The Rottweiler's guide to the Dog Owner

A collection of poetry, published by Eyewear Publishing. It was launched on May 21st 2014.

From the publisher: A groundbreaking, aberrant but ever ebullient love letter to those who deserve it, The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner refracts marriage, death, friendship, violence and love through SJ Fowler’s modernist poetic in an attempt to encapsulate the Poundian enterprise of all experience, no matter it’s grandiosity or banality, as feed for poetry. Utterly contemporary, rapid, concise, this collection of poetry suites is a massive, savage world of language and meaning miniaturised and recapitulated – this is a poetry of disjunctive affection, misshapen intimacy and the awkward music of our daily lives.


The Rottweiler's Guide to the Dog Owner is made up of 13 different sequences or commissions. The book also features works that call on, or celebrate, the poetry of Anselm Hollo, Tom Raworth & Jack Spicer.

SJ Fowler's poems deal with disjunctions and interjections. They present us with a world that moves fast and often violently, where the lyrical impulse flowers, breaks and flowers again, too briefly to assert its full syntactic argument. We have to trust our ears, both the music and the rush of fragments. Individual poems and sequences deal with personal feeling, with politics, and, are often engaged with other writers, other places. Fowler's poetics are an open space packed with brilliant intensities. The reader has to live among them not to get blown away. — George Szirtes


Richard Marshall review on 3:AM Magazine :

There’s no point in arguing against poetry like Plato did – not just because it would be barbaric but because we might say something forgivable and convincing. A pataphysicist might suggest reverting to inconsistencies just in case the imagination might addle. Which comes to asking : what’s best? – Useless information? Anxiety? Historical solutions awaiting their problems? Nihilist somethings for cute materialists? Poetry that is about the yearning for a moment you missed and couldn’t ruin, poetry that goes to an imagined community of real people who rightly fear the known, poetry that reverses justice, becoming the carrot with the stick taken out, poetry that comes out of bars as philosophy, that never forgets nor forgives Eliot, that is taller, that from afar can be mistaken for tomorrow and from a distance yesterday and from here neither yesterday nor tomorrow nor either proven until false nor shown to be true, poetry that is always losing the connecting verb, that arrives incognito by mistake, that, given a presupposition of well-being and confidence, resists opinions and clings instead to the inward silent atmospheres of Werner Herzog and Bowie’s ‘Heathen’/’Reality’/’Outside’, leaving a distant recorded message because it’s caught in traffic wanderlust or some indeterminate clause… the binaries all left undone and untidy. Somewhere SJ Fowler is sitting quietly at his desk avoiding the bands of deconstructionists on the march. His poems are strange arguments with conclusions missing the middle, are jealous myths that wish they didn’t know where they came from, where men ‘… are forever praying death/against one another’ and only the dead know the end of war.

Stephen Yablo quotes a joke from Wilde that gives a crank to his philosophy but also to Fowler’s poetry so far as we ask: what’s the subject ie what’s it about? So Wilde asks for a subject to pun and someone says ‘The Queen’ and straight back Wilde rebukes; ‘The Queen is not a subject.’ So Yablo riffs on this to show it’s a subtle distinction between Queen and the concept of ‘the Queen’ that’s in play, and the pun plays with just that and in doing so shows that what something is about doesn’t bring with it everything it contains. To talk about the Queen is not to talk about the concept QUEEN, even though it seems that you’ve got to have the concept to talk about that, ie that one, her, the doxie there! So what Yablo has recently argued is that we take too lightly the subject matter of what is being said. Theories of meaning have tended to ignore this matter and yet it’s what we need if we’re to make any sort of sense of sense. Sometimes often it’s only what its about that makes a sentence make sense as a kind of remainder subtracted from logical space. Rules of combination – fusing semantics and syntax, cry out for more and ‘aboutness’ is the missing factor.

Put another way, George Szirtes writes of Fowler’s poems as dealing with: ‘ … disjunctions and interjections. They present us with a world that moves fast and often violently , where the lyrical impulse flowers, breaks and flowers again, too briefly to assert its full syntactic argument. We have to trust our ears, both the music and the rush of fragments. Individual poems and sequences deal with personal feelings, with politics, and, are often engaged with other writers, other places. Fowler’s poetics are an open space packed with brilliant intensities. The reader has to live among them not to get blown away.’

Fowler’s aboutness is a fragmenting that gives us secret aboutness, a partial truth in every shard of language – partial in Yablo’s sense that part of it is true, cocooned in falsehood or secreted in irrelevance. So instead of building up into a big picture via the fragments – as earlier modernism did – Fowler’s fragments need to be reduced, constantly subtract parts of themselves – ‘eg so much/noise/at home’ is reduced to ‘(love; too brief)’. How the hell to know what the algorithm is for the reduction? But the line’s meaning shoots out in the opposite direction to how we might read Pound who over 50 years built and built up. Instead, Fowler’s cutting a content down to size, takinge back a subject matter out of the heap of cholera and cholera fly. The poems are the result of a studied logical subtraction with variations on the theme going to a silent intensity.

So Fowler’s allusive content comes out of sentences that overstate, shoots over and then pulls back from its noise, or winds out of a great dark pool lines like gleaming fish that dazzle briefly before falling back into a massy dark. We end up with fragments that are the end result of these processes rather than the foundations for something yet to come. This poetry is happening and gone. Whilst knowing that every thought is someone else’s and our passions are quotations Fowler is hanging on to what he’s about, deftly reinventing what Eliot noted of Milton, that ability to make each sentence ‘… an active complication, a complication deliberately introduced into what was a previously simplified and abstract thought.’ Sometimes something in the line is a part of that and other times it’s a mere consequence. New subject matter can change what you know and presuppose and so forth. Fowler’s aesthetic works with this, shaping his images into situations of deliberate functional obscurity.

‘There are more than twenty poems here’ implies there are numbers. Assertive content become’s whatever is left after identifying the subject matter. An anti-Platonist doesn’t think numbers exist. But she can say ‘there are more than twenty poems’ by focusing on the subject matter, the poems and dividing through to them, subtracting any commitment to there being numbers. Something is bridging the gap between literal content and what is being said. That’s what Fowler is doing. Who knows what’s making the trick work as poetry, but it does. There’s nothing stranger than what we say is what he says in his poems. It’s not clear any appeal to context is going to resolve what is happening. It’s not forced by the semantics of the words but it’s an elective process that readers engage with to work out what’s the matter. We have to enrich the content along the way that it’s already going and that’s always going to be a matter of tuning in and picking up on the atmosphere.

We hear things that conventional meaning disallows. We hear them in the night, on the streets, on tired trains and fucked dawns, and over that last, too long dream or drink. We hear the sentences and we hear extra things but the sentences don’t have in them the possible meaning we find are there. Eg ‘the dancing bear/teaches hibernation/how useful/on such a long journey’ – how do we know this is saying something the words disallow, or which is the truth surrounded by falsehood? Is there an incremental content – some adding to what was already understood – but there’s a sense in which incremental content only works with implications. But the assertive content is not part of the implied content or the presupposed content. The meaning is the result of that twisty dance from convention to elsewhere. Sometimes he’s pivoting off a presupposition and we have to follow. You pivot too far then there’s no way of grasping what is happening. But that can be ok when the primary thing isn’t to say but maybe to guide an atmosphere. Perhaps its best when metaphoric content needs explaining. This is poetry from a last chance saloon where it’s before the dawn and the drink and despair is thick on your soul.

Fowler’s in a world of dark play and his make-believe things specify what is to guide the imagination. The poems have a content dictated by props and rules based on properties of the props – the list is protean e.g. ‘ road, travel, perfumier, doctor, cat cancer, afterbirth, ambergris, lid, eye, hartpoon, whale, tourists, horse skin, cooking meat, animal shit, coffin pine, pommel horse, cruel portion, skips, blue overalls, young girls, red scarves, plaster casts of Venus, fruit stall, charred apples, orange steam, old woman, army coat …’ it is vast. Other writers emerge out of the dim lights and are allowed to float as gentle reminders that we’re playing with the world as it shudders. And the more we understand the world the harder everything else becomes. You could just enjoy meditating what could be the case and comparing it with the actual and how things would be different if there were fewer or longer adjectives. Or it might help to shed light on the properties of the props. You look to what is to be imagined to look to the real life. Where would I have to be to license that ceilings are horror, or answer the direct question, ‘how do you cope with your past?’ It’s what you have to plug into and what it gives you, to get what comes out of your mouth and the truth of it as something that’s more than just ordinary consternation. Sometimes the shortest lines are too long because so loaded with terror or pain of regret.

Fowler: ‘tomorrow it will be herbs/on the moon’. This alerts us to Wittgenstein; ‘it’s five o’clock on the moon’ which we should understand, everything in it makes sense, but the combination is senseless, so we don’t. Yablo quotes an Einstein story to illustrate – I loosely recall it:
‘Man: I don’t understand how telephones work.
Einstein: Think of a giant dog with its head in Hamburg and its tail in Munich (or wherever). The message goes from the head to the tail.
Man: But it’s the wireless phone I don’t get.
Einstein: The same only without the dog.’

Wittgenstein’s explains the intention to lift your arm as lifting your arm but without the arm going up. There’s some kind of pretence going on. And we don’t know what to make of these but the strangeness is that we seem to know what literal content would require and what it would be to know what is being said. ‘Five o’clock on the moon’ is that sort of illusion. In our everyday world it’s strange but totally normal. In Fowler he finds it out as a tricky process, as in: ‘ I bring you seaweed/emotional/ and yet, you just want tea…/ this will not work out’ and what we always have to do is see that something is being pivoted from literal understanding and it gets us somewhere else, includes a whole lot of things with a single sentence, like a whole lot of metaphorical meanings from a single sentence, where the person giving seaweed is like giving tea but without actually giving tea. And there’s the distress of our modern world where what we want is to be at peace without, you know, stopping war. Like wanting war to be lost in the post. Fowler: ‘today there are hands I love/ yesterday it was an ape’ Piggybacking on a pretence (hands I love – His? Hers?) and pivot on a presupposition (All men are apes, all lovers, all are barbarians outside love). There are missing links that are crying out, but from outer space – these are, after all, poems and there’s nothing required here except some occasion being created to allow us to plug in props so the game can begin. And you can’t pretend if all you’re doing is describing what the game would be, saying ‘this is a hold up’ without pointing your finger like it’s a gun and without expecting the others to stick their hands up – or start firing back. Poetry is where living works even if the end of the world is in the next minute. This is what the last scene of Lars von Trier’s ‘Melancholy‘ shows.

Fowler’s poetry is sometimes just brinkmanship with prose, as life is with suicide, walking with falling over. Sometimes his poetry is prose. The sections of prose are form without form, which is to say they have form in the same way that prison cells have ‘breathtaking views’. The worlds we extrapolate from Fowler’s world is what we might have already taken advantage of. There are certain ways that carry falsehoods which are compatible with them being true. We are being pushed beyond boundaries. One eyed poets dish it out but can’t see it back home, whereas Fowler is at home with the remainder, the stuff that is left when we just obtain what is right. He has ten eyes, like certain spiders. As in his question: ‘were it not for the spines/ would it rather not be a fish backwards?’

Each poetic fragment is a life gesture: a life gesture is unambiguous, perfect in itself, and yet is hollowed out by what Lukacs, writing about Kierkegaard, says: ‘The gesture alone expresses life: but is it possible to express life? Is this not the tragedy of any living art, that it seeks to build a crystal palace out of air, to forge realities from the insubstantial possibilities of souls, a bridge of forms between men? Can the gesture exist at all, and has the concept of form any meaning seen from this perspective of life?’ – so many times there are moments when Fowler in a flash of energy catches the shape of a disappeared gesture: ‘ an easy way to loose a leaf/to drag bird shaped rocks from coal, as a cloud/& assuming , nothing will now abstain from grief/& mischief filth/a lost dog still must ‘strain its greens’/as fingers that remain attached/were not meant to remain/clean/moving in, as a profession marching/& now not to bring sheets/but plenty for the stuffing/the greened/unbroken//& brown flitter, the dropped/Water/a mattress made of what is dead’… here in this brief extract there is in some ways the backdrop, the gesture, the dire multiplicity of a concrete life presented as a place where monumentality has ended in psychology and materialism, a fist of shitty stuff and an allure that is mortally wounded, maybe dead, certainly unseeable. In Fowler we go to the gym ‘to learn how to fall…’

Class is what you need to beat people who look like you at the moment they’re making you disappear. There are poems where we have the characters, plots, asides but no one’s fat enough to be playing the part of Jerusalem. This is where he’s playing, in a fictional place , ‘… at the start/ of Alien on the eve of Prometheus… ‘ where great beauty is being timed by incoming horror. You don’t need to be a cannibal to know clowns taste funny. We read; ‘is it remarkable how much pain the bodies can endure?/the spiny po/cket puffer granade/the oligarch, raping the maid…’ You know these lines are squaring up to the crapola of our dissolving world and then going out, further than the premise, and we know it’s about that maid and that oligarch and then all of them.

What’s Fowler about? Burial at sea will fuck over anyone wanting to dance on your grave. There are two styles: the one we read and the one we can’t. Who knows whether the invisible ink ran out? Die quietly sleeping, not screaming like your passengers. Fowler knows the quickest way to the heart is with something sharp enough. What kind of an achievement is it to have a disease named after you? These poems don’t always care what they’re about but sometimes they’re about what else they could have been about, like the way men aren’t interested in the programme they’re watching but the programmes they’re missing. We’re all approaching a certain age but god knows from which direction; our time is nothing if not ambiguous. Well, we know that writing’s a mug’s game because you’re never as good as what can’t be written. Some poets don’t get writer’s block and can write anytime – best choose early 20th century –or Elizabethan/Jacobean.

I deliver my criticism in earnest – they’d prefer it in prose. Whoever discovered milk from cows raises the creepy question of motivation. Fowler is deadpan: ‘sarcastic Chinese/asking/why…milk?/ because of breats/& because udders just hang there’. Fighting fire with fire ain’t what the fire brigade are looking for. Fowler isn’t looking to put out any fire. If the world is bleeding he knows it’s because that’s what it’s for. That doesn’t mean he likes it. Some things you need a reason; other things a place. When it gets too cold flashers just draw a picture and hope the thrill carries in the line. Morality, recall, is like art in that it means drawing a line somewhere. It’s a cold time in the world and it’s all about money, disease and violence. No beauty therapy took place in a museum nor library. Beauty’s not truth. So Fowler, amidst chaos, works a fresh modernism with a gimlet eye, hard and flash, and the intention of high serious calling, the poet who knows ‘this is this’, our idiot mortal dangerman. His ‘aboutness’ is the curse of prayers being answered.

Fowler shuffles his business cards to cause discomfort. If they don’t want poetry to do more than entertain then what are they saying?- the rape, sodomy and drug addiction they can get at home? The peril of the modern time is a clear conscience. It catastrophically indicates memory loss. Ever asked how many poets stop writing one day because they don’t know how to conclude? Not enough. Fowler resists the call of the age to be temporary and new. He has discovered – or is in the process of doing so – a way of not being new, of not being a beginning. To be satisfied with just being the start of something, to not draw a conclusion, that is the pitch of what Kierkegaardian derision labeled the ‘premiss-author.’ Fowler is an anti-premiss author.

When Eliot said ‘Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality’ he made sure that what was being subtracted remained as its hinterland: ‘But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.’ It’s like snoring: if you’re going to, do it whilst not asleep. Or else like what Van Gough took from Dickens, which was that an artist should use the model but not make it the purpose. Fowler has an enormous capacity to resist spectatorship, to take instruction from the modernist moment. One element is done as Rimbaud: ‘one must be absolutely modern’ and ‘inventions from the unknown demand new forms’; and Marinetti : ‘Why should we look back?’ ‘destroy syntax’ and ‘parole in liberta’; and Hugo Ball ‘Poems without words’: whilst another element is done as Eliot, Pound, Rilke, Montale, as Saba arguing for an ‘… historical sense … not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence;’ ‘the poem that is absolutely original is absolutely bad; it is, in the bad sense, ‘subjective’ with no relation to the world to which it appeals;’ and Graves : ‘ …the divorce of advanced contemporary poetry from the common-sense standards of ordinary intelligence;’ and Yeats: ‘…this love of allusion;’ and Valery’s ‘I banish myself’ . Well, this is a wide learning curve, like he’s got a sequence of Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’ doing a thing thing of Rilke with a bunch of Acmeist stuff too ie Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Gumilev et al captured all at once and refusing to talk. Reading, you keep waking up each line, each word, with a jolt, so that the modernist poetics of a century is always there, in the margin that surrounds them, the special atmosphere he’s always asking to prove itself.

He also reverses modernism’s predilection for pride, elitism and self-indulgence (in this he’s the desert poet Dante with Virgil outside the city of Dis , the only place Virgil can’t enter unimpeded in the ‘Comedia’ imagine, the city of the Epicureans whose great sin is a damning intellectual pride) via the technique (cold word that, but you get the idea as in e.g. ‘disappearance of the poet as speaker’ in order, to quote Mallarmé, ‘… to unravel the word into qualities belonging to inner realms.’ For Pound technique is ‘ a test of a man’s sincerity’; for Stevens it extends to ‘ the poem of the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice’) of a partial intensity of feeling wrapped in one and a half truths. The universal intensity of the poetic machines Fowler runs is felt through what may well be superfluous, crazy, particular, peculiar and personal wiring. Fowler has adopted the paratactic method of Pound’s ‘Cantos’ – a process-orientated form of writing that stretches over great time that’s not ultimately about history but is rather a juxtaposition of various legacies – public and private, concerned and bottled, reminding me of the Scottish modernist MacDiarmid who wrote poetry as ‘.. a stand made against intellectual apathy/It’s material founded, like Gray’s, on difficult knowledge.’

As a rule I never get involved with possessed people but to be fair it’s more of a guideline than a rule. Like the rest of us, sometimes I worry about beige fanatics. ‘I told the truth once and they didn’t believe me so what the hell, I’m not telling anyone anything anymore.’ That’s actually the last line from ‘Lost in Translation’ that the actor Bill Murray says to the actress Scarlett Johansson. What we see is him whispering but we never hear the line. It is a secret that Murray revealed later in an interview. It is a heroic line, a fragment of reality that is possessed neither by the film nor its characters and yet finds a way, a realm that weaves a different history, time, existence, eloquence and reality into an elegant modernist spirit. Similarly ‘Fire Walk With Me’ was the name of the David Lynch sequel to the ‘Twin Peaks’ tv series. Lynch revealed that it was what Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper, had tattooed somewhere on his body in the film ‘Blue Velvet’. Hopper didn’t know this. It’s never shown in the film. Hopper, needless to say, had no such tattoo. It was Lynch’s secret. Both the secret Murray line and the secret tattoo add meaning to the world in a mysterious addition of aboutness. They are metaphors for the inward silence of poems, their atmosphere and sensibility. They are versions of hidden allusiveness. Allusion is a form of inheritance, as Christopher Ricks reminds us, that alleviates the poet’s loneliness.

What’s Fowler about? It’s impossible to generalise. You’re unique like everyone else. Language undermines itself, self reference conjures some a kind of spandrel. Will fake poetry fail if no one pretends to like it? Wanna look glamorous? Be symmetrical. We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know. I like long walks taken by other people. The mediocre are always at their best. You try and fall into the arms of poetry without falling into its hands. Best advice: be obscure clearly. No one is a vegetarian once they start leaning towards the light. I was his imaginary best friend, next door to Pete’s only twin. Live to 150 and you’re made – no one has ever died after that. Some things you wear just to know when you’re upside down. Some things you read to realize you were dying all along. I’m as loyal as my options. Most poetry is based on a dare. Don’t address the necessity of the superfluous.

If this is the poetry of film rather than music then it includes videogames. Topically we might mention Okinawa and Chris Marker’s film ‘ Level Five’ because the horror of that is just the kind of knowledge presupposed by Fowler throughout, as in e.g. ‘when a hole in them/like a tree syrup did leak out & they died’ . What the poems do is gather us the instruments – earlier I called them props – same thing – to investigate properties of our world. We know about modern war via its videogames: Marker’s film begins the necessary process of thinking hard about this. We know about oligarchs, people trafficking, modern slavery, dark pornographic history and empires through video games, action films and snuff documentaries. Fowler’s poems make us think hard about this condition. The video game and the film give us abstract mannerisms. They allow us to do something passively. Fowler wants a definite thought out there, against the inflexible empirical facts that we know and absorb and skip away from, wants the ‘faded mythology’ of Schelling that emerges in the fact, as Andrew Bowie puts it, that ‘…neither language nor mythology is consciously invented, but both are crucial to how sense is made of things. Metaphors give us one way of seeing what he means: some metaphors will be cashed in and become literal, but others live from the way they, as Davidson puts it, make us notice new things, even though we couldn’t say what they literally mean.’

Subject matter in Fowler comes within the blurred visions of logical space as if we are seeing this space from a distance. This cashes out the idea – we find it in Schelling, in Heidegger and that lot – of ‘ground’ and ‘light’. For Schelling language is grounded in a fixed number of signs but expands beyond the pure syntax rules of combination to be able to speak into the world where we actually are now. Heidegger’s dasein is a kind of ‘hello’, I’m here.’ The actual world is in some blurry cell near the world where the sentence is really really true. The actual condition of the subject matter is totally cool with it being totally true. Fowler is working in these distant logical spaces.

Puritanical attitudes towards truth miss what poets are doing in extremis and what the rest of us do all the time whenever we even just speak according to Stephen Yablo. Truth isn’t just a style, and there’s no need to be skeptical, but when truth puritans think only total truth is truth Yablo’s unhappy and compares them with kids who haven’t yet learned what Klein the child psychologist says they actually learned at about 4 months, that what pleases them and what doesn’t can be the same thing. This ends black and white thinking, which must be a kind of relearned fault education puts back on the table, the kind of thing we get in the kid who wants to know whether the Shrek donkey is good or bad, or the adults who want to know the same about Putin or whatever. We’re uncomfortable with this in the moral sphere, preferring nuance, but when it comes to truth there’s a black and white thing going on that seems regressive. Saying everything’s either true or not is, from this perspective, like being brilliant with people with hangovers over toast.

A poetry of partial truth isn’t used to downgrade truth. But what we have here is the William James thought that we need to let false beliefs in so we can get to true beliefs unobtainable without the falsehood. James wasn’t thinking that some truths come wrapped in falsehoods in the same sentence. But Yablo’s thought – that some propositions can’t be assrted if there is no sentence to express it – is that thought – like using numbers in a sentence without believing numbers exist, for example which is where we are overshooting the bar, saying something false in order to say it. The linguistic flux in Fowler isn’t that he’s forgotten the English language, as Leavis famously said of Milton, whose ‘… departure from the English order, structure and accentuation … produces passages that have to be read through several times before one can see how they go through…’. Fowler is continually pivoting and piggy-backing – whichever is required, relying on whatever will cue you in to the truth of the thing. The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner is funny because of what we know we are expected to know about Rottweilers ( huge sinister kill dogs), guides (sensible, over-focused doggy geek manuals) and owner’s of Rottweiler’s (huge sinister kill folk wannabees) but also we cue the fact that it’s poetry, where we can get, for quick starters, rot for a while and Kurt Weil which we can swiftly morph into a world where rotten time, Denmark, Hamlet, death, Threepenny Opera, Bowie singing ‘Port of Amsterdam’, all sorts of miracles, become the truths of the collection as a whole from the off. Is France hexagonal? Partly; it’s about an approximate shape minimizing non –overlap with minimal number of shapes to choose from. Same with the title.

Boundaries get shifted – ‘there’s nothing in the fridge’ stays true only so long as people don’t start shifting the line and counting the smear of butter, for example – boundaries shift readily out but not inwards. In Fowler there is the constant allusion to some things without them being the subject matter – ‘it is better to be a thing of wool/and rag/that provokes freedom from fear/than a golden couch that brings trouble and woe.’ The allusion is to the golden fleece of course but that fleece didn’t exist any more than Pegasus did. So its an impossible reference. Perhaps impossibility doesn’t entail impossible to certain constraints. Things are impossible in virtue of certain items. Bachelor is unmarried but being a male who’s unmarried doesn’t mean I have to to make it being about a bachelor. How can Fowler refer to the Golden Fleece if there isn’t one? Perhaps we’re talking about the poetic mental state so the part of reality we’re talking about is true. Or the golden fleece is a fleece in the same way as a wooden duck is a duck.

Yablo says translation schemes tell you in what world would make the model true and how it then maps onto the real. But the apple falls once; it doesn’t harbour the faster fall implied by the law of nature. There’s just one fall. Where gravity calls the shots Gallileo is right. But it never did here. Ever. Everything that exists plays a role and can be a disqualifying property. Pure maths is false but we want keep on saying things with numbers. But what’s the true part of pure math? Does a hand prove there is an external world? I lock the door so evidence that I didn’t is misleading. It’s five after five so I conclude the watch is accurate if it says it’s five after five. I’ll be reading Fowler next year so I won’t die before next year. The closure principle is that knowing a thing puts you in a position of knowing the entailments. Deduction extends knowledge. This where the fun starts trying to grasp the difficult knowledge in the poems, and how he stays fluid without the fatuity of smooth.

So Fowler: ‘the clumsy odd/a family friend for fourteen years/now plant stalks your daughter’ – so do you lose your nerve, pay respect to confident deduction, adding conjuncts – you know the implication before the implier? It’s already there, or what? Or is it outside? That is, are there things we should be presupposing that then we’ll pivot off, like a dancer, or piggy back onto, like Billy Childish playing dinasaurs with his boy? If you know a thing you know its parts. Unless someone throws in a new subject matter. Then new subject matter makes new vulnerable flanks of its meaning, so we have to be careful. Don’t add anything that would make it false; make sure what is added is added to make it true. Presuppostions in hearing this make it a very dark saying for there are now new ways for it being false. As Fowler comments, ‘this is not anxious to please the mob,/for what pleases them, it does not know,/and what it does not know is far removed from their comprehension.’ Fowler understands that in his poetic act there are dangerous counterpossibilities. We can be a witness to the odd etc but not more stuff ie the biographical detail implied entailed or just contingently the fact of the matter. What confirms the belief about ‘the clumsy odd’ isn’t all counterfactuals, because there are new possibilities they might give which we’re not talking about here. Fronting and backgrounding makes a difference to implication. ‘it knows that when flesh cries aloud,/not possessing flesh/it is unnatural that the mind should cry aloud too./ a silent stomach communicates in sweeping thoughts.’ What will calm each reading down is grasping what it’s about when read from another, truer space than this one.

For the line: ‘on the banks of the yellow & black/don’t live in leeds/beat quarter’ would Manchester be a counter-possibility? What if there is no beat-quarter in Leeds? Nevertheless the matter isn’t that but living. We can divide back and avoid the falsehood. The partial truth is the bit we care about. Let’s fudge what is being noticed here, what beliefs, a part is not assured if it requires greater sensitivity to new subject matter. I can have Leeds beat quarter without a beat quarter, or know it’s Leeds and it’s this way, it’s like this … without knowing whether there’s a beat quarter, whether this is it, whether it’s one of those ie a beat quarter.

All my dreams are not this lifelike. Allusion accommodates two way traffic when we draw on myths, as in, say, Pounds ‘Cantos‘ 39 and 47.

These restless poems are wondrous strange and mysterious. Fowler’s astonishing ‘Maintenant’ series of interviews with poets here at 3:AM gives his work a contemporary international and cosmopolitan flavour that adds to the excitement of the atmospherics in his works. As we’re told by the publisher’s: ‘The collection is made up of 13 different sequences or commissions, including works written for VerySmallKitchenZimzallaThe Enemigos projectLush and the Wortwedding gallery. The book also features works that call on, or celebrate, the poetry of Anselm HolloTom Raworth & Jack Spicer.’ This is a significant addition to his already impressive and growing oeuvre. There is much more going on in the poems than I’ve managed to chew on. There are going to be new things discovered on each reading . It’s about noticing closure features that weren’t counted first time round, like inverting cartoon image Nietzsche to eyebrows rather than moustache, for example. What I think I like best is the way Fowler manoeuvres the language to create patterns of impact rather than straightforward logical or grammatical sequence, and there’s a constant downward movement that seems brilliantly attuned to the inward silence his poetry is about.

Richard Marshall is still biding his time. Buy the book here to keep him biding!


The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner by SJ Fowler
(Eyewear Publishing, London, 2014)

Poet, artist, martial artist, vanguardist, organiser, instigator, catalyst, collaborator extraordinaire SJ Fowler’s presence on the British and European avant poetry scene is large and significant. Given the scope of his activities and his seemingly inexhaustible energies, if someone told you he had invented a hydroelectric powered vacuum cleaner or discovered a new type of wallaby in North Kensington you would believe them. We in Britain, with our innate, rain soaked suspicion of “showing off”, have a sorry tendency to hold such multifaceted polymathy at arm’s length. We like to watch our fireworks from indoors. But ambition, purely founded and directed towards the service of poetry, art and, to make a singularly un-British bold claim, the enrichment of the cultural life that makes the world a better, more civilised place, is to be welcomed, applauded and celebrated. Fowler’s devotion to the cause is impeccable. His own work – voracious, protean, perpetually in motion – embodies his wide ranging, interdisciplinary approach, his oeuvre encompassing sound, performance, and visual poetry to name but a few.

The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner is, by Fowler’s standards, a relatively straightforward work, comprising discrete sequences of poems that are, with the odd exception, simply set and presented. The innovation here comes not from any particular technique or method, but in how the work carries itself and the spirit it exemplifies. Here the flavour is not in the menu but in the meal. Most of the pieces presented were written for commissions, a process which can sometimes yield arid, formulaic results, but Fowler’s poems deftly transcend their origins and have the strength to stand alone. Fowler’s work is unquestionably of the now and ahead of the curve, but in summing up what I like about this collection I find myself reaching for older, more traditional concepts often dismissed or disregarded in innovative poetics, such as readability, personality, authorial charisma and that most unfashionable thing of all, the notion of the unique voice. The writers namechecked at various points in the book, such as Raworth, Spicer and Hollo, all have that quality and so too does Fowler. This is a diverse, disparate collection, catholic and collagic in its aesthetic, but one that remains coherent precisely because Fowler has the gift of making whatever he says be said unquestionably by him, whether he is talking about the desert, the gods or tea. His voice, tough, hard edged and sharp elbowed, at times confrontational and controversial, but always fundamentally human, weaves through this book not so much like a silver thread as a glinting, stainless steel wire. This is a work of brutal beauty, or beautiful brutality. Phrases glint like quartz:

            a river in the marble
            harvest shrapnel


            exhaustion pay is bank double
            the forest burns bush green hair

Elsewhere, we find moments of surreal, homespun wisdom:

            chilean watches are the best movement


            all those emails unanswered
            might be a tiny ear
            in the palm

This is by no means a brief book. It runs to over 100 pages and is, as all Eyewear books are, a sumptuous, defiantly physical artefact with enough ontological heft to hurt if you dropped it on your foot. But it is nonetheless a swift and urgent one. Lines are, in the main, short and uneven, jagged and fractured. Impression crowds against impression, images jostle and smash into one another like atoms in the Hadron collider. There is almost no capitalisation and still less punctuation. The focus switches back and forth between the internal and external landscapes with delirious rapidity, giving these poems the feel of memos found in Valhalla or drafts in Zukofsky’s outbox, or as if Wyndham Lewis left his Dictaphone on the District Line. This is a book not so much of the I but of the eye, of an open, perceiving intelligence at the centre of multiple worlds, their circles overlapping as those of a Venn diagram. Fowler’s antennae scan the frequencies and pick up many signals. Connections and conjunctions are sometimes oblique, occasionally opaque, often tangential but always, on an instinctive, subliminal level, tangible. And always there is discipline. Fowler never loses control of his material. Whilst The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner is an extensive work with its own weather systems and topography, there is no sprawl. No words are wasted. This is a book of clean lines and elegant economy.

Artist, yes; martial artist, yes; vanguardist, yes; organiser, yes; instigator, yes; catalyst, yes; collaborator extraordinaire, yes. All of these things are important in gaining an understanding of SJ Fowler’s work and his uniquely open and communitarian poetics. But what must not be forgotten is that Fowler is first and foremost a poet and that all else proceeds from this. The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner is the work of a writer and a writer that should be read.


Tom Jenks has published six collections of poetry including Items (if p then q), On Liberty, Repressed (Knives Forks and Spoons) and Crabtree (The Red Ceilings). Other projects include a Twitter re-write of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy and Ubu Roi, I Boris, a re-write of Jarry’s Ubu Roi with Chris McCabe. He co-organises The Other Room reading series and website, administers the avant objects imprint zimZalla and is a Ph. D. student at Edge Hill University.

Not the T S Eliots:  The poetry school's books of 2014

The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner 
by S J Fowler (Eyewear)

I won’t pretend that I understood much of this, and part of me feels like it should contain a label warning users not to operate heavy machinery or sit with pregnant women after reading. It will alter you, make you interrogate why anyone reads poetry at all, which is a little distressing but ultimately a good thing (I think). Some of the poems can be ludic and downright obscure, but there’s also a pleasing levity and self-deprecation to much of it. A surprising amount is – for all its fragmentation and literary sport – warm, funny and sympathetic. Ultimately, Fowler does the best thing a poet can do – he leaves the question open. In this case, he blows the door off. Will Barrett

Review by Jonathan Catterall in the Wolf magazine : issue 31

Considering the prodigious work of SJ Fowler, I find myself wondering whether I (and the rest of the poetry world) aren’t maybe subject to a brilliant and utterly benign hoax? In the first place surely one man can’t, in four years, with five collections, and hundreds of collaborations, with hundreds more shows, events curated and web-pages written for the leading online magazine 3 AM as its Poetry Editor, not to mention a flourishing mixed martial arts background, a doctoral thesis bubbling under with said Carol Watts, a course in avant-garde poetry he’s just beginning to deliver at the Poetry School, and a job at the British Museum, just be one man? Does he cook too?

And secondly, because try as I might, with antennae quiveringly extended, I can’t, reading his latest collection, The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner, quite grasp many of the poems, the mystery of their underlying principles of construction, or explain to myself, initially at least, why I find them so goddamn superb. Yet finding, occasionally, poems among those impenetrable ones which seem completely transparent in meaning, makes me feel like an idiot who ought to ‘get’ the rest. So let’s wrestle awhile with this Renaissance uomo, this human dynamo, this arch-channeler of the Zeitgeist, setting to one side whether the S and J are identical twins or an entire collective, in deference to a Barthesian insistence on the text(s) being father to the man. In their exquisite phrasing, their ear for the sublime and the ridiculous, their seemingly frictionless absorption not only of the Poundian mien but, according to the Poundian mantra, all human life, Fowler’s poems at their best are jewelled masterpieces, constructions that thrill with endless possibilities and no one dominating as in ‘Unicorn Baby Shower’:

unison singing future family folkbank
a herd of buffalo’s trying to fly is AIDS apparent heir
we’d never go to marry new york when it was enough for
heat & even the women said she looked beautiful dressed
as curbs of terror
are all the more risk of horror now

Even the apparent typo of ‘buffalo’s’ here is intriguing as to its purpose, those wayward buffalos being sternly corralled by the capitalised and underlined announcement on one of the frontispiece pages that ‘ALL ERRATA IS INTENTIONAL’ (itself a slyly self-mocking grammatical error).
In tone mandarin, limpid, hard-edged, amused but curiously accepting and resonant, Fowler’s poems are redolent of the early Pound of Lustra, seeming almost to find their subjects as luminous details by the wayside, yet wiped clean of Pound’s belittling scorn and democratised for the twenty-first century. More surreal than Pound though, elements occasionally seem to belong to a decidedly private language. Unlike the approach of Watts, where one is cast straight among the wonderful tendrils of language as if bathing, swimming for a shore that is always shifting, arrived at for just long enough to catch one’s breath, only to recede, I return to the jewel metaphor for Fowler. I think of surfaces, endless reflections. Depths that are found only by living with the jewel-poem and returning to it, until one’s imagination perhaps projects something into the crystalline structure.
                             Jonathan Catherall

Review by Paul McMenemy in Lunar Poetry magazine - September 2014

SJ Fowler, The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner, (Eyewear, 2014), 108pp., £12.99, ISBN 978-1-908998-20-0 ... Fowler’s own poetry, as evinced in The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner, while exhibiting the uneasy juxtapositions of tone and language we saw in Auld Enemies, is another step or two removed from the joy of these collaborations. It is a drier, colder poetry; in short, it’s not fun.

And yet the majority of the poems in this collection are collaborations of one sort or another; even the stand-alone sequences that don’t quite bookend the collection, both titled ‘Epithalamia’, are concerned with the exercise in collaboration that is marriage. It is perhaps telling that these sections, along with another sequence, ‘Wildermenn’, written for an exhibition by David Kelly, were the ones that worked most immediately for me. I had seen images from the exhibition in a newspaper spread, and so had their recollection to accompany me through the poems.1

A piece like ‘Chriapa, Ruzomberok, Slovakia’,

I know huntsman
who just have to hunt

reproduced above in full, has a bloody force to it, but the knowledge that it responded to a photograph of a man dressed as one of the various folkloric creatures, of which that odd Mitteleuropean anti-Santa, the krampus, is probably the best-known (I do not remember which one the chriapa is, but most of the pictures showed various 7’ monstrosities in goat-hair onesies), wheeled out across central Europe every midwinter in various pagan-ish rituals adds a useful context to it, I think. But of course I don’t know: any reading is prejudiced, simply by the experience one happens to bring to it.

The point is, that in many other pieces, I felt like I was only getting half of the story. ‘Wortwedding’, with its dense blocks of 8pt print attempting to subside into the specially grey pages (as usual with Eyewear, the book is beautifully and meticulously produced), suggested that the whole was originally experienced as some kind of background hum while something else went on during the performance piece with Alessandra Eramo it was written for.

and we have all here visited the website which offers opinions
on whether I personally should invest in property in Neukolln or Wedding
yeayou laugh   as if it were possible in this city   that someone who is addressing
your journey as though it were the subject for poetry could have enough money

[from ‘Trepidation’ from ‘Wortwedding’}

 This is not to say the poems don’t stand on their own, or that the context in which they were written is some kind of key, which the poet has thoughtlessly failed to provide. It does though act as a distraction – an intellectual excuse on the reader’s part, perhaps, which, when one is dealing with work this allusive, and, yes, fuck it, difficult, encourages the reader to look for answers everywhere except the poem. There is nothing that can be done about this – the poems deserve to be published; obviously their context cannot be, except circumstantially.

As to the poems themselves, distractions aside, formally they tend towards sequences of short fragments – even the poems not formally designated as such tend to work this way, ‘Wortwedding’ and ‘Leaves’, formerly published as an ebook, being the outliers. Tonally, these fragments vary from the gnomic to the gaspingly stark: ‘Ursinitis’, from the first set of ‘Epithalamia’, again in full, shows this well.

using a bear
as a child’s gravestone
the green balloon
just out of reach
seems agonising
& reiterant
of the symbolic
slipping through
of the dead baby
I hope that doesn’t happen to us

Moments like this will grab you on the first go round, and bring you back to reread the less immediate pieces – and they repay rereading. This is a book with which you have to spend a lot of time. There is a note under the publisher’s information which reads “ALL ERRATA IS INTENTIONAL AND THIS WORK HAS BEEN THOROUGHLY PROOFED”. There are lots of odd little vandalisms to tense, number and so on in this book, and often I am at a loss to say what purpose a particular displaced apostrophe, etc. serves. One explanation is that it forces the reader to pay heed, catching on the attention like a hangnail on nylon, bringing it back, carefully, to go over the work again, more minutely.

my tea is

will it run the risk
of being misunderstood?

[from ‘meditations on Strong tea’]

That Fowler is willing to take the risk is admirable; the taster’s only risk is misunderstanding. It is a risk worth taking.

SJ Fowler's 'The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner' Reviewed by Colin Lee Marshall

at Intercapillary Spaces

SJ Fowler’s most recent book of poetry, The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner, is permeated with error at almost every stratum of its composition. A keen eye will pick up (before the book has even properly begun) that such erroneousness is not only premeditated, but also intransigent. As we are informed on the copyright page: ALL ERRATA IS INTENTIONAL, AND THIS WORK HAS BEEN THOROUGHLY PROOFED. Lapsed agreement between verb and noun occurs in at least three other places throughout the collection: “the past are taking over” (‘Atacama’); “otherwise it’s just noises” (‘Wortwedding’); “I see a tower with a clock & remembers” (the first ‘Epithalamia’ sequence). But these examples barely hint at the extent to which error – to use that term as a broad catch-all for a panoply of different schemes and tropes – infects the grammar, lexis, and even the sequencing of the poems.

It isn’t feasible to enumerate even half of the errors of the text within the space of this review; nonetheless, one might tease out a few of their constellations in an attempt to get something of a handle of the book. While initially it might be tempting to read constructions such as “I’m a emotional epic” or “a herd of buffalo’s trying to fly is AIDS apparent heir” as mere stylistic filigree – discrete ludic bursts that don’t transcend their local effects – a close reading will cause such errors to accrete into various densities of suggestion (if not blatant argument) that seem essential to the philosophical thrust of the book.

Perhaps unsurprisingly – given the apparent extent of Fowler’s travelling (both domestically and abroad) as part of his various poetic and curatorial commitments – The Rottweiler’s Guide is studded with geographic and topographic references (Granada, lublin [sic], Hackney Town Hall, etc.). However, Fowler also moves beyond planet Earth, plundering liberally from a number of well-known pop-cultural heterocosms (those of the Star WarsPokemon, and Game of Thrones franchises salient amongst them). These alternate terrestrial moorings and defections throw up interesting questions about Fowler’s engagement with the so-called real world. And yet, the distinction between worlds is often misleading; for even when the poetry is ostensibly rooted in a recognizable historical event or situation, things are seldom straightforward.

The loaded title of the book’s best poem, ‘Wolves in Chernobyl’, adumbrates a landscape and fosters certain expectations even before we havebegun to read the main body of the text. But as it turns out, the titular wolves don’t make a single appearance, and amongst the poem’s nine sections perhaps fewer than half of the lines evoke the Chernobyl disaster—and then only tangentially, and always as necessarily buttressed by knowledge ofthe title. Instead, amidst the usual peppering of errors (“couples sunbath around the cooling ponds”; “do not eat green vegetables / or milk”; “a parents plot of land”) the poem unfolds largely as a series of gentle philosophical ruminations on “wood” (perhaps an indirect reference to The Red Forest) and “the thing”, lacerated only occasionally by unambiguous moments of toxicity or levity. By invoking disaster thus, only to then sidestep a direct reckoning with it, Fowler perhaps risks inviting the charge of flippancy. But not only are the occasional lacerations of ‘Wolves in Chernobyl’ far more effective than any overwrought sentimentality could bethey also force us to confront the politics of our personal reactions to uncomfortable material. Consider the following excerpt from the same poem:

a foal had been born with eight legs
piglets without eyes

calves without heads or ribs.
                     deformities due to inbreeding

The easy thing would be to dismiss this as mere levity, to decry the poet’s insensitivity to the very disaster that he is only too happy to invoke. Butfrom a different point of view, it might be seen as a tactic by which to draw attention to the complicity involved in reading a poem about Chernobyl.Here, the error becomes our own. We have likely been reading about the radioactive fauna of a restricted region, only then to be hit with a paraprosdokian – “deformities due to inbreeding” – that denies us our moment of cathartic confirmation, and simultaneously skewers the presumptuousness of our attempt to subsume the actual disaster into our understanding of it.

But it is more typically through modifications to language itself that Fowler unsettles the act of easy assumption. At the end of the poem ‘Scent’  (via the rendering of a hairdresser’s comment, only partially overheard) the modifications are orthographical:

[…] “…exicans have been decapitating
peeple for thousands of years
it doesn’t mean there,
what it means here.”

The aphaeresis of “…exicans” is a sly lexical analogue to the decapitations to which the text refers—assuming, of course, that we take “…exicans” to be an aphaeretic rendering of “Mexicans”. Irrespective of whether we make this readerly decision, and supply the missing ‘M’, the sense of violence, of complicity in what things “mean”, and of ultimate detachment from what they are is insurmountable. This is further reinforced by the fact that “peeple" are being decapitated, and not ‘people’. ‘Peeple’ and ‘people’ are homophones (what looks like it should be a diphthong in the standard spelling isn’t) and as such, whoever overheard the hairdresser’s words would not have been able to infer any orthographical difference by sound alone. Contextually, the subtle de-anthropomorphic tweak makes perfect sense, given the implication that the value of human life is lower in the culture in question than it is in the “here” of the utterance; but the homophony preserves the problem of whether we are to read this as satire, or as a straight-faced semantic downgrade—a problem compounded by the ambiguity as to whether these are words cognized as heard, words cognized as (vicariously) spoken, or words that have been tinkered with at the extradiegetic level. Regardless, the text aims deliberately to upset the facile imputation of the spoken words—and perhaps, by extension, any facile imputations that we might be tempted to make upon reading it.

At around the halfway point of the collection, the pages of the book turn grey, so as clearly to demarcate the ‘Wortwedding’ sequence of prose poems (originally written as part of a collaboration with the artist Alessandra Eramo.) This stark demarcation is entirely appropriate, given that – in the context of the The Rottweiler’s Guide as a whole – ‘Wortwedding’ seems utterly like a foreign body, an interpolated text. In this section of the book, Fowler unleashes a logorrheic, largely unpunctuated sequence of eight different “lessons”, at times making metapoetic references to what he perceives as the work’s infelicities or longeurs. It might seem a brave decision for Fowler to have included this particularly challenging and protruberant sequence in the collection; but not only does ‘Wortwedding’ add a further dimension to the prevailing tenor of error, it contains some of the book’s most interesting material:

be varied in your words […] otherwise it’s just noises
(but that isn’t interesting asks the one in the front row who will learn)
like choke choke choked laugh laugh chalk chalk chalked
the mind is not a violin to be tuned […]

Here, rote pedagogy and earnest learning are contrasted with the idea of liberated disobedience. The erroneous doublings of what we recognize as the present tense (and, in the case of the word “laugh”, the apparent absence of any but the present tense) are simultaneously a rebuke to the rigidities of standard verbal conjugation, and an instantiation of the very “noises” that their supposed variation aims to sidestep. In one way or another, the yoke of language remains, yet through poetic play one might open up interstices through which meaning can elude the pedagogical fescue.

Such creative rebuttals to prescriptive grammar allow Fowler to write things like “and in so did” (‘Atacama’) instead of ‘and in so doing’. But perhaps eschewing authority in this way isn’t an empty means of dissent as much as it is a legitimate groping for new semantic possibilities. Any unquestioning trust in existing grammatical structures has to presume that these structures will admit of no error, and one of Fowler’s preferred ways of exposing the precariousness of such trust is by robbing declarative statements of their conviction. If we look once again at the above excerpt from ‘Wortwedding’, we can see that what appeared to be a statement (at least according to one possible parsing of its polysemic syntax) has been branded a question: “but that isn’t interesting asks the one in the front row who will learn”. Such confidence, which belies the uncertainty of the one “who will learn”, occurs in similar fashion earlier in the book: “and have you I’ve / noticed the disproportionate amount / of enormous men who are the police?” (‘calling the doctor makes me feel better’). Revealed here through punctuation (rather than through exposition, as in ‘Wortwedding’) the question forces a jarring shift of cadence. Re-routed in the midst of its utterance, the sentence flits uneasily back and forth between the poles of authority and deferral, forcing, if not readerly choice itself, then at least a reflection on the ethics of such choice.

It would be remiss not to acknowledge the obvious fact that error in The Rottweiler’s Guide serves to disrupt the trajectories of some of the book’s more traditional themes (love, death, marriage etc.); but so too would it be remiss to limit error solely (or even primarilyto this function. Fowler’s main achievement (or so it seems to me) consists in intensifying a certain kind of cognitive dissonance—a dissonance that emanates from the hinterland of creative agency between text and reader. We read constructions such as “just fourteen years of visit” (‘that god blesses them fuck drogue’) or “in every / slice of year round” (‘calling the doctor’), and can’t help but feel their irregularity, however much we may wish to defer to the new temporal conditions that they appear to conjure. Even when presented with constructions that are couched as imperatives, meaning is typically compromised through solecism (“wish me not to make me glow, but diminish my desire”—‘Wolves in Chernobyl’) so that there is a constant tension between the urge to extract a clear command from the rubble, and the urge to allow the errors to short-circuit any imperative force. How we read these error-strewn poems is governed by shifting degrees of resolution and abeyance, and by a constant reappraisal of which of these two states is the more appropriate.