A note on: Writers' Centre Kingston programme for 2018 / 2019

I'm very pleased to announce the programme for the second year of Writers' Centre Kingston at Kingston University. Themed events with guest speakers including Max Porter and Joe Dunthorne feature alongside unique standalone projects like the English PEN fest, European Poetry Festival, the annual Museum of Futures exhibition and collaborations events at Rich Mix in London. Each event will be opened by student readings and performances and the Centre will also host workshops, release new student publications and aim to bring together staff and students alike from a wide range of specialities.

Visit https://www.writerscentrekingston.com/schedule/ or click on the event below for more information.

October Thursday 4th 2018 – The Rose Theatre, Kingston : 7pm Free Entry
On the theme of Becoming, with Damian Le Bas, Tina Chanter, Christoph Lueder


October Thursday 18th – Kingston University, Penrhyn Road campus, PRJG0003 : John Galsworthy building : 7pm Free
On the theme of Gambling, with Revital Cohen, Tuur Van Balen, Isabella Van Elferen, Ghazal Mosadeq

November Thursday 8th - Kingston University, Penrhyn Road campus, PRJG0003 : John Galsworthy building : 7pm Free
On the theme of Purpose, with Joe Dunthorne, Éadaoin Agnew and Matthew Cunningham 

November Saturday 24th 2018 – The Kingston Camarade : Rich Mix, Venue 2. London : 7.30pm Free Entry
New collaborations in pairs from Kingston Uni students and staff including Nick Foxton, Mark Harris, Alison Baverstock, John Hughes & Mandy Ure, Catherine Humble, Diran Adebayo, Janice Miller, Joanne Addison, Andrew Benjamin.

2019
January Thursday 17th - The Rose Theatre, Kingston : 7pm Free Entry
On the theme of Mythologising, with Max Porter Winsome Pinnock

January Thursday 24th - English PEN Modern Literature Fest : The Bishop. 2 Bishop Hall, Kingston. 7pm Free.
with Sam Jordison, Ellen Wiles, Gareth Evans, James Miller, Helen Palmer, Adam Baron, Sara Upstone and more

February Saturday 9th – The University Camarade IV : Rich Mix, London : 7.30pm Free
Students from Kingston University and other institutions across the UK present brand new collaborations.

February Thursday 21st : Visual Literature Exhibition opening - The Museum of Futures, Surbiton : 7.30pm Free
(The exhibition runs February 19th to March 13th 2019.)

March Thursday 7th :  Poem Brut - The Museum of Futures, Surbiton : 7.30pm Free
with Nise McCullough, Lisa Kiew, MJB and Patrick Cosgrove.

April Thursday 4th : European Poetry Festival - The Rose Theatre, Kingston : 7pm Free Entry
with Maja Jantar and many more poets from across the continent.

A note on: performing at the opening of How Like a Leaf

I had the pleasure to present a modest performance work at the opening event of a new ambitious interdisciplinary project "How Like a Leaf" which brings together thinkers, artists, academics from a group of uni's in London, including my own, Kingston. The event was chaired by Nick Foxton and I spoke alongside Patricia Phillippy and Tim Chamberlain. It was an intimate, considered, generous few hours, exploring encountering and thinking through human beings and nature, the Anthropocene,  aiming to create new ways to relate to the idea of the natural world. Nick's chairing was really grand, passionate, concise and accessiblem and both Tim and Patricia were engaging. https://www.howlikealeaf.com/

For my performance I first read a new poem, riffing on the phrase How Like a Leaf, switching out the final word of that four words, expressionistically, then I buried some leaves about the room, in my shoe, in the door, under a bottle, then I played a Ween song while blutacking leaves onto the wall into the shape of the word HELP. Then I finished reading another new poem, this time riffing on what might follow the words How Like a Leaf. I was trying to create metaphorical gestures around recitations, to show a concern for concentration, material, space, without at all being cynical or too self-referential. I likely failed but it was an uplifting, honest few hours and the most pleasure came after the presentations, chatting with everyone who came along. Do follow the project as it develops, more info on the site and below.

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🍃 "This TECHNE Conflux will bring together students from across different disciplines - including literary studies, philosophy, visual arts, music, history, classics, dance and theatre - to assess, adapt and develop interdisciplinary approaches to the relationships between art, nature and the world, with the assistance of world-renowned practitioners and theorists. The Conflux has three main aims: To examine the relationship between aesthetic theories of nature and twenty-first century artistic practice. / To consider the ways in which historical accounts of the relationships between art, nature and world might be re-purposed in order to address the contemporary world. / To provide a space, in the form of both events and a final exhibition, in which these conversations between artistic products and aesthetic theories, will reach a wider audience. 🍃 The Conflux will run across two years, from June 2018 - June 2020 and will consist of four themes: Encountering; Writing; Performing; and Thinking." 

Published : The Wrestlers

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I'm happy to announce the release of my latest poetry collection - The Wrestlers - from Kingston University Press, is available to purchase here The Wrestlers

From the publisher "Wrestling, the world’s oldest sport, has been used by artists, poets and sculptors as a metaphor for the internal struggle of the human mind for millennia. In the poems of SJ Fowler it becomes an action verb, a metaphorical crux which reflects not only upon the contradictions of our interior selves, but also the endless proliferation of entrenched argumentation in our contemporary world. Finding its origin in a commission from Tate Britain, where Fowler’s poetry responded to Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s extraordinary eponymous relief, The Wrestlers is an accomplished collection from one the UK’s most thought-provoking poets, often playful, surreal, satirical and ambitious." www.stevenjfowler.com/thewrestlers

The book will be launched in London on July 12th at Burley Fisher Books http://burleyfisherbooks.com/event/triple-launch-vahni-capildeo-steven-j-fowler-and-zaffar-kunial/ A further launch to follow at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, in September 2018.

Produced to a remarkable standard by KU Press, it collects together poems from a five year period, including poems published in Gorse Magazine, Test Centre magazine, 3am magazine, The Wolf, Poems in Which, The Honest Ulsterman, The Bohemyth, and the anthologies The Long White Thread: poems for John Berger (Smokestack Books), Millets (Zeno Press), Dear World and Everything In It (Bloodaxe Books), Hwaet: Ledbury Poetry Festival (Bloodaxe Books) and Shifting Ground (J&L Gibbons) alongside commissions by The Hay Festival : Arequipa, Peru and Tate Modern.

A note on : South of the River conference at Greenwich University

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Thanks to Emily Critchley I got to premiere one of my new films made with Joshua Alexander (the animal series about london and menace - this one was Canalimal about the grand union canal around willesden junction and its soon disappearance at the hands of an ugly development) at the Uni of Greenwich for a conference entitled South of the River.

It was a lovely long afternoon with peers i respect in a little troupe - amy cutler, tom chivers, edmund hardy - speaking to each other and academics about south london. I admitted i had something against south london, half joking, and its a place that hasnt featured too much in my 11 years of walking miles upon miles of london streets. I learned a lot from everyone else through the day, it was communal and generous.

My new poetry collection - The Wrestlers - due out this summer

I'm happy to say my next poetry collection will be out with Kingston University Press this summer. The Wrestlers brings together poems written over the last five years but finds it origin in a commission I was lucky enough to do for Tate Britain online, thanks to Sarah Victoria Turner - a suite of poems responding to Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's eponymous relief and the nine consequent copies.

In a sense these poems, when I wrote them in 2011 and 2012 were a pivotal moment in my writing, a rejection / acceptance of Poundian modernism. Moreover they were about wrestling itself, something that was the primary activity of my childhood and teenage life, as well as the relief, and written upon request, that felt / feel strangely autobiographical (though you wouldn't be able to tell that by reading them).

I've revised these and then added many other works where wrestling has become an action verb in the mechanics of the poems, often just in the title. In a sense wrestling becomes a concept of imposition that acts like a dialectic between ideas or opinions. 

Like my last book, The Guide to Being Bear Aware, I think The Wrestlers is pretty traditionally poetry, its literary, because like my last book, it has come into existence while, organically, I have found other mediums to be the place of my experiments, like in art books, theatre or performance. So my natural instincts have changed too, in poetry, something I'm glad about, to always be changing tastes. If it was those European poets of the post-war new lyric tradition looming over me for my last book, now I'd say it has been a revisitations to pre-war poets which have influenced me. Mallarme, Mayakovsky, Apollinaire, Wat, Cummings have become ghosts in my new book, a bit. Reading them again, seriously, for a second or third time has of course disturbed some bones in my own work.

The book will have a London launch on June 30th at Rich Mix with other readings to follow.

Poems in the collection have been previously published, in one form or another, by Gorse Magazine, Test Centre magazine, 3am magazine, The Wolf, Poems in Which, The Honest Ulsterman, The Bohemyth, Wazogate and the anthologies The Long White Thread: poems for John Berger (Smokestack Books), The Other Room 4, Millets (Zeno Press), Dear World and Everything In It (Bloodaxe Books), Hwaet: Ledbury Poetry Festival (Bloodaxe Books) and Shifting Ground (J&L Gibbons). It also features the suite Poems in which César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza wrestles Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (Pablo Neruda) which was commissioned by The Hay Festival : Arequipa, Peru in 2016 and a number of the poems in were created as part of The Green Infrastructure – a residency with landscape architects J&L Gibbons.

A note on: Museum of Futures: Scribbling & Scrawling exhibition ends

Another magic engagement with Surbiton's Museum of Futures, a unique community gallery that I've been able to work with through Writers' Centre Kingston and Kingston University. Students, local artists and writers, and those able to travel to the gallery nearby contributed to a brilliant month long exhibition of writing art, aligned with my poem brut project, on the theme of scribbling and scrawling. The work was uniformly good and once more, by taking on the labour of an open submission process, I had the chance to meet a load of talented new people, from Nicole Polonsky to Denise McCullough, there was some real discoveries for me. Moreover my students had the chance to see their work walled for the first time, and help me, significantly, in the curation of the show and it's events.

www.writerscentrekingston.com/futures lots more about the exhibition on the site, as well as the launch event here www.writerscentrekingston.com/making

A note on: English PEN Modern Literature Fest III was a grand night

The third time I have curated this mini-fest alongside / for English PEN, whereby contemporary English writers present works written in tribute to a writer who is part of the Writer's at Risk programme, writers living under oppression around the world. http://www.englishpen.org/ This time we slightly scaled down the rather grand one day festivals of past years, bringing it to Kingston and the historic All Saints Church, as part of my Writers Centre Kingston programme.

8 authors presented pieces of writing, some new, some from past years. The spirit was one of considered celebration, of sadness, in places, of frustration, but moving beyond the somewhat stifling requirement at the heart of the event, asking authors who are generally safe and sound to speak about those who are not, and who are not because they chose, in most cases, to refuse silence. This contradiction has often led to overloading, with writers unable to express themselves, stopped up by a kind of shame. But in a more intimate setting, with a group students, volunteers and local people watching on, this felt more like a community taking note, making sure there was something, instead of nothing, to mark out those suffering were being thought of. All the videos are here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2LmXtC6HArB9k2QSLWQGJA/videos

A real highlight for me this year is that it spawned Kingston University's first Student PEN Centre, led by Alan Boyce. I'm happy to say this relationship will continue and next year's English PEN festival will be just as good I'm sure.

There's a nice report of the event here too, by Tice Cin https://www.englishpen.org/campaigns/english-pen-modern-literature-festival-2018/ 

They event featured MONA ARSHI FOR ZEHRA DOGAN / TONY WHITE FOR AHMED NAJI / HELEN PALMER FOR ME NAM / SARA UPSTONE FOR DAWIT ISAAK / ADAM BARON FOR CAN DÜNDAR & ERDEM GÜL / PRUDENCE CHAMBERLAIN FOR  PATIWAT SARAIYAEM & PORNTHIP MUNKHONG / ELEY WILLIAMS FOR TSERING WOESER / DAVID SPITTLE FOR AHMEDUR RASHID CHOWDHURY

Writers poets, novelists, playwrights and artists come together to continue English PEN's relationship with innovative contemporary literature. Each of the ten British writers will present poetry, text, reportage, performance on the day. The new works celebrate and evidence the struggle of fellow writers around the world, in solidarity.

The event is intended as a call to membership for writers, artists and readers in a time where we face perilous challenges to our freedom of expression and fundamental rights and hard fought liberties, both internationally and here in the UK. As the world changes so remarkably, and so rapidly, and on a global scale, it is vital the political will of our time and this generation of young, dynamic writers is directed purposefully to the work of English PEN, the writer's charity. The hope is this festival, away from creating new members of PEN, begins involvements and connections which will have exponential resonance for decades to come. www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen  Curated by SJ Fowler and Cat Lucas.

Please join English PEN You can join English PEN here http://www.englishpen.org/membership/join/ and if you are a writer, poet, artist, or someone who is passionate about defending our fundamental freedom of expression in the UK and around the world, please take the time to do so and become a part of the future of this extraordinary organisation.

A note on: The University Camarade III was brilliant

A very special evening at the rich mix, the third time ive put this event together, with students from all over the UK. As ever, collaboration absolutely engenders friendships while producing challenging, idiosyncratic poetry. The students involved were universally excellent, brave, bold and the evening left a real impression on the audience, and I think, I hope, on the rest of their poetry / writing / performing lives. I believe sincerely that opportunity is what shapes people's journey and growth, and this event gives people young in their experience a real urge to go into new spaces. 

I was especially content with the showing of my students, who we and are markedly their own, which is all I want from them, to expand and explore their own paths, with some erratic guidance www.theenemiesproject.com/unicamarade / www.writerscentrekingston.com/richmix

A note on: reading boxing poems at Cambridge University

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A resonant experience on multiple levels, I had the chance to read at Cambridge Uni thanks to Oliver Goldstein and his Sweet Science event in the Faculty of English. It was another entry in my experience of a small, welcoming community of writers and poets who care passionately about the sport and aim to reflect it in works as complex as the culture itself. Oliver is one of the world's leading boxing journalists and really fine poet, and as well he and I, there were multiple excellent readers and a really healthy and interested audience. Discerning you'd expect, but friendly with it too. I read some poems from an upcoming book, a sequel to my 2011 Fights, entitled Rematches, due out with Kingston University Press this year. I also got the chance to pop a balloon with a left hook. 

Perhaps the most unexpected highlight was meeting a cambridge english undergrad who told me they were doing their dissertation on my work. A first, as far as I know, and actually really warming and encouraging, it actually really touched me. It's very easy to feel one is wasting time, serving my own interests and no one gives a shit (which is true) but then a small thing like that happens, and you feel less in a bubble.

Writers' Centre Kingston : blog #1

I'm very pleased to have been named the new director of Writers' Centre Kingston - Kingston University's literary cultural centre. A brand new year of events, projects, festivals and initiatives will begin in October. 

The core programme consists of a dozen events – each themed, with three speakers responding to that concept with a new reading or talk or performance. The speakers are both guests to the Centre, including Tom McCarthy, Stella Duffy, Nell Leyshon and Iain Sinclair, as well as those drawn from the academic staff at Kingston University. Student and alumnus readings often accompany this main programme. 

The Centre will present brand new initiatives including a programme of adult education courses, a bookclub curated with Stanley Picker Gallery and a publication series for student poets with Sampson Low.

Please see www.writerscentrekingston.com for more details on the centre and the year ahead.

A note on: Atlantic Drift page on Edge Hill site

Really a grand anthology to be part of, so many poets included are quite beyond me, I am in every way the runt. It's been brilliantly fashioned by Arc publishing and the good folk at Edge Hill Uni, and they've thrown up a page about me

https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/university-press/steven-fowler/ 

It includes this interview, shot specifically for the project in Liverpool while I was there for Camarade'ing.

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: Performing at York Literature Festival

An exceptionally resonant time in York, thanks to the hospitality and curation of Kim Campanello, York St John University and the York Literature Festival. I love the city, having visited a lot as a kid, with viking familial roots, in the stink of the Jorvik centre, and having been there just months before for the NXNW tour. This time just Antony Dunn and I performing at a showcase event, the audience was amazing, the students brilliant, the whole impact of the event rare and memorable. There was a sense of juxtaposition in the event, between Antony as a poet in the lyrical tradition and me in the more experimental, but that proved not be conflicting but generative. Similar people with slightly different experiences and tastes in poetry. It created something valuable, something to riff off against. Antony was brilliant to watch read and to chat with in the Q&A, and I thoroughly enjoyed auctioneering for the first time, as well as book eating for perhaps the third. 

They collected some feedback from the audience, quite enjoyable to read.

'Fantastic event, thoroughly enjoyed'
'Loved the contrasting styles'
'Polar different takes on poetry and yet shared values'
'Love Dunn's poetry about the everyday and Fowler's combining of words and other media'
'Brilliant to witness these poets up close and their eclectic personalities. Very inspiring.'
'Performative nature of both poets was eccentric and exciting'
'Cheered me up!'
'I got a free poem [he didn't eat the whole book].'
'Didn't like book-eating, but appreciated SJF's reason given for eating book.'
'Perfect pairing of poets'
'Brought to life the poetry and contextualised it within the world'

A note on: The University Camarade II

The future is in good hands if this event is any indication. Though ostensibly about pairing students across the country, and allowing them to experiment / collaborate / create new friendships, what it is really about is giving a platform to younger poets who might be locked into the boundaries that come with being a 'creative writing' student or in a university. It's just a way to discover people, to see them shine, and they were really remarkable on this occasion, all 22 poets, from all over the UK. A really resonant evening, all the videos are here www.theenemiesproject.com/unicamarade worth watching.

A note on: Curating the Museum of Futures Visual Poetry Exhibition

I conceived of this exhibition for multiple reasons. The first, I wanted to invest in the place. I've been teaching at Kingston University for a few years and wanted to create a platform in the area, outside of London (just) where those living or studying local felt that not everything was east of them, in the city, that there was some focus on the place as other than a place to visit, but to reside, creatively. Second because I wanted students and faculty from across departments to connect, from across ages and years and practises, and I wanted this to happen in the context of the many brilliant poets and artists who were also not associated with the Uni. Too often we're all in our own boxes, in all things, but especially in the pace of teaching or studying. Thirdly, I had hoped new friendships and collaborative relationships would begin and by placing students work next to those who are ostensibly professionals, that many students would take inspiration from that, would get permission to experiment, to follow their own noses, and that it would as a project show them they could go into spaces beyond the university. This is often a problem too, that students feel too safe at university creatively, and this comes to bear painfully when they graduate. Fourthly I had built some fantastic connections with a specific group of students, both undergraduate and postgraduate whom I felt deserved the opportunity to do something special, or unique certainly, and I knew I could rely on them to help me, to make it a collective enterprise. This proved true. And finally, I wanted the actual aesthetic content of the exhibition to be innovative, to explore the potential of text beyond the book, or the visual to be read as a text. In the end we had 40 works of a really striking standard, the exhibition looks genuinely engaging, original and beautiful.

Museum of Futures themselves, Simon Tyrell and Robin Hutchinson, introduced to me by the brilliant Lucy Furlong, were amazingly supportive, doing great work. Myself and the student co-curators, especially Molly Bergin, Olga Kolesnikova and Matt Navey, had a laugh putting it all together on a windy Wednesday in Surbiton. There is real camaraderie to be found in this kind of project. And the opening night was amazing, gratifying. The room was so full someone feinted. Packed to the gills we listened to a host of new collaborative readings I had commissioned for the night and I got to make new friends as well as seeing some of my favourite people, old friends and talents like Thomas Duggan, Alexander Kell and Camilla Nelson. The readings were great and the sense of community, of purpose and excitement was palpable. A special project all told.

All the reading videos and pictures are, or will be, here www.theenemiesproject.com/futures

A note on: The University Camarade II

The University Camarade II : February Saturday 25th 2017 - 7.30pm - Free Entrance
Venue 2 : Rich Mix Arts Centre (35-47 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6LA)
www.theenemiesproject.com/unicamarade

The second University Camarade presents pairs of creative writing students from seven different Universities in the UK to collaborate on short new works of poetry or text, for performance. The only participants are students, and writing with poets they've never met before, who study within a different institution, this initiative allows them to expand their practise, knowledge and networks, and takes a stand against purported factionalism or department competition. The innovative collaborative methodology also allows them to include experimentation early in their writing careers, and perform to a large audience.

Students have been drawn from the Creative Writing departments of Kingston University, Oxford Brookes, York St John, Kent, Essex, York and Royal Holloway and the project has been curated by SJ Fowler with Kim Campanello, JT Welsch, Dorothy Lehane, Robert Hampson, Prudence Chamberlain, Philip Terry and Niall Munro.

A note on: Museum of Futures Visual Poetry exhibition

Very happy to be curating this exhibition in Surbiton next month. It brings together colleagues at Kingston University from multiple departments, students, alumnus and local professional poets and artists. 

Opening night, with a camarade reading, is February Thursday 23rd. All info here www.theenemiesproject.com/futures

I'm also still taking submission for the exhibition until February 5th www.theenemiesproject.com/opencallfutures

A Bangladesh diary: Part One - in Chittagong with the British Council

For the full diary of the trip please visit www.stevenjfowler.com/bangladesh

November 15th

Bookended by two of the longest days of travel in my entire life, this was an amazing week, so full of intense experience and deeply resonant meetings with people in both Dhaka and Chittagong. I spent over twenty hours travelling, trying to sleep, drooling when I did, before arriving in Dhaka. This included 6 hours in Doha, the Qatari airport that resembles some futuristic vision of purgatory but has excellent wifi, so swings and roundabouts. Immediately off the plane, the light quality, the warmth of the air, the body language of the people so markedly new and energising, I was met by Mr.Hakim, a fixer for the Dhaka fest, and the academic and writer Nayanika Mookherjee, who was in Bangladesh for maybe the 20th time, and so just followed them, dumb. Mr.Hakim just washed past security, gently parting seas of people and leading us down a VIP exit, adorned with plastic reliefs of what looked like mythological Bangladeshi scenes. He washed over the visa office queue too, somehow erasing lines of people, leading me by the tricep to get things sorted quickly. I was then introduced to my British Council contact, Abrar Hossain, and Mr.Hakim and Nayanika disappeared.

Abrar set the tone for my entire time in Bangladesh. He was faultlessly hospitable, kind, energetic and had a brilliantly dry sense of humour. He couldn’t have done more for me, and feeling a second wind of slightly muddy enthusiasm I was able to pepper him with questions about Bangladesh and his extraordinary life throughout the day, as we sailed through the airport for my third flight in a row, this time across the country, to Chittagong. I was told the drive would take eight hours, the flight thirty minutes. Naturally the plane was a flimsy thing, but there were apparently famous (sleazy looking) cricketers and Chinese businessman on board too, so I felt somehow reassured (?) Abrar told me all about his life, being educated away from his family, working in business, there being no such thing as an arts professional in Bangladesh and his unbridled joy at working for the British Council. He wouldn’t go five minutes without asking me if I was okay, insisting I must be tired. He was right, but I tried to force that down. A huge part of his job, and all of the British Council staffers dealing with me, was security. I had to have their company and most often a specially assigned security guard during the trip because of the terror attack in Bangladesh that had happened in July of this year. It had stunned the country, and been so brutal, and targeted westerners, that it did mean that unless I wanted recuse myself of council support, I had to stay in the hotel at all times when not doing the activities they had lined up. Abrar made it so that I didn’t mind too much, and we chatted all the way to the hotel, the van slowly ebbing through stacked traffic, famous Bangladeshi congestion, with no lanes and near death at every junction. I took in what I could, literally removed from the people on the packed streets as we veered away from the Bay of Bengal and tropical trees lining the water into the dense urban space. It feels cloy to write about it with emotion but some of the physical suffering that was evident, even from the absurd remove of a van with a guard and a minder and a driver, was difficult to witness without holding my face in my hands. I was quietly feeling sorry for myself, travelling so long, being reminded through travel how fragile, how vulnerable one can feel, half way around the world from those I love, and then I saw people in genuine, permanent physical hardship and I felt emptied out. Abrar kept lifting me with his insistent goodness. I arrived at the hotel, five stars and again beyond what I could expect, said my hellos, my face cracking, and slept for as long as I possibly could.

November 16th

To work, or some vague version of that where I get to do something I would’ve paid to do. I was being taken now by Nahin Idris at the British Council who was Abrar’s equal in being faultlessly generous, assured and with a grand sense of humour. I was being escorted to the International Islamic University of Chittagong to give a talk to students there, on an all male campus, just outside of the city, and then a seminar with lecturers at the Uni. I was a little intimidated, but really keen to do this of course. On our way I had the intense sensation that this was the kind of experience that I simply could not have fashioned myself had I wanted to, and for that fact, was remarkable and to be appreciated. I was told upon arrival, students staring at me, pleasantly, and surrounded by armed campus security, that there would be 250 students. By the time of the talk, in an enormous theatre, it was more like 500, I was told. I have no idea how many young Bangladeshi students were in the room by the end.

I was introduced generously by Nahin, by the associated chancellor of the University and then by a short recitation from the Quran. Then a microphone was in my hand and I had an hour. A banner was hung behind me, filling the stage, entitled Adventures in Modern Poetry. I spoke freely, knowing notes would be the death of rapport, and told the audience how I ended up in poetry, randomly, later in life, after a car crash and the demise of my martial arts career, and then, without theory, leaving behind the normal stuff I blather about which positions my poetry as an act of refraction and reflection rather than a theological origination (which dominates most poetry), I talked about sound poetry, asemic writing, Oulipo and constraint. I just talked about method. And I took the mick out of myself. And I talked about the Bengali poets friends in London had given me years ago, Rabindranath Tagore of course, but Kazi Nazrul Islam too, whom I’d been reading a little for awhile. And I talked about the Bangla language’s modern moment, movement and poets, and the gorgeous script of the language itself. I honestly thought they were bored, but once we opened up for questions it appeared the opposite. I was met with some amazing, progressive, funny exchanges, everything from why people don’t like poetry anymore to whether I support Donald Trump. Suffice to say my answers endeared myself to them even more. When Nahin then, perhaps naively, said to wrap up how about we join Steven on stage for a picture, the rush caused a small security scare. I was leg bumped, jostled and crowded like Rod Stewart or Burt Reynolds. I must have taken 50 selfies before the crowd was yelled back and lined up for the group photo you can see below. They crowd, so full of warm enthusiasm followed me all the way to the chancellor’s office, being pushed back constantly by security. A new experience for me, rare does that happen on the streets of London for a poet.

After a lunch with Uni bigwigs I then had the equally unenviable task of leading a seminar with lecturers and professors at the institution. We were in a green room, like an empty swimming pool and when I asked them what they taught, they said a range of things, some professors of sharia law, some lecturing in physics. Once again it felt prudent to shift the onus a little and we just ended up having a brilliant, funny, lively chat for a few hours. We talked poetry and a few of my thoughts but I also got them to educate me in the Bangladeshi tradition of recitation, of poetry competitions, of poetry and song in the Bangla style and about their own disciplines. They were so generous, it was joyous and eminently friendly, casual even, and I’ve stayed in touch with many of them via email. Even they lined up for selfies, with the head of the law department having particular good selfie technique.

On the way back Nahin, in his beautifully understated way, said he thought we had made a real difference. The positive reception, the warmth, its level and depth, had even surprised him. I felt slightly giddy, having met so many people so quickly, having spoken so much, but I felt like it was a day I’d not soon forget. And what an extraordinary job the British Council has done here in Bangladesh, Nahin, Abrar, and Kendall Robbins, who had in fact been integral in convincing me to go to Chittagong at all and who corresponded with me eloquently before my journey about life in Bangladesh, Daisy Leitch, who helped suggest me for the actual act of going to the university - all of them and their colleagues, often unsung heroes of building, behind the scenes, genuine transformation in people’s opinions and even lives. Opening people to possibility. This is the work that doesn’t get press, because it’s benign in its decency and constancy. Nahin told me even later that some from the University had contacted him after we had left to say my buffoonery had changed their entire opinion of British people. While I’m sure that was overstated, the work the BC did in introducing me to that place, those wonderful people, by allowing me access, by sharing with me their subtle expertise and thorough enthusiasm, well we did something valuable, in real space, with real people. I owe them all a debt of gratitude at the British Council in Bangladesh, and not the first time people from the BC have helped me in this way it must be said.

A note on: Goldsmiths Lit Live & Graduate School Festival - May 13th 2016

Had the pleasure of reading at the impressively varied and extremely popular Lit Live series, thank to Livia Franchini, alongside poets entirely new to me, and discovering some interesting writers, after presenting on a panel for the Goldsmith Graduate Festival, on Found poetry, thanks to Kathryn Maris. Always amazing energy at Goldsmiths, the panel was a really generous conversation with Kathryn, whose work I admire, increasingly so with each exposure, and Cat Conway and Joe McCarney, who were both insightful. We talked quite broadly about found poetry, and I tried to situate my position more theoretically, with a wider scope. Then Lit Live itself, well over a hundred people came to see 10 readers, and I read my BBC Radio 3 commission and then set up one of my polyphonic choral poems. A beautiful way to meet people in this clearly tight knit scene, to ask them to read with me, surreptitiously, and to have the audience somehow implicated in what I was doing. It worked well, it seemed. A generous night overall, glad to have been part of it.