we talk seriously and jokingly, it’s suddenly a close group. When the session ends, inexplicably the students queue to have their torn pages signed. First time for everything.
Back in the old city I have lunch with Nell, and meet Ryan Gattis, immediately struck by his intelligence and open character, he will become a friend over the next few days. Humble, dry, perceptive, he gently educates me on the history of Los Angeles, where he lives, though he studied in England for sometime, and it takes time to tease out the remarkable, brave work he has done with inner city gangs in the city. The kind of person you hope to meet, to speak and listen to, at such a gathering. We are fed beautifully, the cuisine of Peru, and of Arequipa specifically, more than living up to its repute. I then spend the rest of the afternoon preparing for my main event, the big performance commissioned by Hay Festival, a new live work celebrating and responding to one of my poetry heroes Cesar Vallejo. Suffice to say, as I discovered the entire world tradition of poetry at one time, not so many years ago, Vallejo’s achievement was a genuine influence on my development as a writer. His ability to write of community, of collective action and culture, of people, and of pain and injustice, of death and dying, in a way that is not representational or didactic, but immensely complex, inventive and equal to life and language’s own adversarial, confusing character is something I aspire to. Up there with Mayakovsky, Ekelof, Rozewicz, he is one of the greats for me, so to be able to celebrate him, to align myself with him, it is such a magical, if intimidating, prospect. I spend the afternoon collecting materials with Nancy and finalising my texts.
The performance takes place at the gorgeous Teatro Arequipa right in the old city square again, just adjacent to my hotel. I am pleasantly surprised at how many people file in, young and old. I spend time with my volunteers, strategically placing them in the audience. To begin I explain my process, as a false lead of sorts, writing through and with a translation of Vallejo’s Spain, let this cup pass from me I have had for some time which was a gift from a dear friend. I have spent weeks writing these poems in fact, for this moment, pages of them. So begins the performance, like a reading. I then pull a table to the centre of the stage and dissect this book, this precious article, with a scalpel. I then descend again to the audience, and see they are slightly perturbed by my movement toward them, giving out pages. I read further and lift my hand, the pre arranged signal for the volunteers to stand and begin reading themselves, planted, each with their new pages of Vallejo, so they, Peruvians, may read his original Spanish text to the audience, in the audience. I lift my hand. Nothing happens. I do so again. Nothing. The audience claps. I’m a bit excruciated, it looks like I’ve signalled them to clap, like a Caesar. I literally say please stop clapping. Finally one of the volunteers just stands up and reads. The effect has been somewhat diminished! But it is funny, an accidentally brilliant set piece of a very British kind of comedy. On they go, each reading their pages. Such is the task of a last minute collaboration across languages and nations! I follow this with more poetry before, to finish, I build a collage of the book’s pages on a canvas, live, with glue and ink. Then they come to join, helping, collectively, patching together a new artwork made of Vallejo. It’s a joyous experience, not perfect, but never designed to be, and all those kind enough to help me, not one older than 21, seem high and happy. I've made friends, and we donate the artwork, priceless as it is, to our Hay hosts.
My first reading in Holland, and an utterly unique place to give it – the island of Vlieland, a poetry reading on the Stortemelk holiday camp. All thanks to Tsead Bruinja and Bas Kwakman, and Poetry International, for letting this beautifully idiosyncratic mini-festival tradition – poetry readings for those on holiday on the camp, in the dying days of the summer season, nearing its tenth year of happening – be my debut in Holland. More than that, I had a really wonderful experience meeting some remarkably hospitable, intelligent and generous people.
Another grand result of Tsead and Bas’ invitation was the chance to have Tsead translate a dozen or so of my poems. We spent some hours working on this, one of the most comprehensive and rewarding translation processes I’ve been through, and Dutch is the 20th language my poetry has been translated into. So Tsead and I had chatted plenty before I arrived in Amsterdam to begin the journey north, to the sea. I had a night in the city, amidst rainstorms, in an Airbnb not conducive to rest, before I met Tsead early and we began catching busses across country. Friends from the first, the sensibilities Dutch and British people share, the dry, barbed humour most of all, we chatted for hours until we caught the ferry from Haarlingen to Vlieland. The island has a tiny population, it is a well known holiday destination but genuinely removed from the mainland, a culture unto itself. And as part of the reading’s tradition, the poets contributing get to stay in tents as part of the sprawling Stortemelk complex. I was led to my tent, the first time for a poetry event, and got to reunite with Bas, who I’d spent time with in China, Germany, Scotland, and meet the wonderful Saskia Stehouwer, Ries de Vuyst and the others in what became a temporary, extended family/friendship group to which I was immediately included. Just beyond the tents, over one large, lengthy dune, was the expansive white beaches and the north sea. I had a chance to ramble, and be cooked for, before hitting my tent, exhausted.
visit stevenjfowler.com/vlieland to read the complete travelogue
The Forum Stadtpark in Graz is a unique place. I’d heard about it for a few years before I met those who mastermind the institution in 2015. Not a gallery or venue, more of a communal centre in the heart of Graz, for all arts and all kinds of discussions and meetings, set the idyllic second city of Austria, it has a reputation for supporting some of the most avant-garde work in Europe. The word they seem to use, the warm hearted, playful, endlessly hospitable people who seem to wander in and out of the stadtpark, is transgressive or provocative, alongside everything all else that might be interested in the now or the future. A chance to visit here, to speak and perform was granted to me by virtue of the CROWD omnibus project and a two day symposium called Text World World Text, bringing poets and organisers from all over Europe. The symposium was led by Max Hofler, a friend and a text artist I admire so much and was essentially about poetry and politics, and whether there was a connection between the two.
I've written a whole webpage dedicated to the trip with detailed travelogue. Please visit http://www.stevenjfowler.com/graz