Courses for the Poetry School: Maintenant, Vanguard, Mondo & Camarade

I've been very fortunate to benefit from the support of the Poetry School, an organisation dedicated to adult learning, wholly focused on poetry, in London and beyond. I've run three courses for them, all of which have been about avant-garde poetry. Covering specific movements in European, British and World avant-garde writing, I've been able to communicate things I'm passionate about to successively erudite and enthusiastic course participants. From teaching face to face in the Poetry School's base in Lambeth, to an International Course, with participants from Mexico to Athens, on their purpose specific Campus platform, these courses have allowed me to communicate the methodologies, the theories and practices of the poets who have really inspired me. Each course so far has sold out and I hope my association with the Poetry School is long standing.


Poetry School Camarade - July 16th and 17th 2016 at Rich Mix, London

A wonderful opportunity for me to work with the Poetry School again coming up this July (all the details on my other courses here) but this time in a unique format, one that suits how I like to share ideas, and specifically, in this case, what I've learnt about collaboration through the 100 or so collaborations I've done and over 200 collaborative events I've curated.

It's a weekend course, kindly hosted by Rich Mix near Brick Lane, which will finish with a Camarade reading featuring those on the course, in pairs, and other poets connected to the Poetry School (which is a grand list). It means not only do I get to contextualise the theory behind collaborations, and to explore its history in poetry, and the methodologies consequent from these two things, but I get to do so immersively, and with a definite, practical goal - the reading.

I think it'll produce some wonderful works and I hope, for those who participate, be a real locus for a whole new world of writing poetry across mediums and with other fellow poets.

Book here: http://www.poetryschool.com/courses-workshops/face-to-face/the-poetry-school-camarade.php

More details www.theenemiesproject.com/poetryschool

Saturday’s July 16th 2016 workshop

1pm – Introduction to the possible methods of collaboration in poetry and text.
2.30pm – Facilitated group writing exercises and practise performances.
3.30pm – Facilitated breakout sessions for collaborations in pairs.
5pm – Group discussion on the process, final pairs confirmed and feedback.

Featuring a discussion of the philosophies behind collaborative writing, the diffusion of the poet’s identity in collaboration and the consequences of that for solo writing. Extended explorations of the notion of the reading versus the performance, group writing, conceptual writing, constraint writing, improvisation and more literary methods like line-to-line and stanza-to-stanza. Features both talks, discussions and exercises.

Sunday’s July 17th workshop

1pm – The history of collaboration in poetry featuring source materials provided to the participants, covering a selection of salient examples from 20th century poetry, including movements like the Surrealists, CoBrA, The Beats and assorted examples from the likes of Ian Hamilton Finlay and John Furnival, Ron King and Roy Fisher, Anne Waldman and Joe Brainard.


Mondo: a world of avant-garde poetry - Autumn term 2015: Nov 5th to Dec 3rd

Explore a world of avant-garde poetry movements and discover how their remarkable explorations in the written word often compliment, rather than antagonise, more formal writing practice. http://www.poetryschool.com/courses-workshops/face-to-face/mondo--the-global-avant-garde.php

Over 5 sessions, 5 global avant-garde poetic movements will be used as references to springboard you into new writing techniques, stressing the possibility amidst the history. Covering five different movements of the post-war period, in five different nations, this course - with the energy, dynamism and invention of the writing it explores - will enrich anyone’s poetry horizons. Steven will organise a post-course reading for students on this course. Lessons are weekly, Thursday evenings 7pm to 9pm. Mondo is not intended as representative of anything but an idiosyncratic selection of international avant-garde movements, all presented as a gateway to new writing methodologies for contemporary poets.

Week One: November 5th – Japan
The ASA group to the VOU: Kitasono Katue & more
Logogrammatic poetry: The abstract illustration of language

Week Two: November 12th – Canada 
The Four Horseman: bp Nichol, Paul Dutton & more
Sound poetry: Language as Sound, resonant, non-lingual, vocal.

Week Three: November 19th - Nigeria
The Mbari Club: Amos Tutuola, John Pepper Clark & more
Experimental mythology: Mythic tropes as paths to the new.

Week Four: November 26th – Brazil
Noigandres: Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos & more
Concrete poetry: The visuality of the poem as its meaning

Week Five: December 3rd – Syria & Iraq
The Tammūzī Poets: Badr Shākir al-Sayyāb, Adonis & more
The ancient as modern: Free verse as liberation.


Poets from the Maintenant & Maintenant International courses read at Camarade (June 2015)

An event I staged during my solo exhibition Mahu, this Camarade event followed the usual format of pairs of poets being asked to write together to present new works for the night. It was a lovely reading, but what made it somewhat special that night was that six of poets performing had been participants on my courses for the Poetry School. Sarah Dawson and Lucy Furlong has attended my very first program in early 2014, and have since become peers, having read for me more than once. Their work together was so outstanding that many who hadn't come across their work before immediately asked me for links and information. The other two pairs, Alice Kate and Kate Wakeling, and Cathy Dreyer and L'Abri Tipton, had been participants in my Maintenant International course, which involved people remotely, from around the world. To that point, L'Abri visited from Lille, Cathy from Oxfordshire, outside of London and Alice from Lima, Peru. They all created wonderful works via correspondence and it was really satisfying to see the content of courses have such a positive effect on writers already quite clearly accomplished in their own right. Hard not to be proud by association.


Maintenant International: a course to the world (Spring 2015)

I was delighted to again be teaching my Maintenant course for the Poetry School. This was exciting on two fronts: The first is that this course, the first time round, was undoubtedly one of my most positive teaching experiences. The second reason in that this second go of Maintenant was an International course. This meant it could be taken by anyone in the world. It was very exciting to be able to relate my ideas and my thoughts about these 5 great movements (you can see the course breakdown below) with people who have a wholly other perspective than my own. This accessibility is such an exciting prospect when teaching, and a credit to the innovative pedagogical approach of the poetry school. Moreover it meant the course wass assignment driven, i.e. writing driven, and this was always the hope, that the course would be a platform for others to create their own work, their own movements, or at least radical and personal ideas for themselves and their writing. 

Asemic 4.jpeg

Three asemic poems by Kate Wakeling, written for Maintenant.

The great upside of the experience was seeing how generous the participants were, many of whom were brilliant and established poets in their own right - Vahni Capildeo, Jack Little, Kate Wakeling (whose incredible asemic writing triptych sits above, produced for the course) - and how my assignments seemed, at the least, at least unique. So much of the material was new to everyone and they responded with enthusiasm, which was best seen in the work produced. Of course everyone had to rely on a basic self-sufficiency to participate and this took me a small while to properly realise, that I perhaps needn't do more, or as much as I was doing, but to trust that people would take it upon themselves to write and read as much as they wished. There is an inherent cutoff in the teaching process in International, online teaching, there isn't the exchange, often unmentioned, but vital to the experience, between people who meet face to face when sharing ideas, especially methodological ones. But in the end, and it was towards the very end I truly realised this, this had a different but not lesser momentum, and the visual poetry, the asemic writing, the collage, the sound poetry and the constraint writing these kind people produced, from Mexico to Peru, from Greece to France, was really often of amazing quality. It really buoyed me to see just how much fine work had come from these ideas, once again.


Vanguard: exploring the British avant-garde (Autumn 2014)

A course I taught during the Autumn term 2014  http://www.poetryschool.com/courses-workshops/face-to-face/vanguard.php Really something I felt a responsibility to formulate, to realise after my first course at the Poetry School that there was a real appetite to find out more about a tradition I had been exposed to from day one of my writing in London. I made the decision, after a great deal of thought and research, to divide the course into concepts rather than movements or eras, or factions. For obvious reasons, perhaps, and I was very happy with the results. The experience of the course was different than Maintenant, full of brilliant moments, including a psychogeographical lesson where we walked about Lambeth at night during classtime, recording our thoughts and creating new Situationist texts, but also more about dialogue, perhaps because everything in the room was, by and large, British. It seemed more personal and a little but more contentious, which wasn't my intention but is often productive in it's own right. So beautiful to have to chance to share the work of those who should be known so much more than they are and who have proved fundamental to my own writing.

“Explore the expansive modern tradition of British experimental poetry, as SJ Fowler presents a necessarily idiosyncratic insight into the vibrant innovative poetries which have sought originality in the UK over the last 50 years.

Five bi-weekly sessions will explore the distinctive qualities of the British avant garde and chart a course through an enormous field of writing. Not formed by generation, region or faction, Vanguard explores characteristics that are possessed by, but in no way encompass, the work of many great British poets. These are qualities, and poets, chosen through the acknowledged limits of Steven's knowledge and interests, & representative of that alone.

Week 1 : October 23rd : Rapidity : Exploring immediacy, alertness; quickness; celerity, concision. Scalpel cuts at smugness / pomposity, seeking the fragmentary whole. : Drawing from the work of Tom Raworth, Maggie O'Sullivan, Denise Riley, Barry MacSweeney, Andy Spragg, Frances Kruk & others

Week 2 : November 6th : Proximity : Nearness in place, time, order, occurrence, or relation. Imbued with situation / location / historicity. : Drawing from the work of Iain Sinclair, Bill Griffiths, Geraldine Monk, Lee Harwood, Carol Watts, Roy Fisher & others

Week 3 : November 20th : Sonority : Excavations in sound, the condition of being resonant, multi & non lingual / vocal. Performativities. Technologies. : Drawing from the work of Caroline Bergvall, Bob Cobbing, Phil Minton, Hannah Silva, James Wilkes, Zoe Skoulding & others.

Week 4 : December 4th : Jocosity Umour. Disjunction, juxtaposition, reappropriation - deftness, humour as disturbance, sublimation. Humour as a liferaft. Drawing from the work of Tim Atkins, Holly Pester, Jeff Hilson, Philip Terry, Robert Sheppard, Tom Jenks & others.

Week 5 : December 18th : Destability : Undermining the oppressive in language / politics, situating complicity, interrogation / rejection of subjectivity. Externality and the refraction of worlds of language as a mode. : Drawing from the work of Veronica Forrest-Thomson, JH Prynne, Allen Fisher, Sean Bonney, Emily Critchley, Keston Sutherland & others.

During the course the onus will be on how these qualities in modern British poetry can enrich writing practise, rather than dense historical analysis, and how experimentation emerges from necessary innovations that are required for a poet to be truly contemporary in a rapidly changing society. Vanguard is a chance for students to diversify from singular, retrograde modes of writing and provides an all too rare insight into a world of poetry that is a profound part of our literary culture and heritage.”


Poets from Maintenant reading at Camaradefest II (October 25th 2014)

A vital part of my pedagogical practise is the synthesis between sharing work and methodology in a classroom and then creating the opportunities for those receiving the information to use it. Though I emphasise process over product and context over content always, one still needs the chance to make the content for the context to happen. So it was lovely to host five of the poets from my first Maintenant course (Sarah Dawson, Robin Boothroyd, Lucy Furlong, Jonah Wilberg and Harry Wooler) at the 2nd Camaradefest, held at the Rich Mix in Brick Lane, London on October 25th 2014, where 100 poets read in 50 pairs over one day.


Interview for the Poetry School: with Sarah Dawson (Spring 2014)

One of my most considerately prepared interviews, this discussion with Sarah Dawson presaged my first course with the Poetry School and remains a valuable representation of some of my thoughts behind the course and my activities in general. You can read the full whack here: http://campus.poetryschool.com/maintenant-interview-s-j-fowler/

Your course will be covering Oulipo, Austrian postwar modernism, concrete poetry, CoBrA and the British Poetry Revival. Can you explain how you came to be interested in these movements?

S J: I think because I came to poetry quite recently, only four years ago really, and very much fell into it, my reading habits, my influences, are not really formulated along formal lines. I wasn’t handed classical poetry as a child, didn’t listen to whatever was taught at school, didn’t grow up valuing a certain tradition or style or form, I have just read continuously, whatever I could where I could. For years I was completely isolated in my reading too, being led into it by philosophy, which I studied, and as such I was in a bubble, didn’t have the chance to develop any sense of prejudice against poetry in translation, or avant garde work, as somehow otherly. That’s perhaps why I read this kind of work alongside poetry that might be better known in this country in equal measure.

Moreover, each movement that I’m going to be covering in the course has its own special place in my own development as a poet. The Oulipo showed me how structural freedom can actually be more restricting than formal structures and concepts, because that freedom is mediated by very specific influences and tropes. Austrian postwar modernism is the example par excellence of avant garde writers writing for a purpose, and not as a self-indulgent stance against something, and that is to expose the ever present instincts of fascism in a nation that had tried to plaster over in immediate history and responsibility. Concrete poetry showed me that language is not mediated only by its content, but by its appearance, by the material it appears on – it has multiple dimensions, it is art as well as language. CoBrA really exemplifies the very best of what post-war European poetry aims to achieve – collectivity, collaboration, dynamic experimentation. And the British Poetry Revival, well this was a seismic discovery for me. An entire legion of incredible writers, writing about my country, writing works of genius, completely hidden from the mainstream reader.

In the course description it says that the techniques used by the poets you’ll be covering can, ‘compliment, rather than antagonise, more formal writing practice’. Could you expand on what you mean by that?

S J: I think there’s a territorial, self-defeating dualism that seems to permeate through people’s perception of the experimental, that it requires a philosophical or political praxis to be part of their writing. That it is against something, more than it is for something. This isn’t true, fundamentally. Experimentation is about finding the authentic way to express a very certain content. And that’s why a lot of formal poems fail in my opinion, because they are using the wrong form, because it is familiar or it is all the writer knows, to express their content. I hope to just humbly, gently, suggest that these movements show us new worlds of form and method toward content we might want to access and express.


Maintenant: exploring European avant-garde poetry  (Spring 2014)

One of the best teaching experiences of my life, the first course for the Poetry School - Maintenant. I got very lucky with the group of people who came to share their thoughts, but also years of research, really from the start of my writing as a whole, as well as from the 98 issue deep interview series I ran here www.maintenant.co.uk, into contemporary European poetry came to bear. I knew more than I had thought I knew, and had a passion for much that I had forgotten. This in the ideas behind the movements more than anything - in teaching the course I came to realise so many of these brave, wondrous engagements with experimental literature on the continent since WWII had genuine and fully realised political, ideological and philosophical ideas driving them, and these were good ideas. Not at all pretentious or removed, so many of these movements were about responding to the horrors of the middle 20th century and could be gleaned for the unique problems, and opportunities of our time. So I realised more than I had that the European avant garde was wholly relevant to me, that I shared, often, its concerns, and so took much away in realisation of how and why my writing had become what it has. I think the 16 people who came every two weeks to speak with me at the Poetry school thought so too. So we engaged deeply with the potential of technology and writing, of political and social engagement, of collaboration and community. Their amazing energy and their desire to make these historical groups and movements new and real to them was palpable, and amongst other things, at one of my events celebrating Danish poetry, they did an incredible group performance which you can watch below. My connection to most of those who participated has gone on to stand the test of time and this really is the purpose of these courses for me, to extend a community, to meet like minded readers and writers.

The Maintenant course was taught in Spring term 2014 http://www.poetryschool.com/courses-workshops/face-to-face/maintenant.php & explored post-war European avant garde poetry. Here is the course breakdown:

Week One:  – Oulipo Georges Perec, Jacques Roubeau, Raymond Queneau up to Frederic Forte and British Oulippeans like Philip Terry. The constraints that emancipate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oulipo

Week Two:  – Austrian postwar modernism Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, Elfriede Jelinek. How to deal with the legacy of Fascism.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Handke

Week Three:  - Concrete poetry Hansjörg Mayer, Bob Cobbing, The Vienna Group, Oyvind Fahlstrom, Marton Koppany up to Anatol Knotek. The visuality of the poem as its meaning http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concrete_poetry

Week Four:  - CoBrA Asger Jorn, Christian Dotremont, Pierre Alechinsky. Dutch, Danish, Belgian & beyond, poetry as art revolt & primitivism.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COBRA_(avant-garde_movement)

Week Five:  - British Poetry Revival Tom Raworth, Bill Griffiths, Maggie O’Sullivan & many many more. Those every British poet should know, our immense late 20th century Vanguard heritage. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_poetry_revival - 


The Poetry School: a cameo thanks to Chris McCabe - April 2013

http://www.poetryschool.com/ The Poetry school is an intriguing thing. An admirable endeavour, but one, perhaps because of my background in the avant garde (or towards it, a bit more than some), that I haven't encountered often. My first such tryst came thanks to Chris McCabe, who kindly invited me to join him for the last hour of his penultimate class on collaborations. Set back on Lambeth walk, amidst boutique shops and a few housing estates, the evening was spent chatting with genuinely engaged and interesting people about Enemies, Camarade and my opinions on collaboration in and outside of poetry. I brought some books, books in boxes and anecdotal stories along with the theories. Then I joined the group in a frightening local pub afterwards... The hope, of course, in such a class is that the teacher is just leading the flow of an organic exchange, rather than being demonstrative. In this situation, where those attending were so erudite, artists and poets of significant merit in their own right, and the teacher was so capable and multifaceted as a poet himself, this was the inevitable result. It is really considerable that people will pay to attend such a focused programme about poetry, and collaborations at that! after working a full day, and bring so much creativity, energy and enthusiasm. Respect to everyone involved. I'm sure the relationships began on the night will bear fruit in the future. Here is a link to one of the students in the class speaking with the Poetry School too. http://www.poetryschool.com/courses/featured-student--sophie-herxheimer.php