A note on: Reading at London Literature Festival, Southbank Centre for Moby Dick Live

Great to read one of my favourite chapters of Moby Dick, a book I revisited and closely read just a year ago when meeting Philip Hoare, chapter 110 Queeqeg's Coffin, as part of Southbank Centre's Moby Dick Live event, where the entire novel was read out loud in ten minute chunks for four days for the London Literature Festival. http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/moby-dick-unabridged-1001129

You can read the chapter in question here: http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/42/moby-dick/791/chapter-110-queequeg-in-his-coffin/and it is well worth doing so. I managed to cut together the audio of my reading with images from illustrations of Moby Dick, which can be seen above.

"An awe that cannot be named would steal over you as you sat by the side of this waning savage, and saw as strange things in his face, as any beheld who were bystanders when Zoroaster died. For whatever is truly wondrous and fearful in man, never yet was put into words or books. And the drawing near of Death, which alike levels all, alike impresses all with a last revelation, which only an author from the dead could adequately tell. So that- let us say it again- no dying Chaldee or Greek had higher and holier thoughts than those, whose mysterious shades you saw creeping over the face of poor Queequeg, as he quietly lay in his swaying hammock, and the rolling sea seemed gently rocking him to his final rest, and the ocean’s invisible flood-tide lifted him higher and higher towards his destined heaven." 

Billy Mills reviews the Whale Hunt on Sabotage reviews

 "The whale hunt in the title of SJ Flower’s excellent chapbook is of the Viking variety, these being Viking poems. There is no clear evidence that the Vikings actually hunted whales, although whales and Vikings did most definitely co-exist and the one scavenged the carcasses of the other when such carcasses washed up on convenient beaches. Indeed, the limits of Viking whaling may well have been to injure whales in the hope of facilitating such scavenging. Sadly the Sagas are relatively silent on the matter.

Tilikum the captive orca, on the other hand, very definitely exists and is reasonably efficient as a people hunter, having killed three of them. Maybe he mistook them for Vikings? Together, Viking whale hunts, real or otherwise, and Tilikum the angry orca form the warp and woof of Whale Hunt.
As an object, this is the kind of chapbook that pleases my senses greatly. Its A6 page size is perfect for pockets, and the choice of a crisp serif font more than compensated for the small point size, meaning that the blocks of text are clearly readable. These untitled blocks, or poems, are nine in number and vary in length from eleven to seventeen lines, giving the whole the feel of a sonnet sequence. The inclusion of three interestingly complimentary illustrations, combining photomontage and angular line drawings, by publisher Nick Murray and the good-quality paper used add considerably to the pleasure.
The language of the poems is suitably jagged, given the Viking substratum:
Sparrows above, they are the size & colour of seagulls
Jokke saw they are so delicate, said their beaks
I told him & we throw rocks at them & eat them
with the preponderance of single-syllable words and fricative consonants combining highly effectively to create a suitably Nordic soundscape.
In a recent interview, Fowler mentions Pierre Joris and Tom Raworth as exemplars of the kind of poetic practice he admires. Anselm Hollo, a poet often associated with them, gets a name-check in the first of these poems; ‘now a skald in Valhalla’. On the evidence of Whale Hunt, what Fowler’s work most has in common with these older poets is speed. Speed of perception, of movement from one object to another, of language: these are the dominant characteristics of these poems. They are fast, disjunctive and unsettling of readerly expectations:
when war walked upright on the waves
bearpaw blackfish           red arts admin.
that I surely shouldn’t do the recorded ruins
resurrected in Englishness tracery
intact in the tombing, parted company
heat dissolving delicacy, bound up
clow clear framing everyward to be heard
There is an additional undercurrent of animism running through the poems. Fowler’s whales and other animals are shape-shifting totemic creatures inhabiting a world in which ‘Time began with a bear then it became a Viking’. The bear is almost as much a presence as the whale; indeed they cannot really be distinguished:
Becoming Bear from Whale
Turns out the Whale is a Beaver
Bear > Beaver > Whale
Like Housman’s hunter and sailor, whalers, even putative Viking whalers, come home in the end. In fact, ‘home’ is the final word in both the first and last lines of the ninth and final poem in the set. For poet and Viking alike, it’s a hard-won landfall, ‘famished but alive’, wearing an Orca skull as helmet, home at last. It’s a neat resolution for such a restless sequence, final but somehow lacking finality, home until the next time, language, for the moment, at rest."

Performing the Whale Hunt: Viking poems for Annexe magazine launch

This was such a joy to do. Not only because it was with Nick Murray's amazing Annexe press that I was launching out a new booklet, nor because it was beside Tom Chivers, my friend, whose work I get to see live far far too infrequently. But because I got to show slow motion footage of killer whale revenge, while playing norse drone music, while hand painting runes onto wall mounted poems that I was reading from, occasionally spitting into the paint palette to keep it wet and punching the wall or stomping the wall when it was called for.
The pamphlet Nick has produced, the 2nd of my vikings series, it a beautiful thing, Im very proud of it and to be in the Annexe family. Tom's reading was far better than mine, it was actually brilliant, blending music with a slide show of his residency in Hull, tracing the flots of a river. He had a wonderful cadence and direction to his reading, one of the best Ive seen him do. My performance I don't know how it went. Maybe I was just laying performativity on top of a reading to avoid being boring. Does all of it work? I don't know. I committed to the idea and people seemed to value it, but they could have been lying. All good, there is something there, something authentic beneath the puff.

Launching "Vikings: the Whale Hunt" a new publication with Annexe

Really pleased to be publishing some new work, a lovely illustrated pamphlet, another in my Vikings series (which will continue to be released segment by section) with the amazing Annexe and its fine editor Nick Murray. I really respect the energy, the quality and the breadth of the work Annexe puts out, and really happy to be under its umbrella. More so that the publication will be launched alongside a new work by Tom Chivers, a close friend and a really good poet. www.annexemagazine.com
The first Annexe event of the year is an exciting one as we launch new pamphlets from two exceptional writers. 

Tom Chivers & SJ Fowler - Double Launch - Candid Arts Trust 
Wednesday 26th February - 7pm (reading commencing at 7.30) = FREE
Whale Hunt  - SJ Fowler 

"Time began with a bear then it became a Viking

family tree over grandfather to all of us (that matter)
the polite, the gentle born of the power to display force
but choosing not to do so in company resounds its glow"

Poet and vangardist, SJ Fowler, strives to encounter and confront all disciplines in the poetic tradition. His latest work starts from a root of Norse mythology and carves a path through contemporary poetics and language construction. 

Whale Hunt, part of the Introducing series, is a curated section of Fowler's Vikings work and is published as an illustrated pamphlet.