Phonica : Dublin - March 26th 2018
Dublin has become one of my favourite cities in which to perform. I’ve had three brilliant experiences, in 2015, 2017 and now, for Phonica, in 2018. Every time the audience has been alive to what I’m doing, always generous and inquisitive. Phonica itself is a grand achievement by curators Christodoulos Makris and Olesya Zdorovetska, who have brought together cutting edge contemporary musicians with poets and literary performance.
I went on last for Phonica 8, spending all night up on the very highest flooring of a spiral staircase within the gorgeous Smock Alley Theatre, lying down, peeking down to the performance stage, listening, waiting. There were some great discoveries for me, Alyce Lyons and Justyn Hunia presented a wonderful filmpoetry collaboration, many years in the making, subtle in that connection between those arts. Alex Bonney presented a sound piece that was immersive and made me want to collaborate with him. And Diamanda Dramm, a remarkable performer, a violinist singing poetry amidst her playing.
I had the chance to follow them and did so with a mostly improvised piece, one of my recent Powerpoint performances, where I have nothing planned really apart from some aberrant slides that respond to the specific event / place. It went better than I could’ve hoped, I think, I don’t know, I discerned from the feedback. The performance was about self-awareness I suppose, about the conflation of self-knowledge where things can become so true they are false. It was also about performance itself, and poetry’s place in that. We all decamped after the event to an underground speakeasy bar by the river before I skulked back to my Airbnb happy.
Subcritical Tests : Gorse Editions
written with Ailbhe Darcy, the very first Gorse edition - Subcritical Tests. Available to buy gorse.ie/book/subcritical-tests
About the book
"The nearness of nuclear holocaust, always just one clumsy accident away, forms an entry point into this record of a friendship. The poems in Subcritical Tests stubbornly make connections, ever conscious of the impending threat of annihilation. Oblique, modern, lyrical, humorous, these poems represent the range of Ailbhe Darcy and SJ Fowler‘s individual practices, modulated and melded through the collaborative process."
Gorse have established themselves as one of the finest literary journals in Europe, if not the world, and so to have this book open their venture into publishing standalone books is an immense privilege. The book is beautifully illustrated and cover designed by Niall McCormack.
You can read a blog post on the collaborative book here : http://www.stevenjfowler.com/blog/gorsesubcriticaltests
The collaboration was begun for the Yes But Are We Enemies? Irish Enemies project in 2014, videos from that tour below.
Launching Subcritical Tests in Dublin : July 12th 2017
I am aware it’s easy to project one’s hopefulness onto places other than where you live, and in the context of launching books and doing events, its true in London I tend to rack them up, so perhaps numbing the experience for myself. But what a beautiful reception in Dublin for the launch of Subcritical Tests. Maybe it was the presence of Gorse as a really brilliant journal birthed by the city and its literary history somehow, or Ailbhe Darcy returning to her city. Maybe it was Poetry Ireland behind it, hosting it in the most grand of buildings. But we had a good hundred people, many students from American university summer schools, around the Dublin literary faces behind and supporting Gorse. And people listened close. We did a reading, just a reading, something I do resist nowadays, feelings its limitations like nails on a chalkboard a lot of the time, feeling oversaturated with the mode, and feeling few are honest about what it can do, and what it can’t do. But here, it was perfect. Ailbhe and I were succinct, in our last moment of a long, three year writing journey, a friendship in a book, reaching a peak of some sort. And as Christodoulos said in his intro – it is a difficult book, a gorgeous thing thanks to Gorse and Niall McCormack’s illustrations, but the content is dense and modern as well as lyrical. It’s not a book to whizz through certainly, not in its making or tone or subject. And then on top of that its collaborative, which seems to distance people for some reason. This was an evening really about friendships, and a community, in a place where it seems to me poetry is taken seriously, perhaps that isn't where I belong- a place I should just visit. All told, it was a really memorable evening, a fitting end to a three year writing and collaborating journey.
Launching Subcritical Tests in Soho - July 10th 2017
Well where else but the basement of a pub in old soho to launch a poetry book about the nuclear bomb / apocalypse / threat / possible sweet release from all the puff? A weird and wonderful night in a dark corridor with people I am so fond of it comes close to a fraternal love - Christodoulos Makris, Susan Tomaselli, Ailbhe Darcy - and some new folk who will become friends. We spent a good five hours down there, relaxed, talking and reading and into the world was launched Subcritical Tests. Watch on on the video for the very end, where the performative urge just nearly just nearly got the better of me. Ailbhe is a sport. www.stevenjfowler.com/subcriticaltests
Yes But Are We Enemies? : a tour of Ireland - September 2014
An Irish Enemies project, and one of the finest to have ever taken place. It began on September 18th in Belfast and visiting Derry, Galway, Cork, Dublin and finished in London on September 27th, YBAWE was a multinational project about collaboration and innovation in contemporary poetry. Six core poets, 3 Irish, Ailbhe Darcy, Christodoulos Makris, Billy Ramsell and 3 English, myself, Sam Riviere and Patrick Coyle, presented new collaborative works across the six date tour. At each reading they were joined by numerous pairs of locally based poets.
Every event featured never before seen collaborative works. Yes But Are We Enemies, co-curated by Christodoulos Makris, was fundamentally about the creation of new collaborative works and the integration of differing poetic communities, and was possible through the The Arts Council of Ireland / An Chomhairle Ealaíon and The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, through their Touring and Dissemination of Work scheme. More than these facts and figures, YBAWE was one of the most generous, warm hearted, creative and close knit poetry projects I've ever been part of, and its impact will remain in Irish poetry for some.
Yes But Are We Enemies? diary #1 : Belfast - a beginning : Sept 19th 2014
An extraordinary beginning to the Yes But Are We Enemies? project in Ireland, the wonderful poets of Belfast couldn't have been more generous and hospitable, and enthusiastic, to us and the idea. Such a privilege to meet so many I have admired from afar in person, including Billy Ramsell, Ailbhe Darcy, Robert Maclean, Susan Tomaselli, Damian Smyth, and to be taken in so fully by the amazing young poets around the University and the Heaney Centre in Belfast like Manuela Moser, Stephen Sexton and Padraig Regan. After arriving and exploring the city a wee bit, I was taken in to a bookshop lock-in by Stephen Connolly who has created a real scene around the Lifeboat reading series before we headed to the Crescent Arts Centre. The readings were uniformly intense and generous, and the vibe, as so often is the case with Enemies, was really warm and cohesive, and carried on into the night after the poetry. Such a great way to begin our tour.
The feeling between the people on this project is already so exceptionally close and generous that it's really taken me aback. I always expect these things to be positive, but to go from space to space with such warmth and endless conversations between all those involved, to have such humour present, and for it to be so palpable, and so in the work, it's just wonderfully gratifying. All this set against the intensity of Derry was very engaging to say the least. It is such a distinct and powerful city, Derry, so tense though, it has to be said. The time I had there will stay with me, going from the Bogside area, the Free Derry museum, to the Guildhall, with it plantation history and its Londonderry Derry, there is such a such a historicity, of didactic opinion that, far more than my experience of Belfast, I felt it everywhere. I was staying in a heavily Republican area and even got into some conversations about my English accent, friendly ones, but real all the same. I found myself casually reading a book left out on a bookshelf for people to read in a cafe about the siege of Derry, called Never Surrender. I witnessed a march of orangemen through the city. The people are wonderful, hospitable and kind, and outwardly friendly, but the oft referred to history of the place is not a misnomer, not an ossified piece of some tourists myth. It is there, breathable, in the place, and in the poets too. All this is the context of such lovely times with Ailbhe, Billy, Patrick, Christodoulos, Sam and others.
The great strength of our event in Derry was the width and experimentation of the poets and their performances. So wonderful to see the work of Aodan McCardle, Ailbhe Hines, James King, Ellen Factor and others, all based in Derry, so experimentally vibrant and brilliant, complimenting the overall feeling of an Enemies event. This is the cutting edge of the Irish avant garde, that which should be far more prominent in the country and is thirsty for a chance to show itself it seems to me. The verbal arts centre was a wonderful venue and our event was part of the Irish wide culture night programme.
Aodan McCardle & Ailbhe Hines - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFOuyaTGC9M
James Kings & Ellen Factor - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCvh120LEoA
Sophie Collins & Robert Maclean - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kUvGWTQhic
Sam Riviere & Billy Ramsell - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKvIQ0CjYdw
Ailbhe Darcy & myself - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_nrtHHIc8s
Patrick Coyle & Christodoulos Makris - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avfeSPNk7Ic
The difference a three hour car ride through the north west of Ireland can make. The intensity of Derry for the easy gait of Galway. The change was pretty extreme. I rode in Billy Ramsell's car with Ailbhe Darcy, while the unfortunates got the bus. Nothing like a poet's road trip, and with Billy, a gentle education in Irish history (welcomed, asked for), Irish language (and it's poetry), and Trad music (which is uniformly beautiful). Galway itself was like a small, Leprechaun ridden Barcelona. The volume of tourists, tourist bars, tourist shops, students, and people in general was pretty surprising to me, and the hot weather (apparently extremely rare) made for a change of tone. But runs down on the seaside, against the atlantic, and the food and the friendliness of the people made it apparent why so many people love it as a place. Again the cohesion and care the group has for each other was palpable, we all ate together on what was really our first day without a reading.
A full day in Galway and then to the arts centre for the reading itself. Some beautiful contributions from Elaine Cosgrove, Anamaria Crowe Serrano, Susan Millar DuMars, Kevin Higgins, Eleanor Hooker, the wonderful Sarah Hesketh who'd come all the way from London to join us, and Sam and Ailbhe, the genuine talent of the latter bringing some non-ironic feelings out of the former for the first time in his life I'm sure. My performance with Christodoulos was a wee bit unexpected by the audience perhaps, a bit more performative, or contradictory, or combustible than they'd expected, and in contrast to the gentility of the fine poetry beforehand, it was noticeable, the discomfort. I am glad we did it, despite not wanting to make people feel awkward, I do believe that is a valid aesthetic reaction and guards against the complacency and comfort that often lazy lyrical poetry can bring. Moreover, it is a very real part of what this tour and project stands for, that the avant garde of Ireland has been smothered and needs its platform with the more 'poetic' poetry. By the time Patrick was utilising repetition as a humourous and interrogative tool against listeners complacency we had got a walkout! Strike one for the project.
Elaine Cosgrove & Anamaria Crowe Serrano https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKMA65LAczM
Susan Millar DuMars & Kevin Higgins https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4g7y-Tf0YE
Sarah Hesketh & Eleanor Hooker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tzhXDGmcZE
Christodoulos Makris & myself https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pauNrHzFVo
Patrick Coyle & Billy Ramsell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9mkefRikHk
Ailbhe Darcy & Sam Riviere https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnmY5ek5WF
Time is bending, feeling like a lot longer than less than a week since we were in Belfast, and writing about things that have happened a day ago while doing things I'll write about in a day. Cork was perhaps the highlight of the tour so far. A city without anything overbearing it but itself, that is it felt like a real city, a fully one rounded one, and Billy's hometown. Again I was driven to Cork, passing the magical Bunratty and Ballygibbon, while Billy and I chatted about Ireland and Irish things, amongst poetry discussion. I got to see where he grew up, got to really about Cork before I explored it myself. We stayed by the University, and it was freshers week, but also near Fitzgerald park and the beautiful hidden riverpaths that lead East out of the city. The city was perfectly lovely, though I was stared at relentlessly. Long, strange, intent stares. Not sure why.The reading itself was a grand success. The venue, in the Triskel arts centre, was packed, 50 seated, at least another 20 standing. It really felt as if Cork's poetry scene was highly developed, full of festivals, visiting poets, an active community. It was lively discussions preceding the readings, and getting to meet Paul Casey, Afric McGlinchey, Doireann Ni Ghriofa, Sarah Hayden, Rachel Warriner beforehand, I realised they all organised readings, had their own presses, taught in schools, translated between languages and so forth. It felt much more like a Camarade event in London with each pair bringing an openness, a volume and an individuality that some other readings can't achieve because they feel like the first time the poets have been given the chance to collaborate and communicate in this way. Not so in Cork, all the 7 pairs delivered with a palpable sense of enthusiasm that spread through the attentive audience.
Sarah Hayden & Rachel Warriner https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wS7UGRrOctg
Doireann Ni Ghriofa & Cal Doyle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRY5g9Jw_bI
Eleanor Hooker & Sarah Hesketh https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2ZrvlKgyyU
Paul Casey & Afric McGlinchey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYwa8SwfYkY
Christodoulos Makris & Sam Riviere https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qefcQINZyI
Ailbhe Darcy & I https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXKrdIxfymc
illy Ramsell & Patrick Coyle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdQmG16sfwk
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.
Kit Fryatt & John Kearns https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IHpg2J3uOU
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
Dave Lordan & Rob Doyle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9JWQcUITvE
Billy Ramsell & myself https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7YxS4hSbbE
Sam Riviere & Ailbhe Darcy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofoUxakKZ8A
Christodoulos Makris & Patrick Coyle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPhuZ7INV-0
There were tears shed at the very end of it. Often the London event, following the time spent in the country of question on Enemies tours can feel like an afterthought, a rounding up. This was all its own thing, packed with people, full of great performances and full of its own energy. What can be said about #YBAWE? It was perhaps, overall, the best thing I've been a part of in the project so far. So good was the time in Ireland, in the cities and travelling, with the beautiful core poets and the local others we met along the way. So good was the work, the poetry, and so satisfying the feeling at the end as at the beginning. Not the last time Ireland will be in my thoughts for poetry I am sure.
Pascal O'Loughlin & Marcus Slease https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnZ7JsYRQ90
Martin Zet & Philip Terry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jinerWRcB34
Kim Campanello & Kit Fryatt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsV6VJ2CXdM
Stephen Mooney https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj8YJxlzd2A
Sarah Kelly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7pRDwN6J78
Christodoulos Makris & SJ Fowler https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeUG10BuZBA
Ailbhe Darcy & Patrick Coyle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FrbwJDo0rA
Sam Riviere & Billy Ramsell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iI1qJD4Dwys
I've had the great fortune to travel during my life, and recently (perversely) often through poetry. Yet, I've never been outside of Dublin in Ireland, never been outside of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Moreover, when I've spent time in Manchester and Edinburgh, and made public my admiration for the depth and consideration of the poetry scene in both those places, centred on, but not exclusive to, the Other Room and Caesura, so those local to the place have expressed surprise that I should feel that way so vehemently. What was most often said of the Auld Enemies grand show success at Summerhall in Edinburgh just last month was that only an outsider could've had a hand in such an event coming together. So my being an outsider to Ireland has allowed me to watch, over the last year or two, a distinct and decisive blossoming of extraordinary writers, poets, editors and curators coming out of those nations. It is too frequent that a poet of quality, that I will then go on to watch for, to invite, to follow, will come out of the Irish nations, that it might be an accident.
Darran Anderson was my predecessor at 3am magazine, to him I owe the job of poetry editor there, and much more besides. His writing, and the clear energy of literary impetus is extraordinary. http://darrananderson.com/ Susan Tomaselli has been doing for me, for my repute as it were, what often poets long for and few get, actual consideration and unexpected support. Her work with Gorse is nothing but a revelation, it is a singular project, and a magazine I will submit to for every issue, fail and or succeed. http://gorse.ie/ Michael Shank's Bohemyth is another extraordinary publication, genuinely marked out from its peers by its intensity and width, and the editorial care that Michael selflessly throws into it.http://thebohemyth.com/ Colony is an outstanding publication too, edited by a team that includes Kim Campanello, Dave Lordan, Anamaria Crowe Serrano and Rob Doyle, all of them authors whose work represents the quality of the magazine.http://www.colony.ie/ Kim herself represents the depth of connection to Ireland that currently resides in London, and has informed and expanded, palpably, the scene I am actively a part of. Pascal O'Loughlin, Robert Kiely, Stephen Mooney, Sarah Kelly, Becky Cremin, Philip Terry ... all hold Irish passports of one kind or another, all are brilliant, and perhaps united, by being profoundly underappreciated. I'll say nothing of whether the famous Irish poets of the last half century have strangled any appreciation for just how inventive and truly Avant Garde Irish poetry is and has been, as I'm not Irish and I don't know enough. What I do know, with absolutely certainty, these poets, above and below, are extraordinary, and aren't considered so by more than a few hundred people. If this project makes it a thousand (or two), then I'll sleep better.
& Rob Doyle, whose book sits on my shelf, recently catapulted quite deservedly (and all the more rarely for that fact) into a literary exposure I could not have been more pleased to watch happen http://robdoyle.net/ There's Aodan McCardle, who I saw perform in London before I published a poem, who leaves behind him here, while making similarly important work in Ireland, a legacy that generations will remember in Veer press. There's James Cummins, who I saw storm up Prague this May. There's Stephen Connolly, who I've had the pleasure to publish and invite to read in London, who is markedly, no matter where he might be from, one of the more generous and intelligent younger poets working today. There's Damian Smyth, a more open and supportive curator I have yet to come across from the distance I have been lucky enough to know him so far. There are these names, and so many more, whom I have read and whom I have the pleasure and privilege of meeting in the latter half of September - Kit Fryatt, Cal Doyle, Eleanor Hooker, Ailbhe Hines, Doireann Ni Ghriofa, James King, and many others, please search them out, you will be better for doing so.
I will not yet write about my co-tourees, Sam Riviere, an old friend who lives in Belfast, Ailbhe Darcy, Billy Ramsell, Patrick Coyle, as I will have plenty of time to do so during my tour diaries and this is about what is in front of me, that which is happening in Ireland now. But I will finish by speaking of Christodoulos Makris, someone who I'm very proud to say has become a friend since I interviewed him for my Maintenant series a fair few years ago now. I could not have found a better and more responsible and generous co-curator and collaborator for this project. He has managed to be so many things at once, in his work and in his person, humorous and warm, yet dignified and serious, experimental and innovative, and yet never trenchant or posturing, Irish and Cypriot, and yet neither / both of these. His recent work is up on 3am http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/chances-are/ Have a look at 'Chances are' and the poetry of it speaks up itself.
This is the right time to be exploring Ireland, and not just through poetry, but through collaboration in poetry, something that forces creative sociality, friendships, communication and bonds, made face to facem that I hope, being relatively young in my life, will last many decades into the future