SJ Fowler is a writer and artist. He founded the European Poetry Festival in 2018. You can read all his blogs about the first festival here http://www.stevenjfowler.com/europe/
European Poetry Festival 2018
I started this festival for a boatload of reasons. First and foremost I think some of the very best poetry is being made across Europe in the 21st century and it's getting little to no exposure in the UK, though we are a small sea away. Secondly because I am convinced of the generous and transformative power of collaboration and community for enriching the lives of people engaged in a solitary artform, whether as poets or readers / listeners. Thirdly because I have been fortunate enough to find myself uniquely placed as an English poet and curator who has accrued a wide range of connections in both the poets of Europe and the institutions that support them in their countries, and in London. Fourthly because of England leaving it's own continent, now is the time for this kind of celebration.
The first festival was quite probably the best overall curatorial experience of my life. It was stress free, immensely enthusiastic, full of extraordinary performances, commissions and new collaborations, and each event was full of positive vibes. We brought in really big audiences and struck the right balance between a well organised festival and an open ended, organic, experimental gathering. My experience was great, collaborating five times in a 10 day patch where I also organised 9 events, in three cities, in 9 different venues. But most satisfying was that every one of the 60 plus poets seemed happy and grateful for the experience. I'm grateful to them, and to everyone who supported the endeavour in it's first year, including lots of organisations like Austrian Cultural Forum, Lithuanian Cultural Institute, Institut Francais, Goethe and many others. Arts Council England deserve a special thanks. Below is my blogs about the fest, do also visit www.europeanpoetryfestival.com
EPF2018 #14: The Festival finishes in Middlesbrough
Such a resonant ending to a wonderful festival, one that exceeded all my expectations, which were high. Thanks to Harry Man, local to Middlesbrough, we brought a small band of European poets to the North East, to work with local poets, at MIMA, a beautiful art gallery in the heart of the city. It was an intimate event in the galleries beautiful café space, The Smeltery, and the collaborations were really powerful, and the pairings some of the best I’ve been responsible for. So great to spend time with poets like Tom Weir, Bob Beagrie and Julie Hogg, alongside my Norwegian friends Endre Ruset and Jon Stale Ritland, all of them warm people and brilliant poets. The whole group decamped to a local bar, which was very civilised for Middlesbrough on a Saturday night and once more we chatted through the night. I’ll miss the festival this time with friends old and new. Far from being stressful it has been an immense privilege to put together, a really joyous time, and I hope to do it again in 2019, the year the UK officially leaves its own continent.
See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/middlesbrough
EPF2018 #13: Collaborating with Rike Scheffler
I’ve wanted to work with Rike since I saw her first perform in Berlin. She is an ideal of whom I wish to work with, poets who will force me, within a warm and enjoyable process, to grow. So it was, Rike and I had a grand time collaborating. We mooted loads of ideas, often around the notion of space and performance, movement and reading, and then decided to write together too, with me writing new works responding to her pair of beautiful poems What It Is You Love. And arriving in Middlesbrough together from Manchester, chatting the hours across the Pennines away with Inga Pizane during a really resonant day, we stumbled into our venue in MIMA to see what the space itself would give us. It gave us a chess board built into a table, a gorgeous ornament. We decided then and there to structure our exchange around a full game of chess, which I haven’t played since I was about 12. Rike basically taught me the rules and as we chatted we decided also to include improvised chat with the poems and the chess. On the night something unexpected happened, the intensity of the game, the focus it requires, took over, somewhat blunting the play, but growing the collaboration into something utterly new, and even more pleasing for that. It was a game of chess that happened to feature poetry, rather than the other way around. And I won through dumb skill. I had worried it might’ve got a tad too long but the audience were very generous, saying they became as engaged in the chess as we had. Rike has challenged me to a yearly performance game and I will stake my European Poetry Festival chess championship once more in 2019.
EPF2018 #12: Collaborating with Tom Jenks
Tom is a brilliant mind for poetry. Vastly underappreciated. I’ve tried to collaborate with him every year for the last half decade and this 2018 entry in our exchanges was a good un. We wrote an addendum to our 1000 proverbs book, the Nigel Farage post-brexit poetic proverb archival reflections. We spent the minutes before our time slightly concerned we might have misjudged the tone, but in the end, following a video of the man himself, our mix of Nigel’s actual sayings and our own interpretations of his poetic vernacular seemed to be well understood in the Burgess Centre. When he is our supreme leader one day I’m sure we’ll be well rewarded for this tribute.
EPF2018 #11: Hitting Manchester with the European Poetry Festival
The International Anthony Burgess Centre in Manchester is one of the best literary venues in the UK I think, I’ve only ever had grand events and performances there, audience and enthusiasm wise. It seems to distil the cities energy for more innovative work into concentrated form. This is in no small part to the staff there, and to the work of poets like Scott Thurston and Tom Jenks, and many others, who have led the decade long resurgence of avant-garde poetry in the city. I brought the European Poetry Festival north in the second to last event, after running 8 events in 8 days, nearly all of which involving over 10 performances 20 poets and sell out audiences. No one was flagging. Poets from Norway, Lithuania, Germany, Italy, France, Latvia and elsewhere in European travelled with us and were mostly paired with locally based poets. Everyone was kind, generous, full of life for the project of the festival. The positive feedback from both poets, supporters and audiences has been the most consistent of any project I’ve ever done. As ever the atmosphere in Manchester was friendly, unpretentious, and the performances were varied in tone, the collaborations ranged from the conceptual and satirical to the intense and reflective. Robert Sheppard’s The European Union of Imaginary Authors was celebrated alongside 10 brand new performances for the night. As has been the case for every event of the festival, the poets were buoyant afterwards and stayed out into the night. There has been a palpable sense the festival, beyond my control or intention, has created a community of sorts, transitory but concrete. Friendships have begun, and I’ve had the chance, through the poets and the audience, to meet so many new people I'd like to work with again.
See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/manchester
EPF2018 #10: Collaborating with Robert Prosser
The first time that I’ve had the chance to work with Robert and it will not be the last time. We had a plan when we met on the afternoon of the day of the evening event to develop the piece. It went out the window. The notion was intersemiotic translation but the format was about disturbance. I think we created something that worked on multiple levels and succeeded when it failed. It began with a natural pretence about being pedestrian, or about the differences in our performance style, which is varied with us both, and so we embellished, building from the literary and comedic into the archetypal and symbolic, all way into the mindfully awkward. We share quite a few interests and this emerged organically into translations that included stomach punching, rap, google searches, lullabies, cradling, atonement and guilt. People said it stayed with them, which is nice, but maybe not in a good way?
EPF2018 #9: Austrian focus at European Poetry Festival
I loved this event. A really strange and intense night, another packed house came to witness, in the salon of the Austrian Cultural Forum near Hyde Park, an event of solo readings and new collaborations. I owe the ACF so much. They were the first to really have faith in the events I put on, the risks I try to take, and their vouching for me has led to things like the European Poetry Festival itself. It was like coming home. And through them I have met so many brilliant contemporary Austrian poets and Robert Prosser, Max Hofler and Daniela Chana are three of the finest.
The opening salvoes from Ana Seferovic, Claudiu Komartin, Giovanna Coppola, Anastasia Mina et al set everyone back in their seats as one after the next the poets brought intense, powerful work. It was really a special atmosphere. Then Robert and I kind of muddied the water before Daniela and Phoebe Power and Max and Iris Colomb finished the night perfectly. I hope every year I get to do a European Poetry Festival we have an Austrian focus event, their scene is really one of the best on the continent. www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/austria
EPF2018 #8: Versopolis at London Bookfair for European Poetry Festival
Entering the belly of the beast I had the pleasure to put together an event for Versopolis, a huge EU funded cross continental poetry platform, as one of the editors of their European Review of Books, Poetry and Culture. At the back of the massive Kensington Olympia, in the subsidy section, the poetry pavilion corner, I introduced Versopolis poets Marius Burokas, Hannah Lowe, Ausra Kaziliunaite and Sasha Dugdale – all writers I’ve worked with before. All poets I admire. A slightly dodgy sound scenario was overcome with notable readings, which forced close attention, and we finished the event with a quick discussion, which was quite insightful and starkly honest. Versopolis also produced a great little publication for the event. Anja Kovac was a great producer to work with too, the whole thing was smooth and it was fortunate to be able to bring the festival inside the bookfair. www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/versopolis
EPF2018 #7: Collaborating with Ausra Kazilunaite
Ausra Kaziliunaite is a really remarkable poet. I had the pleasure of meeting her last year, for the 2017 European Poetry Night, and when we had an unfortunate / understandable last minute collaborative dropout her and we put something together in a day I am proper proud of. Ausra sent me her poem written for the night, a piercing, elusive, allusive poem about England leaving Europe and I responded, literally following her words (which she wrote in English) and making small nudges in tone and order. It really came together in the reading, and it served to remind me despite my forays into performance that a reading, when done well, can keep attention with effect. I hope we get to work again in the future, the work she is doing in Lithuania is really important and she is a perfect example of the kind of person I feel lucky to work with in these collaborative poems
EPF2018 #6: Lithuanian focus at European Poetry Festival
To have people queueing down the stairs of the poetry café, the poetry society’s home in London, was gratifying, and a packed house was the right vibe within which to celebrate three brilliant Lithuanian poets who had come to London as part of the London Bookfair Baltic celebration. The Lithuanian Cultural Institute were so supportive of the fest in general and this was a really memorable night, pleasing for me to deliver an event that really gave the poets a proper platform to show their works. We had some solo readings from a mix of visiting poets and European poets living in the UK (this blend integral to the festival’s remit) including Muanis Sinanovic from Ljubljana and Theodoros Chiotis from Athens, before new collaborations were presented by poets I had met teaching for the Poetry School on courses, both in person and online, about contemporary European poetry. They did me proud, and produced some remarkable live works. The night was finished with three new collaborations involving the Lithuanian poets and then everyone decamped to a covent garden pub. It was a really atmospheric night, the best I’ve ever put on in that venue.
See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/lithuania
EPF2018 #5: European Poetry Festival celebrates Sound & Performance at Iklectic Artlab
An extraordinary venue and a grand night of innovative live poetry, from the sonic to the electronic to the vocal to the conceptual. Eduard and the team (including Tony the Cat) at IKLECTIK are doing a great job and were so hospitable, we really felt like we were in someone’s beautiful living room. The place was nicely full, a good 70 people sat in to watch a real range of works. It was the first time I got to put on poets I’ve admired for years like Rike Scheffler from Berlin, Sergej Timofejev from Riga, and it was great to have back on in London poets like Robert Prosser from Vienna and Kinga Toth from Budapest. Range was the key element here, again, and the works complimented each other. It was a little nubache for me to run all the tech from my laptop while also filming but worth it, this movement of poets across Europe worrying about liveness and sound and time needed to be acknowledged in its own space and place.
See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/performance
EPF2018 #4: Pictures of the European Poetry Festival Camarade by Alexander Kell
EPF2018 #3: Collaborating with Max Hofler
I’ve known Max for a few years now. He is one of the poets I point people towards when I speak of my own collaborative practise being a form of autodidactic pedagogy. I saw him work, live, and realised his poetry was a permission. I too could work in the pocket, improvising around concepts which are complex and paradoxical but boil down to a dark awkward humour, which skewers pretension in poetry, which is too often pretentious due to a lack of self-awareness or self-righteousness which seems increasingly ripe.
I always try and present collaborations at my own event which are satirical, to offset the perception of my hand in the shaping of the event, or to ironise the role of the host / curator. In this case I suggested to Max we do something around awards and poetry award culture. We worked up a loose structure and then improvised the rest. People believed more of it than I would’ve thought likely.
The poem I wrote, which I suggested was Max’s most famous poem, translated, was written that afternoon, on a scrap of paper, scanned here, when myself and all the poets met during the day for lunch and rehearsals.
It was written in response to conversation from the night before and is dedicated to Frederic Forte, whose rainbows are poetry and whose poetry are rainbows.
EPF2018 #2: The behemoth : European Camarade
The biggest event I’ve put on in London I think, with over 170 people coming to watch 16 brand new collaborative poetry commissions from 32 poets visiting from over 20 countries. More than that it was a remarkable atmosphere of experimentation and humour, welcoming, engaging while maintaining the literary / avant-garde chops that interest me personally as an reader / watcher. So many of the pairings seemed very cohesive, the hours I’d spent pairing people very carefully, on an instinctually blend of their work and personalities bearing fruit and I think (and was told) beginning some proper friendships. This is the invisible and satisfying consequence of such a massive endeavour, so full of energy – it is a literal invocation of community against the solitary insistence of poetry culture which lags, still in 2018, behind other arts. This was a giant proof of concept for collaborative events, and some of the performances will last long into the memory. To have people from so many cultural and linguistic backgrounds, like London itself, and such a range of ages and styles too, and to have these differences, like the works on show, be complimentary and uplifting for the performances that came before and followed after, this is my goal curating.
See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/camarade
EPF2018 #1: European Poetry Festival 2018 begins at Writers Centre Kingston
The start of my first foray into festival directing ended my first foray into Writers’ Centre directing, whatever either of those things mean. In practical terms it began a remarkable 10 days for me, the most satisfying curatorial / organisational patch of my life. For this event, held in a slightly blanched upstairs room in the otherwise lovely Rose Theatre in Kingston, near the Uni I teach within, I was able to bring together around a dozen poets, some visiting, some local, some students. Old friends like Dublin’s Christodoulos Makris and Venice’s Alessandro Burbank read alongside soon-to-be-new-friends like Paris’ Frederic Forte and Amsterdam’s Erik Linder. I was particularly proud of the young poets I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my teaching like Olga Kolesnikova and Synne Johnsson, and the performances ranged from translated readings to performances, Fred Forte and Astra Papachristodoulou both presenting particularly entrancing conceptual live poetries. Everyone piled into the olde market square afterwards, talking late into the night.
See videos of every performance on the night and pictures too at www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/kingston
European Poetry Night 2017
The forerunner to the European Poetry Festival - I had the pleasure to participate / curate multiple European Poetry / Literature nights in cities across the continent.
"It is vital for me, so that I might engage with and evidence my passion for the poets of Europe, as the continent I am part of is going through a remarkable renaissance in avant-garde and innovative poetry. The European Poetry Night has been a way to bring together the finest of this generation to London and visit other cities, to collaborate, to perform, to build connections that will last for decades I hope."
Videos, images and reports from EPN's in London, Norwich, Edinburgh, Amsterdam below.
European Literature Night : Amsterdam - May 10th 2017
A brilliant few days in Amsterdam thanks to the British Council and the myriad folk behind Amsterdam's ELN. A city I love, a cousin to my home London, with friends abounding in poetry, decent, serious poetry folk. I arrived and rolled right into the amazing Lloyds Hotel, one of the nicest places I've ever stayed, a cultural venue and landmark in and of itself before going to the Brakke Grond venue and meeting the 10 others writers who were part of the night. Guido Snel curated and moderated the evening, placing small groups of writers together, each of whom would have a discussion panel on the theme of home. An essay was commissioned beforehand, translated into Dutch and published in Erik Lindner's Terras magazine. I was paired with the Syrian writer Rasha Abbas. Naturally her conception of home was so powerfully juxtaposed against my own but we had both written in similar ways about the concept, so we were paired and it was the best thing could've happened. She was magnificent, darkly funny, generous and deeply intelligent. We had a really energy in our conversation on stage, to a sold out house. She read some of her diaries, about her arriving in Germany after leaving Syria. I talked about London being the only home I've truly felt I've had because it is populated by those who are not at home there and therefore at home in that sense of being without a home. I also talked about my own background, Englishness, paradoxes, semantics, and together we worked up some fine ideas while the artist Sarah Yu Zeebroek live illustrated it all.
The next day, a full day I had given myself in the city, I was interviewed by Mylene van Noort of Lloyds Hotel and cultural embassy, getting the most hospitable welcome, with a tour of the incredible rooms, all of which were designed by artists and tie into the building's storied history. Then I explored the city, the highlight of which was a tour of Perdu bookshop by Frank Keizer, a fine poet and a hub of experimental poetry action in the city. A beautiful few days. https://www.brakkegrond.nl/en/agenda/eunic
European Poetry Night : London - May 6th 2017
One of the best events I’ve put on for awhile, one of the best Enemies ever by all accounts. Over 130 people packed into Rich Mix, 13 new collaborations from 26 poets from over 12 nations across Europe. It was intense, energetic, original and still open, welcoming, engaging. Having organised two events the two nights previous on the same continental theme, taken everyone visiting London to dinner the night before, to show a wee bit of all too rare London hospitality, and then having a collaboration on myself, it would be fair to say in the buildup, I was busy. In the end it was smooth as you like. www.theenemiesproject.com/epn
My collaboration with Ásta Fanney SigurðardóttirAsta was one my favourite performances I’ve done. We worked on it very sporadically, so much of it open to improvisation just moments before, much of it fleshed out in a stairwell in the venue. This kind of liveness and intensity gave the piece something, and the control of tone, the pace, the balance and rhythm of delivery really seemed to work. The big turn at the heart of the piece, and the satire driving it seemed to surprise / resonate with the audience. Always something special working with Asta.
By the end in the bars of Brick Lane, many new friendships had been made and there was the distinct payoff such endeavours occasionally provide – the feeling something special, something small and transitory, but none the less special, had taken place.
European Poetry Night : Norwich - May 4th 2017
As part of three days of European poetry celebrations last week I had the pleasure of accompanying four Scandinavians poets to Norwich, to read at an event I organised, which also drew in local Europeans, in the camarade model, in pairs. The night was brilliant, full of energy and warmth. I met lots of poets new to me, and reconnected with many friends. We had a grand turnout thanks to the Nordlit seminar on translation which had been taking place that day, hosted by those who had kindly hosted us, Writers Centre Norwich and the International Litcase Showcase. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/norwich
I collaborated for the fourth time with Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir. We’ve only known each other for just over a year, but our collaborative magic feels many years deep. We put on a kind of Eurovision Poetry Contest, or hosted something to that effect. As ever, Asta’s rare energy and invention told, it was a weirdly beautiful piece of poetry theatre.
We were shown great hospitality too, with Dan, Endre, Martin, Asta and I taken to dinner, and then out on the town for many hours after the event. Always wonderful people to work with, Jonathan Morley, Sam Ruddock and everyone involved made sure the beginning of EPN was memorable.
European Poetry Night : London - May 2016
Obviously a fair sized undertaking, with 24 poets from 19 countries, but a wonderful event to celebrate the first European Poetry Night. Very easy to work with Jon Slack and the folk at European Literature Festival, revamped for this year, and we managed to get around 150 people into Rich Mix on a balmy night. The great joy of balancing all this curatorial work, all the small details of travel, tech, order etc... is that I'm surrounded by friends from all over the world, from Billy Ramsell who drove me around Ireland, to Sasha Filyuta who introduced me to Berlin, from Alessandro Burbank who made me love the backstreets of Venice, to Efe Duyan who took me for a coffee in Istanbul before I'd published a book. And new friends made too, Niilaas Holmberg, who sang in Sami and Ulrike Ulrich, Swiss by way of Germany now in residence in London. It felt like a real collective effort, an example of community and collaboration at its best. Their performances were uniformly good and all complimented each other in their differences. http://www.theenemiesproject.com/epn
Working with Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir is an amazing experience. She is masterful - so funny, so innovative, a great improviser, and so much fun to play with. Both of us seek out strong concepts and have a certain sense of humour and really we achieved something on this night. I couldn't believe the audience would believe as they did in our concept, and we really ran hard into making them believe once we sensed their absolute awkward excruciating silence. A beautiful thing. I did feel a tiny bit guilty that some friends bought it too, but the notion of truthfulness has been such a concern of mine this year, this collaboration felt like the apex of that. I hope to work with her again and again into the future.
The European Camarade - November 28 2015
All but 2 pairs had never met each other before the night itself. From the 18 poets participating, travelling in from 12 nations across the continent, virtually none had established friendships. Yet, by the end of the night, a night that went on long after I went home, it was clear that a community had been made and relationships which would last years had begun. I can't emphasise enough how the collaborative creative act and the diffusion of energy away from the singular, representative, pre-written poetry, creates closeness and community and energy and openness. Quite amazing to witness on this night, almost the perfect evidence for what I spend quite a lot of my time talking about, theorising behind the Enemies project. The most gratifying thing was the poets themselves feeling they had had a generous and memorable experience, one where they were treated with hospitality and due respect. For me it was a great privilege to see so many friends, Christodoulos Makris, Gabriele Labanauskaite, Christoph Szalay, Ville Hytonen and co, whom I had only known before in their countries, or during a festival. And to meet so many new poets. Every collaboration was distinct and dynamic in it's own way and many remarked it was the best Camarade they'd been to. All the videos are here: http://www.theenemiesproject.com/europeancamarade
And working with Endre Ruset, a friend for many years now, was wonderful. We had written a poem with ascending lines corresponding to the Fibonacci sequence, and then planted lines with other poets in the audience, so as our collaboration grew in number, so the number of voices would multiply too, and become intermittently choral. It capped a great run for me with events and performances, each one has been a special experience and motivating to keep on, keep curating and creating together. And keep travelling, extending reach and asking poets from all over the world to visit us in London.