A note on : The end of the Other Room

The Other Room has come to an end. Ten years of remarkable events that have led the way in a resurgence of decidedly contemporary forward thinking poetry in the North West have wrapped themselves up as of April 2018. The trio of curators, all markedly influential poets, publishers and educators themselves – Scott Thurston, James Davies, Tom Jenks – have worked together in putting on dozens of poets in dozens of events, publishing 10 anthologies and posting hundreds of updates online for events and publications across the UK. They have done the kind of work that acts as an invisible inspiration to generations that come up behind them, that create concrete connections between writers and happenings that influence the future of poetry in the UK, especially outside of London, and I for one have often made it known their very specific way of working events has been a massive influence upon me. https://otherroom.org/

I would say my experience reading at The Other Room in 2011 was the singular influence on the nascent Enemies Project then and has concentrated my focus ever since. What I discovered was that there isn’t a contradiction between a warm, welcoming, hospitable, funny, unpretentious atmosphere and poetry that is challenging, complex, oblique, idiosyncratic and strange. In fact, these two things are complimentary. This discovery made me realise the often experienced distance, coolness and hierarchy of many readings was a deliberate imposition fashioned in order to create for themselves a sense of exclusivity. The Other Room showed this to me, this vital realisation and in so doing eliminated any instinct I might’ve had for utopian projects in poetry, allowing me to focus on each night at a time, to be present with the poets on those nights, enjoy their company, listen concentratedly to their work and then have a laugh whenever possible. This is very likely the reason my events are still going, 8 years after they began. 

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The Other Room also showed me that the superstition some poets have as a legacy from the last century, that organising too successfully blots out appreciation of your own poetry, a spectre of conflicting interests somewhere in the poetry ether (being a poet and editor is fine though apparently, and anthologising, and teaching) is also a myth. Scott, James and Tom are some of the most interesting poets writing in the UK, each with their own markedly original oeuvre and intellectual concerns, rendered in a multitude of forms and spaces, each with their own influence over many of their peers. Scott was one of the very first poets I met, and I listened to him carefully then, as I do now - his work offered me great possibility. James has done as much as anyone to make conceptual poetry in the UK its own separate exploration with its own decidedly British concerns, separate from the humourless aggrandisement that can be indicative of people’s understanding of that area of poetry. And Tom’s prolific invention, insight and deep erudition worn lightly has been a huge influence on my use of satire, humour and the balance between lyricism and found language. Tom, like Scott and James too, is such a clear thinker about poetry, has such a mind for the art, but carries this knowledge with great humility, always in a mode of learning, always open to new ideas.

The end of The Other Room is a loss for the UK poetry scene. I had always hoped similarly organic homes for interesting poetry would pop up in cities across the country, that it would procreate into more rooms of otherness, so that we could build a circuit that would be exponential, that would serve as a link for new poets coming through everywhere, doing what they have done for a decade, leading a way, lighting a path, providing a space. Yet, after this time, after such selfless labour, one can’t help but understand why it should end, so neatly, so that it doesn’t just dissolve as often the best things in poetry do, into something lesser, to disappear unnoticed. For my part, I’m grateful to them, they’ve run something powerful for longer than I’ve been involved in writing at all, and I hope as the next years pass The Other Room is remembered as a real moment in 21st British poetry.
 

A note on: closing the Worm Wood exhibition

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One final event marked the end of this culmination of two years of collaborating with the brilliant tereza stehlikova, and the end of the summer, one spent with many days and nights in the chapel and grounds of the east end of kensal green cemetery. There was a palpable sense of emotion during some of the performances, all of those many artists who have contributed to the programme seemed to connect their new works often to their experiences of grief and death, and again, some of the works were very intense in a beautiful way. Perhaps its because these events have been intimate, 20 to 30 people and in such an amazing space. tony white, thomas duggan, susie campbell, iris colomb and more, they were all very generous about the project and to share their time and works. tereza and i plan to continue to work together on Worm Wood, for the foreseeable future, especially now it is so tied into the coming old oak development and the disappearance of the parts of west london we set out to explore long before we know old oak existed.

checkk out stevenjfowler.com/wormwood

A note on: North x North West Poetry Tour part 2 - Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool

All info and funbatch on this tour is here www.stevenjfowler.com/nxnw and allll videos www.theenemiesproject.com/northwest

Leeds was fire. I’d heard it was a quiet town for the avant garde or literary poetry but this proved untrue, or we got unlucky. In the wharf chambers we had over twenty poets and from many different scenes and backgrounds. From first time readers to folk like Ian McMillan and Robert Sheppard, it ran the gamut. I got there early, in the snow, to be met by Ian in fact, whom, ever the gentleman, helped me shift 100 chairs into the basement punk venue. So many poets I was excited to see and meet for this one, and there was a uniformly playful tone, with a noticeable investment by many. For my own work with Patricia Farrell we wrote a collaborative poem and then I played with some ideas around memory and recitation, recording her poems onto my phone, popping in earphones and reciting from that audio file at parts, and at others, just trying to copy what she had said. Nearly 100 crushed in all told and some of these collaborations will be long remembered, everyone was buzzing

Sheffield was interesting. Again there was talk of a quiet gig but our room at Bank Street Arts was chocked, even dangerously so with much of the gig standing room only with people blocking my camera or stepping on each other’s feet, literally. Some great works here, punctuating a range of stuff, from the high literary to the amusing. At times it leaned into the self-referential, the audience having its favourites / friends, which is really the opposite of the deliberately open Enemies mode, but this is inevitable with such an intense room and a single city scene.

To be honest for me, the whole time in Sheffield was clouded by hearing of the death of Tom Raworth, who was a great influence on me and a friend. I wrote a piece remembering him, feeling emptied and deeply sad, in a Travelodge in the city, having travelled from Leeds and so it was a melancholy day. It took me many attempts to write the piece, I was feeling quite out of sorts. We ended the event with Chris McCabe and I reading some of Tom’s poems and this I will never forget, to have the big audience to read Tom’s work to, a day or two after his passing.

Liverpool is a city I love and this sprawling reading in the beautiful Everyman playhouse, who could not have been more generous as a venue, brought together many friends and great poets from across the region, being the final gig. I had the grand pleasure of working with Nathan Walker, whom I respect immensely and our improvised sound poetry vocal piece was a joy, though it was maybe too intense for the audience. Some fine works here but it was a rare misfire over all in terms of the Camarade tradition. Not quite sure why, but there was an imbalance in the works overall, perhaps a lack of identity in the event, a lack of successful experiment, or engagement with liveness. Happens sometimes.

Certainly I left the event happy because it was the summation of the project, and the final moments of that were spent with my friends, Tom Jenks especially, a brilliant poet and a great person to work with. As ever it’s a privilege to do this work, to such large audiences and such enthusiastic and varied writers.

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

 

Published: a collaboration with John Hall in the Clearing

A lovely legacy of the South West Poetry Tour this past summer the excellent Clearing magazine are putting out a series of the new works the tour instigated. My contribution is my work with the brilliant John Hall. An honour to be alongside him in e-print. The work is entitled The 7th Poet.

 https://www.littletoller.co.uk/the-clearing/uncategorized/south-west-poetry-tour-3-sj-fowler-john-hall/

A note on: Bjørnson Festival, Molde and Bergen Bibliotek: Norway

An eclectic and frequently glorious tour of Western Norway in the late summer of 2017 saw me fortunate to travel with friends and poets Endre Ruset, who was responsible for the venture, and Harry Man. After flying to Bergen and reading in the cities Bibliotek, thanks to the brilliant poet Erland Nødtvedt, I read at the Bjørnson festival in Molde, celebrating the work of Arne Ruset. A chance to further my relationship with contemporary Norwegian poetry, which began in 2010, and more than that, share some extraordinary fjords, mountains, seas and times with great folk.

Bergen is famed for its rainfall, but we were fortunate, flying in from London, to have a day to acclimatise in beautiful sunshine, and I was able to roam all over the city, across the university campus, the old docks and up into the hills around the harbour. The first time I had spent time in Bergen since 2002, when I lived in Oslo for many months for a very different reason than poetry. Endre travelled to meet Harry and I from that city, overnight, after a translation deadline encroached on his always intense schedule. That made all three of us pretty much sleepless, which was a theme for the trip, and added the often creative, underwater quality to the journey. We then linked up with local poet Kristian Heggernes, a really fine poet, and prepared our reading, which would see us present new collaborations in revolving pairs, in a sort of miniaturised Enemies project. The Bergen library is so beautiful, and we were so well treated, spirited out of the rain after a guided tour of the city, that the experience felt more personal, more intimate than a normal reading....

Read the full travelogue here http://www.stevenjfowler.com/norway

A note on: Soundings #6 with Sharon Gal

The Soundings project comes to an end for the time being this October with the 7th instalment and the end of the Hubbub residency and I've had an extraordinary time collaborating with 6 artists so far, the latest being Sharon Gal, a major figure on the London experimental music scene since the late 80s.

This is a work I'm very proud of. Sharon's work has been a real influence on me, so it was brilliant to work so closely with her developing a series of performances, embedded in some unusual and industrial / suburban hidden spots of west london, for film. Again working with Ed Prosser, who has filmed most of soundings to great effect, we spent a brilliant day roaming from Kilburn to Kensal, along the grand union canal and into wormwood scrubs, playing with soundscapes, found sounds and instruments. We utilised the possibilities of film, performing in scenes of a sort, to create something original in the edit. Such a privilege to have this opportunity, and once again responding to materials given by Wellcome Library in response to prompts given by Hubbub curators.

A note on: Summer performances 2016 - Poland, Holland, Serbia, Georgia & more

Summer performances from Miłosz Festival (Poland), Tbilisi Literature Festival (Georgia), Krokodil Festival (Serbia), Poetry International on Vlieland (Holland), South West Poetry Tour, Parasol Unit, CapLet and European Poetry Night (UK). www.stevenjfowler.com

Praxis at Parasol Unit, London. A new collaborative performance with Maja Jantar, on an evening curated by Simon Pomery and Lala Thorpe. 

South West Poetry Tour: A collaborative poetry tour of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. New readings and performances with JR Carpenter, John Hall, Matti Spence, Annabel Banks and Camilla Nelson www.stevenjfowler.com/southwest/

Tbilisi International Literature Festival, Georgia: brand new reading and performance collaborations with Luke Kennard, Eley Williams, Zaza Koshkadze and Lia Liqokeli. Curated by Davit Gabunia www.stevenjfowler.com/georgia

My Century / Mój wiek' at the Miłosz Festival, Krakow: a new UNESCO City of Literature Krakow commissioned performance with Tom Jenks and Weronika Lewandowska. Curated by Justyna Jochym. www.stevenjfowler.com/krakow

Krokodil Festival, Museum of Yugoslav History, Belgrade: 8th edition of the Krokodil Festival in Serbia hosted CROWD literature's Omnibus project. www.stevenjfowler.com/belgrade

Poetry International at Stortemelk, Vlieland Holland: Reading of new poems, translated by Tsead Bruinja, hosted by Tsead and Bas Kwakman.
www.stevenjfowler.com/vlieland

CapLet, London: A new performance with Prudence Chamberlain, launching the collaborative poetry collection, House of House. CapLet reading series is curated by Jonathan Mann www.stevenjfowler.com/houseofmouse

European Poetry Night: part of European Literature Festival in 2016, a new collaborative performance with Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir www.theenemiesproject.com/epn

A note on: South West Poetry Tour - Bath, Bruton

The final two legs of the tour, in Bath and Bruton. All the blog and documentation www.stevenjfowler.com/southwest 

In the end the evening was frantic, the largest number of poets and an excellent attendance, with some tech demands in between hosting and all the usual responsibility of organising an event. Camilla and I's work seemed to respond to this, and was contextualised, and perhaps amplified, with a more literary feeling for the majority of the collaborations being shared. It allowed us to play, to use the space, to make our performance a dance of sorts, but also a playfight of another sort - a physical poem alongside our text - not entirely, and deliberately, careful, not entirely graceful, but full of something close, intimacy perhaps. A really resonant experience for me, working with Camilla, extending our curatorial collaboration with such proximity and tactility, and begin a conversation with her work, one I've definitely benefited from being exposed to....

Bruton - August 7th Our final stop, the week passing, predictably, with alarming speed. We were able to stay close to the extraordinary gallery and gardens of Hauser and Wirth, everything that so many on the tour had told me it would be, enjoying local hospitality in some style. It allowed the poets who had seen through every leg of the tour to really spend some memorable time together, not only travelling in mini car flotillas, often through the dense English countryside and its receptionless roads, in the middle of the night, but around dinner tables and long after that, talking. A privilege to get to know some brilliant, warm-hearted, talented and wise human beings through the excuse of reading poetry, part of the experience that will stay with me longest I think.

The reading itself was pretty remarkable, over 150 people climbing the gentle incline of the garden in the Hauser & Wirth complex, up from the gallery itself into what seemed a giant ant pod, or upturned paper-mache tugboat. I thought it an installation on first approach, only to discover it was hollow and airy, allowing us to pack an enormous audience in the space for our 18 poets and our final event. Some brilliant work on display here, and I had the chance to read with Annabel Banks. We built our poem on abstracted meta-references, to the tour and its happenings, and then wrote it out to the other four who had been on the road, to engage multiple voices, to surround the audience, in a kind of mini-play. 

A high point to bow out upon, drawing poets and audience from the surrounding area, Bristol and beyond, and to be in such a special place. We ate together then finished our last proper day of the project saying farewell at train stations or around a dinner table, talking very late into the night. A really resonant, generous, memorable week in the south west, a time that will be hard to forget, made up by people I am better off for having worked with and lived beside.

A note on: South West Poetry Tour - St Ives, Falmouth, Dartington

For latest blogs on the tour visit www.stevenjfowler.com/southwest 

A collaborative poetry tour of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset spread over a week in August 2016. A project I co-curated with Camilla Nelson, bringing over 70 poets together over 5 nights, the first Enemies project style tour I've done in England, writing new works every night with core poets JR CarpenterJohn HallMatti SpenceAnnabel Banks and Camilla herself.  It was a memorable week, a return to old places and friends, and the beginning of new ventures. For much more information and documentation visithttp://www.theenemiesproject.com/southwest

St Ives - August 1st 2016

I was born in Cornwall, in Truro, and I grew up as a small child in Newquay. This was the first reading I'd ever given in the county and the first time I had been back since I was a teenager. St Ives, famous for its artistic community, welcomed us with torrential rain. Annabel Banks drove me from London, picking up other poets on the way, for a rare and joyful road trip south. We arrived at night, nearly ten hours on the road, and accommodation famously being at a premium in one of the UK's summer tourism hotspots, I jumped out of the car in a dark lane to enter a property called the hobbit hole, which was a shed with a bed in a garden. Actually quite fun to live, briefly, like a hobbit.

The reading itself was held at the Barbara Hepworth museum, and supported by Tate St Ives. I was told afterwards that we were in the very room in which Barbara Hepworth died of smoke inhalation. Surrounded by her sculptures, it was an unforgettable space to read within. I met many poets for the first time, some after long correspondence, met the core touring poets as a group for the first time, and had the great pleasure to read with John Hall. His work has been influential on my own ever since I began to trace the line of my own interests back through British poetry to the 60s and before. He published his first book in 1968, and his rare poise, presence and judgement as a poet and a person was great to share, if briefly, as we read our piece in such a special room. I tried simply to follow his rhythm, his play with silence and pause and I felt very comfortable in that space, almost not like a reading for me, closer to a performance of reading.

St Ives provided a fascinating beginning to the tour, quite intense in a strange way - the weather, the tourists, sleeping in a shed, bombarded with new faces and hearing new poetry and being responsible for that. Already a sense that things are moving quickly, picking up steam, switching modes to performance and travel, and to start this near the very foot of the country, to work north, as feels natural to me.

Falmouth - August 2nd 2016

A journey across Cornwall, weather lightening, energy rising, travelling with Camilla, a remarkable poet and immensely organised and responsible as a co-curator. Luxurious accommodation too, with a landlady who even came to the reading and insisted on baking me vegan cookies. We were housed at The Poly for the event, with young, helpful, accommodating staff. And I got to work with Matti Spence, a fascinating and generous man, a fine poet. I first met him after he returned to London from some years away in Australia and after he had studied a UEA. Completely assured and singular, while being essentially warm hearted, Matti is a peer to learn from. We wrote a poem I was very happy with and decided then to turn it performatively, breaking the fourth wall, and using the assumed context of the reading against the audience, in a light-hearted way. A lovely touch for me was that my old friend and collaborator Thomas Duggan attended, his studio being deep in the Cornish countryside, and I hugged him mid reading. Everyone seemed lifted by the event, the format of collaboration once again creating ties and bonding people from different scenes and styles. 

Dartington - August 3rd 2016

Back into Devon, driving up with Camilla and Matti, skirting Dartmoor, crossing the Tamar, heading to Schumacher College, near where I grew up as a teenager in Exeter. Another strange return, but realising on the tour that it isn't a return when the company and purpose is utterly new. And in Dartington it felt the most fresh, like I had not been to this part of England before. This is perhaps because Schumacher College is so unique, set apart in the countryside, an ecosystem unto itself. Staying in dorms too, cells, made the experience feel really embedded and somehow enclosed. This was a remarkable evening of poetry too, a full house again, with some brilliant collaborations highlighting an evening that felt complete, energised, memorable. It was inevitable the lineage of Dartington College of Arts would cast a spell on the reading, and so many in the room had ties to that institution (more here on that), and multi-disciplinary practise and performance art was a key feature of the collaborations. 

Collaborating with JR Carpenter was a blast. We took a text she had generated with her computer, basically three simple phrases and then, introducing ourselves with a little bit of water pouring, on theme, used repetition to build an improvisational structure. I love this kind of work, completely open, free and high pressured. It requires time and expertise to do well, and can be a dud on the wrong night. This wasn't, it flowed, as we leaned into each other, swaying slightly, the clear purpose of the work was well expressed, well received and seemed all the more satisfying to me because in a way, it was a small work, miniature and light. It represented the moment, it was of the space, and very much a product of the tour.

We finished the evening in the White Hart, where Dartington College of Art, before it's merger with Falmouth University in 2010, held many events, many long nights. I sat with John Hall, who taught at the institution for 34 years, and he told me of the poets who had read in the room and the history of the place. It felt a very special privilege to hear that from him and to imagine our event as a small, brief, resurgence of that tradition in the area.

A note on: filming Soundings #6 with Sharon Gal

The Soundings project comes to an end for the time being this October with the 7th instalment and the end of the Hubbub residency and I've had an extraordinary time collaborating with 6 artists so far, the latest being Sharon Gal, a major figure on the London experimental music scene since the late 80s. Sharon's work has been a real influence on me, so it was brilliant to work so closely with her developing a series of performances, embedded in some unusual and industrial / suburban hidden spots of west london, for film. Again working with Ed Prosser, who has filmed most of soundings to great effect, we spent a brilliant day roaming from Kilburn to Kensal, along the grand union canal and into wormwood scrubs, playing with soundscapes, found sounds and instruments. We utilised the possibilities of film, performing in scenes of a sort, to create something original in the edit. Such a privilege to have this opportunity, and once again responding to materials given by Wellcome Library in response to prompts given by Hubbub curators.

Liverpool Camarade - the videos

I had a truly beautiful experience in Liverpool, giving a seminar at Edge Hill University, where I was hosted and treated to extraordinary hospitality by James Byrne, enjoying the open, interesting campus before meeting 50 or 60 deeply discerning undergraduates and staff, before a Camarade took place in Liverpool centre on the same night.

The event was wonderful, so much so because James had taken the curatorial weight and allowed me to be free to launch my collaborative book with Tom Jenks, 1000 Proverbs, and to discover so many who were new to me. Great to meet Michael Egan, Patricia Farrell, Luke Thurogood and co. It was an extraordinary evening of poetry, full of energy and warmth. 

Steve Van Hagen & Michael Egan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAZrHb573Mg
Andrew Oldham & Lindsey Holland https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pscQB_8JNY
Elio Lomas & Luke Thurogood https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9WEvvu0dE8
Scott Thurston & Steve Boyland https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5V6ImYwqqU
Robert Sheppard & the European Union of Imaginary Authors Liverpool Camarade - Robert Sheppard & the European Union of Imaginary Authors
James Byrne & Sandeep Parmar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD6MnII1fAc
Joanne Ashcroft & Patricia Farrell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yIQx3zSHpE
Tom Jenks & I https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3eF4bV8Mrw