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.

EPF2018 #1: European Poetry Festival 2018 begins at Writers Centre Kingston

The start of my first foray into festival directing ended my first foray into Writers’ Centre directing, whatever either of those things mean. In practical terms it began a remarkable 10 days for me, the most satisfying curatorial / organisational patch of my life. For this event, held in a slightly blanched upstairs room in the otherwise lovely Rose Theatre in Kingston, near the Uni I teach within, I was able to bring together around a dozen poets, some visiting, some local, some students. Old friends like Dublin’s Christodoulos Makris and Venice’s Alessandro Burbank read alongside soon-to-be-new-friends like Paris’ Frederic Forte and Amsterdam’s Erik Linder. I was particularly proud of the young poets I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my teaching like Olga Kolesnikova and Synne Johnsson, and the performances ranged from translated readings to performances, Fred Forte and Astra Papachristodoulou both presenting particularly entrancing conceptual live poetries. Everyone piled into the olde market square afterwards, talking late into the night.

See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/kingston
www.writerscentrekingston.com/europe

A note on: Poem Brut at Writers' Centre Kingston

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One of the things about curating an event is that you are fundamentally responsible for where it takes place. So when you arrive at a venue and it's locked and dark and down an alleyway next to the Thames off Kingston's market square, and it remains so for an hour, right up until people start arriving, you are aware that it might irk those who have made the effort to come out on a thursday night. That being said, as the event was a Poem Brut performance, it did seem to some that it was a deliberate act on my part, a conceptual investigation of what a literary event is. Some thought I planned it so performances would happen in the dark, in the cold, by the river. They were thrown when I walked the entire audience across the town like a grumpy pied piper to a new venue I had rustled up on the spot. To the endless credit of the audience, it seemed to do something positive to the proceedings, bonding people, creating a peripatetic unity. The performances that followed were brilliant, five new works in the poem brut style - challenging and inventing upon the possibilities of literature made live. Ink spitting, dog translations, mannequin pinning and canvas shredding. The poem brut events I have been running have restored my excitement for curating events, which I perhaps do too often, and it was grand to bring this energy to Kingston Uni for the Writers' Centre and the students. I'll do it again for the next year of events, as I realised, as the night unfolded in a rather clinical lecture theatre, that Iris Colomb gobbing ink onto a page and then reading it was perhaps the exact antidote to the lectures that had left there trace in the room. All the videos www.writerscentrekingston.com/poembrut

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: 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: editing the Sampson Low Poetry Pamphlet series in 2018

The Sampson Low Poetry Pamphlet Series is designed to evidence the remarkable contemporary and innovative poetry being written by current and recent Kingston University Creative Writing students. This series of beautifully designed pamphlets each features a suite of poems, most often on one theme or in one style, by a solo author. Visit https://sampsonlow.co/wck-pamphlets/ to purchase from the series.

New releases in the series, debut works by Olga Kolesnikova, Yvonne Litschel and Silje are now available to purchase. Click on the title and author to read more about each publication so far and buy a copy!: Click on the title and author to read more about each publication so far and buy a copy!:

“Kingston University brings together students from all over the world, from as wide a range of backgrounds and cultures as can be found in the UK. It creates a community that cross pollinates influences and ideas, and this is inevitably reflected in the work the students create. The university does not get enough credit for this – it is, I have seen, a vibrant, harmonious environment where originality and difference can be transformed into exciting and innovative expression. The students are hungry for that which is innovative, that which allows them to express the true size and complexity of their experience and their community at the university. This series of poetry pamphlets reflects that. The work is utterly contemporary, it is exciting and energetic. It is, I hope, the best kind of representation of what Kingston University stands for – intelligent, unique and various in its character.”  
Series editor, SJ Fowler

Writers' Centre Kingston blog #6 - Remembering was good

My short time so far as direktor of Writers' Centre Kingston has been smooth sailing, the challenges are different, but the remit is clear, and I've been lucky to have friends I've been able to ask to be guest speakers on quite short notice after my summer takeover. Our first few events were all about trying new formats, working student readings next to newly commissioned talks, and trying new venues, but this was all straightforward, the issue has been in a very different event culture in Kingston than in London, or in the other big cities I normally work. What I take to be relatively given and maybe even mundane is perhaps a little startling for others, so that's interesting. But having Iain Sinclair, Tom McCarthy and our beautiful pamphlet series, for example, tends to produce interesting events.

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The third event was on the theme of Remembering and saw the best trio of talks I think I've ever been able to commission for a similarly faceted event. Between them Winsome Pinnock, John Stuart and Nell Leyshon produced genuinely remarkable reflections. It was so lovely to see Winsome, who is responsible for me being at Kingston, John, whom I look up to, being an avid history reader interested in the legacy of empire, and Nell, who has really got me writing fiction, and has become a close friend, after we met in Mexico and Peru, and had mad adventures over the last few years, speak together. 

You can see all the videos and pictures here www.writerscentrekingston.com/remembering

Here is a picture Nell sent me after the event, a year old but just developed from film, of us sitting in an event abandoned train carriage in Peru. This event is what I'm trying to do with the centre, inspire students, and anyone interested, anyone in this part of the world, with programmes which feel friendly but have a core of something challenging, something defiant and intellectual.

Writers' Centre Kingston : blog #4 - a performance, Dying

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The first few months of running the new literary centre at Kingston University have been really interesting, and our first few events have been as good as I could've hoped for. The second, the official launch, at Rose theatre in Kingston, featured Iain Sinclair, Andrew Teverson and myself speaking on the theme of Dying, to a full house.

Find out more at www.writerscentrekingston.com/dying

I had to give a performance for the event as a speaker dropped out in fact. I did an improvised talk, the kind I've been focusing in on the last year. Lots of speed talking, lying, comedy rhythms. As a condition I write them on the day, a few hours before, as bullet points and then just work them out live, frightening but satisfying. I wrote tonight's on toilet papiere while waiting for the audience to arrive.

 

A note on : European Poetry Night Norwich 2017

As part of three days of European poetry celebrations last week I had the pleasure of accompanying four Scandinavians poets to Norwich, to read at an event I organised, which also drew in local Europeans, in the camarade model, in pairs. The night was brilliant, full of energy and warmth. I met lots of poets new to me, and reconnected with many friends. We had a grand turnout thanks to the Nordlit seminar on translation which had been taking place that day, hosted by those who had kindly hosted us, Writers Centre Norwich and the International Litcase Showcase. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/norwich

I collaborated for the fourth time with Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir. We’ve only known each other for just over a year, but our collaborative magic feels many years deep. We put on a kind of Eurovision Poetry Contest, or hosted something to that effect. As ever, Asta’s rare energy and invention told, it was a weirdly beautiful piece of poetry theatre.

We were shown great hospitality too, with Dan, Endre, Martin, Asta and I taken to dinner, and then out on the town for many hours after the event. Always wonderful people to work with, Jonathan Morley, Sam Ruddock and everyone involved made sure the beginning of EPN was memorable.

A note on: European Poetry Night! May 6th in London

European Poetry Night : London
Rich Mix : May Saturday 6th : 7.30pm

www.theenemiesproject.com/epn

An opportunity to see some of the most exciting contemporary poets from all over Europe, as over 20 poets travel to London to share new collaborative poems, premiered on the night, in pairs, across languages, styles & nations. These are some of the most dynamic literary and avant-garde poets of the 21st century, celebrating the potential of collaboration to generate truly innovative poetry and work firmly against the divisive idea of a reduced closeness of spirit across our continent. Curated by SJ Fowler. 

European Poetry Night 2017 in London. May Saturday 6th: Rich Mix
7.30pm - Free Entry. 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA


Bas Kwakman & Jen Calleja  /  Kinga Toth & Simon Pomery  /  Endre Ruset & Harry Man  /  Alessandro Burbank & Max Hofler  /  Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir & SJ Fowler  /  Theodoros Chiotis & Vanni Bianconi  /  Tom Jenks & Weronika Lewandowska  /  Henriette Støren & Astra Papachristodoulou  /  Livia Franchini & Maarten van der Graaf  /  Frank Keizer & Dan Aleksander Ramberg Andersen  /  Damir Sodan & Tomica Bajsic  /  Iris Colomb & Serena Braida 

The European Poetry Night is supported by Arts Council England, NORLA, The Royal Norwegian Embassy, Dutch Foundation for Literature, Institut Francais London, Austrian Cultural Forum London and many generous others. www.theenemiesproject.com/epn


Presented by The Enemies Project, European Poetry Night is actually one of three events in three nights on the European theme, creating a mini-festival of sorts. This begins in Norwich Writers Centre on May Thursday 4th before going on to Libreria Bookshop on May Friday 5th. All events are free. Details below.

European Poetry Night : Norwich - Writers' Centre Norwich
May Thursday 4th : Doors 6pm for 6.30pm start. Entrance Free. 
Dragon Hall, 115-123 King St, Norwich NR1 1QE www.theenemiesproject.com/norwich

EPN Norwich features brand new collaborative works of poetry from pairs of poets drawn from different European nations visiting for the event and as well as many local to Norwich too. Supported by Writers Centre Norwich and the International Literature Showcase. Featuring:

Martin Glaz Serup & Jeremy Noel-Tod  /  Endre Ruset & Rebecca Tamas  /  Jonathan Morley & Dan Aleksander Ramberg Andersen  /  Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir & SJ Fowler  /  Alison Graham & Matthew Gregory  /  Chris Hamilton-Emery & Richard Lambert  /  Zein Sa'dedin & Sarra Said-Wardell  /  Doug Jones & Sam Jordison  /  Andrew Wells & Nathan Hamilton  / Emily Willis & Olivia Walwyn


May Friday 5th : European Poetry at Libreria
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm / Free Entry / 65 Hanbury St, London E1 5JP
http://www.theenemiesproject.com/libreria
Readings from some of Europe's most innovative and dynamic poets, visiting London from a half dozen European nations. This event will celebrate the shared literary tradition of our continent with truly contemporary readings and performances in one of London's most beautiful bookshops. 

Published: an article of "The Poetry Reading, Literary Performance & Liveness" for Norwich Writers Centre & ILShowcase

http://litshowcase.org/content/reading-in-public-is-always-a-performance/

"READING IN PUBLIC IS ALWAYS A PERFORMANCE

SJ Fowler explores the role of poet as performer and artist

Cautiously declaring a desire to be severed from the tendon of smugness often associated with the avant-garde, be it in writing or performance, I will begin rather by saying my interest in this kind of writing is really not about literature first, but about three things, two of which seem relevant to the notion of liveness and poetry.

The first is the future – a desire to be future facing, in a moment where the world is so different than it ever has been before, so much so that it is beyond previous imagination. By this I mean the world population of human animals doubling in the last forty years, climate apocalypse, the internet as a language based human nervous system emerging in the last three decades etc… No more on this, but to me the avant-garde gives poets more in the way of preparatory strategies than the classically fascinating, formal, history-facing poet. I’ve been asked why it is important to be future-facing. To know the past, as I try to do, reading as much classical poetry as I can (ought to?) is useless without having a stake in the future. It is undeniable that the default mode of contemporary British poetry is conceptually, theoretically and methodologically facing backwards, over its shoulder, resisting what might lie ahead.

The second is potential. What is the possibility of the page? Does it stop at times new roman size 12 left aligned grammatically correct first person narrative anecdotes of emotional insight, as most poetry books are? No. White space, paper stock, colour, font, language as material - this is the domain of the poet, if any kind of artist. The poet is a language artist, and these material concerns are not just for the graphic designer, or text artist etc… This is all a frame of mind, a mode.

The third, most importantly to me, is my naiveté as it relates to poetry. I have only been writing, performing, painting, for a sixth of my life, or thereabouts. It all, for better or worse, flooded in at once. Before, and since, I am fundamentally confused, about most things, about poetry. Why is what might be taken for a normal, everyday sentence, describing an event or incident or anecdote, but given line breaks, called a poem? And speaking most generally, I find existence relatively adversarial, within the comfort I’m lucky to have (again I mean macroanalytically thinking, life is adversarial as its fundamentally degrading before expiry etc…) And this is often the state of avant-garde work. It is confused, can appear inexact, or exacting, it is equal to life, it does not control the uncontrollable, it mirrors it. It presents questions to questions, not unlikely answers......."

A note on: In Other Words: The Journal for Literary Translators Winter 2016

Very happy to have a short article in the beautiful and vital In Other Words journal, which is published by Writer's Centre Norwich and the translation centre. Do go get a subscription, it's a brilliant journal http://www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk/about-us/wcn-publications/

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My article gives an account of how I happened to be in Serbia as the UK's exit from Europe happened, and the inevitable disquiet around that experience. I was helped by editor Sam Schnee in putting it together, she did a wonderful job with me and with the whole issue, which features Gabriel Josipovici, Chris Gribble, Jen Calleja and many other talents.

A note on: a Georgian travelogue & the 2nd Tbilisi Literature Festival

Visit www.stevenjfowler.com/georgia for all images & videos, and www.theenemiesproject.com/georgia for more details on that project

An extraordinary week in Georgia - I had the chance to read at the second international literature festival in Tbilisi alongside some brilliant poets from around the world, organise an Enemies project in Georgia, collaborating with Georgian poets, explore the city of Tbilisi, visit the Caucasian countryside, enjoy the remarkable hospitality of the Writer’s House and the Georgian people in general. An unforgettable trip, an immense privilege. Gratitude to the International Literature Showcase Fund, the British Council and the Georgian Writer’s House for their support. http://writershouse.ge/eng/new/573

A GEORGIAN DIARY

Day One – May 16th

A trip I have long looked forward to, ever since meeting the Georgian playwright and organiser Davit Gabunia at the International Literature Showcase in early 2015 in the UK, and we began plotting. To Georgia, for the sake of poetry, absurd from the off - somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit, having avidly read about the place, following history, from early christianity, to the mongols, to timur, to the soviet occupation, to the present, looking west while further east than most British people travel. I had the pleasure too to travel with fellow poets Eley Williams and Luke Kennard, both friends, and as apt a representation of the Enemies project unofficial dictum for those who participate as there could be – good people / good poets, the sweet middle of that Venn diagram for those I love to write and travel alongside.

We travelled into Tbilisi via Istanbul and were met by Sandro Jandrieri, as dry as a desert, as hospitable as can be. We had a hilarious potted history of Tbilisi, and at midnight, the city feeling very much alive, the equivalent energy of early evening in London – friendly, familiar – Sandro took us for food and drink, skirting the tourist places in the old town, where we were staying.

Day Two – May 17th

A strange insomnia is affecting most of the writers visiting, we’re in the same hotel. Maybe it is the hotel itself, or the travel. We meet up, meet the others invited to the festival, some friends, some new friends – DBC Pierre, Yuri Andrukovych, Tadeusz Dabrowski, Sergio Badillo Castillo, and have a chance to explore Freedom Sq before we’re on our first bus trip, led by unfailingly bright and brilliant student volunteers. They take us to a few of the dozens of near ancient churches, a waterfall in the middle of the city then up in the famous funicular where we have our first experience of being stuffed by Georgian food. The view is extraordinary, over the whole city – it is strikingly beautiful, the golden domed cathedral, the hills ringing the city, the iron woman looking down upon the terraces, the cable cars, the modernist architecture recently shocked into place alongside crumbling flats. It’s a powerfully romantic vision, Tbilisi. Eley and I, and the Swedish poet Kristian Carlsson clamber into an art installation on the hill – a massive steel storage container, with a tiny hole, so when you are closed inside, in the dark, a camera obscura shows the city vista within. They lock us in the darkness and we wait. The image never arrives but the utter darkness makes the light of the city all the more palpable when we emerge, sweating.

Our first meeting as a group too, for the Enemies project I’ll be curating. We meet the Georgian poets and Davit, co-curating, is there too as we exchange ideas. My assumption had been that with the Georgian tradition only 25 years out of Soviet rule, that the mode of poetry would be classical, and so maintain the trace of the cult of personality which has dominated poetry for so long, with such ill effect, and so collaboration would feel unnatural to our new friends. Not so, Davit has chosen some radical writers, Lia Liqokeli, Zaza Koshkadze … All of them are making a new tradition for Georgia, looking west, but not being western, like the city itself, daring, idiosyncratic but ever hospitable to collaboration or conversation. We eat with new friends at the Writer’s House, which is the host of the festival and us for our whole time. We have nothing like this in the UK – a locus for writers, epic like a country home in the heart of the city, with amazing food (a theme) and many rooms for the readings and conversations which are scheduled every night for the next week.

Day Three – May 18th

Our ‘work’ day, we have to write and present 11 new works for the Enemies project performance the next night, two as a group and 9 as pairs, short bursts of poetry and performance. This means frantic emails between the six of us participating, ideas shifting, performances forming. We have time to walk further, our own time to explore. People are so friendly, everything is so easy and safe to navigate. It is impossible to imagine we are beyond Turkey. It feels so European. I find, by pure accident, following a giant painting of a Kiwi on a bicycle, Georgia’s only vegan restaurant, and am greeted in English, then fed with the refusal of my money (another theme – this even happened to me in a tourist shop, I was given a postcard), then taken to see the patrons (quite excellent) artwork. We end up talking for over an hour and I meet his family. Hard to not feel embarrassed by how warm everyone is. People hold their stares at me, being tall (er) and pale, but they finish this with a smile, even on the highstreet. I take the chance to have a run, not wanting to bloat out from all the Khachapuri and Khpali I’m shovelling. I have the hill with the funicular in my mind, steep as it is, I want to try it. I run some, walk some and crawl the last. I see the city in blue, my burning thighs and oxygen depleted brain showing Tbilisi in new light again.

Day Four – May 19th

The day of our performance. We need our further time to write, I have another hill run and seek out some exquisite coffee places. Eley, Luke and I have lunch together, they are beautiful company – erudite, kind, engaging. I have known them both for a number of years now, but such is the nature of readings, you often don’t get to cross paths without ‘business’ and for no longer than an hour or two. We are becoming friends, I am richer for that.

We head over to the Writer’s House early to begin rehearsing. Usually, at this stage, in the other 20 or so international Enemies project’s I’ve curated, most of the writing is done and we do a cue to cue, line up the reading order to be complimentary, get the works printed out in order and then practise things out, tweek words and gestures – I’m always emphasising context, to control one’s body and voice, to understand space. I stress this a lot. Tbilisi though, and it’s poets, are enviably laid back, and though Lia is there early and Davit too, there are some delays which make the process quite rushed and a bit hampered. We persevere, make adaptations and bring everything together. 

The performances themselves are really fun. There’s a good audience, a palpable enthusiasm from poets and watchers alike, and a playful spirit. I always seek a balance between intense, quality poetry collaboration between more conceptual, performative works. The balance here is tipped to the latter, and with humour perhaps overriding, as perhaps the nature of the collaborative mode doesn’t quite land for the Georgians, and they have a touch that ends up too light. But this is the energy of the night and we go with that. Some really great moments emerge. Luke and Eley are brilliant and we share some special exchanges, it all feels a great beginning, a fine showcase. All the videos are herewww.theenemiesproject.com/georgia

Day Five – May 20th

We get snatches of the city in the mornings, walking down the river, and I veer out into the suburbs. The city is undoubtedly growing, older buildings propped up with girders, some rotting away, but being developed. What a time to visit – everything is here, everyone wants to talk, yet it is indelibly unique, I’ve never been to a place like it – it feels powerfully authentic. We have a huge late afternoon meal at a restaurant none of us could ever have found without the brilliant people behind the festival – Natasha Lomouri guides the festival beautifully, Nana Jandrieri. the matriarch of our daily lives and Davit, always spinning 20 plates. There are rounds of Georgian toasts, more writers join us, Edgar Karet, Dato Turashvili, Susan Shillinglaw. We eat until we’re immobile. 

Back at the Writer’s House for the evening, every poet attending the festival will read one poem, everyone has had one poem translated into Georgian. The audience is large, but with the reading outside many are eating their dinner, still talking. I like this background noise, this diffused attention. I declare my allegiance to walnuts and drop to my knees as Davit reads my poem about a ‘newly deaf dolphin.’ I like to send this work to translators, proves a challenge, makes a new work in the new language. Great too to see Yasuhiro Yotsumoto, Sergio Badilla Castillo, Tadeusz Dabrowski, Kristian Carlsson, Yurii Andrukoych and others read. Eley, Luke and I have our farewell dinner, again in the Writer’s House. We talk intensely, as we have all week, hard to believe how quickly it has passed, but as always with these strange, bracketed, intense travelling weeks at festivals – the bonds are made strong.

Day Six – May 21st

With many poets departed, I have booked a few more nights in Tbilisi, staying on. This day I get to join an excursion out of Tbilisi and out into eastern Georgia, to Karkheti, through hills, to the brink of mountains, looking south and north as we go. It’s a bus of us, with Nana and more amazing volunteers. I am seated next to an irrepressible and charming woman called Salome, just 19, speaking perfect English, amongst many languages, and she talks to me all day. She is full of life, so enthusiastic and humble. So wonderful to meet Georgians of this generation. We visit a new Chateau made to look old, an ancient church, then the most ancient church. It is interesting, but not deeply absorbing for me, I’m more taken with the general history, the people on the bus and the stray dogs in the countryside, melancholy, friendly creatures, and the views, which are stunning. I’ve always wanted to visit the Caucasus, from reading Hadji Murat on, from wrestling with Caucasians in London. It is everything I hoped. The women on the bus burst into song, three generations. They have beautiful voices and all know the same songs, and frequently halt into laughter between numbers.

We visit Tsinandali, where Alexander Chavchavadze lived, a famous Georgian aristocratic poet, and Lermontov visited, amongst others, and walk the grounds. Free wine tasting leaves me and driver the only sober ones. The songs go up in volume. I am only a little scared. Then onto another huge dinner. They always accommodate my not drinking alcohol and my being vegan, with curiosity. The food is amazing. The 19 year old women and the 60 year old women all smoke around the table, in the restaurant. More toasts. The drive back to Tbilisi is sleepy but doesn’t make a dent in Salome’s energy. She is practising her English with great verve. It’s dark when we rejoin the city.

Day Seven – May 22nd

My last day in Tbilisi. I’ve acclimatised, have my favourite spots and can finally sleep a bit. I know what I want to do, the only day I’ve been alone, and that’s to walk for hours on end. I head down to the famous art market, beneath a bridge, next to the river and spend all morning talking to young artists, who exhibit each Sunday, and antique sellers. I walk up to join Rustiveli street and walk its length for over an hour. Thousands of faces pass by, a mass of human movement, catching eyes with many, music in my ears. I walk to the zoo, made infamous last year as animals escaped after a flood, most famously, the hippo. I formed this story into my collaboration with Luke a few days before, much to students delight. The zoo is half empty of animals, but those there have space and it seems for children more than adults, as it should be. Again people talk to me randomly, freely, with a real kindness. I come closer to a rhino than I should be allowed to me, and pet its horn. Beautiful to be alone here.

I walk back into the city, trying to get partially lost. I discover a disused water park and then climb back to Rustiveli street before visiting the Modern Art Museum, with a retrospective of Tsereveli. I cross Freedom Sq and begin to climb the hills east of the city, wanting to be high above, at the feet of the giant statue of an iron woman. wine and a sword in her hands. I sweat to reach her but the views are stunning. I sit and watch the city for a long time. 

My last hours in Tbilisi are spent over dinner with the Swedish poet Kristian Carlsson. A Swedish project looms. He tells me about his publishing house, his work with refugee writers in Malmo as we try and decipher some abstract translations on the menu. The last page of the menu is for cigarettes. Both of us are marked by the city, by Georgia itself, by its people. Kristian orders a ‘sweet barbecue’ and gets roasted sunflower seeds and eats them while smoking. We say farewell and I have to jog back to the apartment I’ve rented in a torrential downpour. In between sprints I hide in doorways, and under bus stops, and under the lip of a soviet era train station. In more than half, someone asks me where I’m from and says how much they love London when I answer. Me too, but Tbilisi is something London will never be.

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A note on: the amazing English PEN Modern Literature Festival 2016

One of my proudest days as a curator. Not because I had achieved anything myself, but because, at the end of 25 performances, six hours of poetry & performance and a fair few hundred people coming and going, it was clear the simple act of organising something between people, a simple act of emails, could create a feeling of purpose exponentially larger than the sum of its parts. Visit www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen for all the performance videos

A huge gratefulness stays with me, for the wonderful, generous staff of English PEN, and for the many poets in the room at Rich Mix throughout April 2nd, and around the world, whom were being celebrated in absentia, for their courage and relentless strength of character and purpose.

The sense of responsibility each of the poets and writers felt to their respective charges, the writers at risk currently supported by English PEN whom they had been asked to write about, threatened to overwhelm each and every work. But it never did tip, never spilled into sentimentality or fragility. I truly believe that difficult, complex, intellectual artworks, poetry, maintains a necessary intensity of focus and agility of method to be created and understood, and this kind of work is then best suited to celebrate / evoke the same tragedy of injustice and overloading of guilt and pain we feel at the suffering of others. Fellow writers specifically here, but in general, beyond that. It is best suited to satirise, to send love, to call out - it is something ambiguous and terrifying we were all writing about, and none of us tried to escape our own place in that. We needed to be innovative to not simply condense these feelings into didactic speeches or calls to ethics we all knew we shared anyway. In that sense, for me, it was a comforting day. For others, perhaps challenging. But for me, it was comforting, for I was surrounded by great intelligence, great humility, a collective assuredness of purpose, without pretence and without self-deception. The ethics of such a day, of writing poetry at all, boils down to something (something wrong, something clumsy, something ineffectual?), or nothing, nothing against something, mute from fear of being ineffectual. This was a day of something real.

I'm so glad I could be at the centre of such a day, and I have great hope it'll happen again. Please visit www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen to watch all the videos, and please visit www.englishpen.org/membership to join the amazing charity.

A note on: The English PEN Modern Literature Festival - Full Line up announced

Rich Mix Venue One: April 2nd 2016 - 2pm / 3.30pm / 7.30pm. 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA
Free entry but signing up for membership appreciated.
http://www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen

A privilege to announce a major new project - 30 contemporary writers present new works, each celebrating a writer from around the world who is currently part of the English PEN Writer's at Risk programme. Each of the 30 English writers will present brand new poetry, text, reportage, performance and film on the day that celebrates and evidences the struggle of fellow writers around the world, in solidarity. The full line up of authors is below.

The one day mini-festival takes place at Rich Mix Arts Centre, just off Brick Lane, London, 2pm til 9.30pm, in 3 sessions throughout the day. All are free to attend but attendees are encouraged to join English PEN or donate to the charity if they are already members. 

2pm to 3.30pm
Harry Man on Maung Saung Kha
David Berridge on Dawit Isaak
Kirsten Irving on Nurmuhemmet Yasin
Jen Calleja on Gao Yu
SJ Fowler on Khadija Ismayilova
Dave Spittle on Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury
Prudence Chamberlain on Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong
Robert Hampson on Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace
Adam Baron on Can Dündar and Erdem Gül

4pm to 5.30pm
Eley Williams on Tsering Woeser
Sam Winston on Zunar
Lucy Harvest Clarke on Liu Xia
Stephen Emmerson on Dina Meza
Alex MacDonald on Alaa Abd El Fattah
Drew Milne on Omar Hazek
Oli Hazzard on Enoh Meyomesse
Sarah Kelly on Nelson Aguilera
Caleb Klaces on Jorge Olivera Castillo

7.30pm to 9.30pm
Caroline Bergvall on Sanjuana Martínez Montemayor
Emily Critchley on Mahvash Sabet
Andrew McMillan on Ashraf Fayadh
Andra Simons on Amanuel Asrat
Allen Fisher on Mamadali Makhmudov
Nathan Walker on Mohammed al-‘Ajami
Michael Zand on U Zeya
Mark Waldron on Zhu Yufu
Mark Ravenhill on Mazen Darwish and Yara Bader
Emily Berry on Raif Badawi
Tom McCarthy on Liu Xiaobo

The festival 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 at least 30 new members of PEN, begins involvements and connections which will have exponential resonance for decades to come.

Please join English PEN
You can join English PEN here http://www.englishpen.org/membership/join/ and if you are a writer, poet, artist, scholar, academic, reader 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. 

If you are outside of England, please visit http://www.pen-international.org/ and join your national branch of PEN. You can find more about each writer's work responding to this project on their individual sites, for example Harry Man, and a blog on my website on the process of curating the festival

Thanks to Cat Lucas, Hannah Trevarthen and all the remarkable staff at English PEN. Follow the project on twitter using #penfestuk

A note on: The Norwich Camarade at Writers Centre Norwich - Dec 10th 2015

I couldn't have had a better time visiting Writer's Centre Norwich to organise and curate a Camarade featuring poets living in the area. Jonathan Morley and Philip Langeskov of UEA helped put it all together and it was grand to discover lots of young new poets from the creative writing program there, alongside some very well known poets associated with the city, and those leaning towards the more experimental who often aren't. It was a perfect mix, to show that difference in mode compliments, and that we are all speaking the same language with different accents. 

We ended up drawing in 130 people to watch, on a cold, raining thursday night in Norwich and everyone seem very happy. An utterly stressless and joyful evening for me, another very pleasing experience travelling with Camarade. All the ten performances from twenty poets available here www.theenemiesproject.com/norwichcamarade

The International Literature Showcase in Norwich

An unbelievable week for me in Norwich, an incredible platform for my work and really another grand stage for the testing of my ideas, as an artist and a curator. I was very humbled to be there and lived it to the fullest. I wrote an in depth review of the whole experience here http://www.stevenjfowler.com/ilshowcase


Yes But Are We Enemies? diary #5 - Dublin : the end of our Ireland

One of the best Enemies events I've ever been a part of. Hard to describe just how intense, and how brilliant this event felt. Very much, it would seem to me, to be a culmination of a variety of circumstance. The first being the underappreciation of the strength of the Irish avant garde. Here poets of that ilk came together, from Cork to Derry, from Dublin and beyond to share a series of works so radically different in their experimentation, but all wonderful in their power and authenticity, that it became undeniable there is an amazing thing happening right now in Ireland. From audiovisual collaboration, to performance art, to found text, to multivocal readings, the event did what we initially planned this tour might do, and it gave a home, and created a platform for really diverse writers to prove us right. It was also in the Writers Centre, a beautiful place, but known perhaps for its formality, and we crammed it, filled most of the two rooms, and somehow used the ornate nature of the surroundings to intensify the intimacy of the works. We also preceded it with a Q&A, which became, in a gentle way, a discussion with a hypothesis, about collaboration and the Irish tradition. Had the following hours poetry been a damp squib, we might have appeared foolish, but seeing its fire and its clear success as an enterprise, all the more it was as though we had convinced the audience about the salience of our ideas. And finally, it was the last Irish date for us six travelling, and assorted others, and it felt like a goodbye of sorts, because it was. I had such a wonderful time reading with Billy and the others, and really felt as relaxed as I can remember feeling at such an occasion. The videos below bear this out. 

Anamaria Crowe Serrano & Alan Jude Moore https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtF-GGgfZug
Michael Shanks & Cal Doyle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1C9NnKwxnU
Aodan McCardle & Ailbhe Hines https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHwymwq82uI
Sam Riviere & Ailbhe Darcy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofoUxakKZ8A
Christodoulos Makris & Patrick Coyle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPhuZ7INV-0