The Enemies Project
The Enemies Project has brought me into contact with some of the finest poets of this generation, around the world. It has allowed me to explore literary curation and literary performance, as well, of course, as collaboration, as a creative and curatorial mode.
I began The Enemies Project finding the notion of collaboration and literary performance in poetry to be profoundly underexplored. Since then there has been over 250 events, 9 exhibitions and 12 national tours. The project has visited 22 countries and hosted poets from countless more in the UK. Over 600 writers and poets have participated, and the initiative has been supported by Arts Council England, The British Council, Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Danish Agency for Culture, Creative Scotland, Arts Council Ireland, Conaculta, Arts Council Wales and many other cultural bodies. It's been an enormous undertaking, one that has mediated so much of my own creative work, allowed me to expand my potential as an artist and to evidence literary curation as a dynamic and developing field. For far more information visit www.theenemiesproject.com
The project has essentially been about poetry in collaboration - across the arts, across languages & nations, across form, style & content - a multifarious, multidisciplinary but essentially cogent program of events, exhibitions, tours & publications that provide the grounding to comprehensively explore the notion of collaboration in a contemporary, active, innovative realm of poetry. Poetry lends itself to collaboration as language does conversation, and it is in poetry we are renovating the living space of communication, and this in itself is a collaborative act. The poet comes up against something other than themselves in the writing of every poem, and in the shaping of every fragment of language there is a response taking place. This project is aims to bring about and showcase original, dynamic examples of what is produced when the other in question is the equally avid mind of another artist / poet. Every Enemies Project is different, so, below, you can click the box to find more about specific incarnations of the idea.
The Enemies project is designed to be responsive, roving, innovative and groundbreaking in the way we present contemporary, or what is known erroneously as 'experimental' poetry & literature. We have a pioneered a series of formats for live literature which have been successful with writers and audiences across the world, always placing our emphasis on people over poetry, process over content. We have found by inculcating close bonds between poets, artists and audiences the creative results tend to take care of themselves
Our events are multifarious, but include concepts like Camarade, where pairs of poets writing original collaborations, & theCamaradefest uses this model but with 50 pairs and 100 poets reading their work over one day. We have curated 9 exhibitions for developing artists, innovative presses & around collaborative methodologies. We have programmed multiple tours and we have created unique literary projects that reflect on certain nation's cultural milieu. We have also run workshops on everything from collaborative practise, radical translation and children's poetics, from libraries to festivals to schools and prisons. Each event you can read about on this site has some adaptation or original feature defined by its subject or participants, this our unifying methodology.
An International Focus
After originally focusing primarily on a program in the UK, with groundbreaking festivals and exhibitions, the Enemies project shifted into 2013 with a more international outlook. So far projects like Enemigos, Wrogowie, Auld Enemies, Yes But Are We Enemies? and many others have seen poet exchanges and tours from Mexico to Poland, from Scotland to Ireland. These dynamic and ever shifting engagements emphasise local writing communities, bringing together core touring poets with locally based poets, all of whom are collaborating and creating brand new work. The Enemies project has thus taken its ideas around the world, always emphasising the importance of openness and exchange through collaboration and originality, and workshops and pedagogical practise have come hand in hand with the cultivation of these long lasting ties throughout the increasingly global 21st century poetry community.
This international expertise of the Enemies project came to fruition for after the Maintenant series (www.maintenant.co.uk) which was specifically focused on the ever expanding and exciting field of contemporary European poetry. After engaging in nearly one hundred interviews and 40 events, including a large contribution the Poetry Parnassus festival on their European programme in London in the summer of 2012, the Enemies project developed its specific, and we hope, pioneering format for poetry readings and events that is symbiotic to both participant experience and audience exposure. Collaboration is the key to these developments, allowing local audience awareness and community relationships to blossom for visiting poets, as well as realising new areas of practise in their work and forging cross national bonds through that work. Successfully curating events with groups of poets from Mexico, Austria, Norway, Iceland, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Croatia, China and many other nations since 2010, the origins of the Enemies project right up to the present day has founded its work on relationships with arts councils, embassies and literary institutions across the world.
The Enemies project is designed to be eclectic and dynamic, with adaptation and engagement the watchwords of its curatorial approach. A pivotal part of curating the Enemies project is the seeking out of poets and artists, whose work and practise seems suited to collaboration as a mode. Those involved are exposed to wholly new methodologies, considerations and the cultures of different art mediums in the act of collaboration, and their work is very often presented to audiences outside of their usual artform. For example, the writing partnership instigated between TS Eliot prize winning poet Georges Szirtes and avant garde, L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poet pioneer Carol Watts. Contending their personalities and outlooks would gel, even if their work was radically different stylistically, the Enemies project asked them to write a quartet of poetic collaborations to be read at Enemies projects events. The resultant work is now due to be published as a significant collection in 2014 by Arc publications, and stands as a landmark against factionalism in the UK literary scene. This is merely one small example of what has become commonplace both for artists and organisations, as in the wake of Enemies, curators from different nations have taken up with each other without our involvement.
Naturally new financial opportunities for these artists, many of whom have practises which puts them often outside of the mainstream art community, are created through the Enemies project and its partners, as with the honorariums we were able to pay to both established writers, like Iain Sinclair, and burgeoning new talents, like the book artist Ragnhildur Johanns, to collaborate together in the first year of the Enemies project. This collaboration established Ragnhildur’s reputation in the UK, as well as supporting both artists properly for their time and work, which was later sold at exhibition, with the entire profit going to them.
Alongside this practical support, in the creative space between genres that the Enemies project inhabits, a community has arisen, one in which the negotiation of collaboration is the norm. The Enemies project is a space in which over 400 artists and poets are not only provided with new environments to inhabit, but through the sociality necessary in collaborating, are encouraged to learn and grow into, through the osmosis of exchange, new techniques from new practises. The Enemies project is about the multiplication of creative modes through collaboration, and it not only supports the artists involved, it challenges them. This way the project can always remain agile and responsive, in both the work and the form of the work, and the very close development of artists that has become it’s calling card, as they ‘meet’ the audience. The Enemies project is never a closed shop to one style or social group, it is always seeking new work, new artists, new poets and new impetus.
The Poet as Curator
“It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say that SJ Fowler has charged the poetry scene in London (and elsewhere) with a fresh vitality. Since he entered the ring writing, editing and, particularly, event-organising some years ago, the diverse factions that poetry habitually splinters into seem to have converged. The scene(s) have rightened that little bit. It's probably for his relentless curatorial efforts that he is known best - for Steven a worthy and totally valid way to grapple with poetry. The byproduct being that he has created fertile ground for those working under the umbrella of avant-garde and literary writing to begin conversing anew... Steven's nonlinear and outward-looking approach offers a route out of the insularity typifying much of contemporary poetry, punching a hole through its preciousness. His commitment to collaborative practices is also a way out: out of the poetic ego - as he writes in his introduction to Enemies, "a testament to my refusing to be alone in the creative act." It's also a "record of friendships." Steven refuses to see writing as a way of separating himself from other people, whether these people are fellow artists or readers/audience.”
The poet as a curator is a rare thing most especially when considered next to the flexibility that seems afforded to contemporary artists. In poetry, there seems to be a culture of denigration for the poet who has both creative and curatorial influence on their output. The Enemies project is built on the duality of this role and aims to provide an example that overturns this lack of elasticity in the notion of a poet in the 21st century. To control both the structure and the content of one's own output, and in so doing bring others into one's activities is an important impetus for poets for the future of contemporary British poetry. The reality is that the partnerships the Enemies project instigates do not end with the Enemies project. They take on a life of their own, growing with the artists, and friendships, that define them. The Enemies project allows us to actually pioneer not only new events, programmes, activities and work, but a whole mode of being a poet and of defining a community of creative individuals.
You can read the introduction to my selected collaborations, also called Enemies, here, on the Penned in the Margins site.http://www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk/index.php/2013/11/a-miniaturised-bulkwark-against-being-solitary-sj-fowler-introduces-enemies/