Role Model: SJ Fowler

As you may or may not know, I have been volunteering with the European Poetry Festival since 2018. SJ Fowler is the Director and a role model of mine. When I attended one of his events for the first time – a Korean Poetry Event at Rich Mix – I thought, what the fuck is this?! I walked in mid SJ doing a very strange sound poem, and questioned, is this poetry? Ever since then, I’ve been a real life Twitter follower, in that I actually follow him to the events he organizes. I admire the way he questions poetry and art, and brings people from different cultures together to create poetry for fun.

The first event of the 2019 Festival is on Saturday, April 6th, and I am very excited!

I sent him a few questions:

Why did you decide to start this literature festival, or how did the festival start?

European poetry holds within its core an appreciation of the ambiguous, the complex and playful. 20th century European poetry has had to answer to Dada, Surrealism, Futurism and has also had to deal with the legacy of language’s role in the destruction of the two world wars in a way we, here in England, have not. That’s neither a bad or good thing, but to put it reductively, European poetry is where I’ve felt at home as a poet myself. I am concerned with language first and foremost, the interior over the exterior. The material of expression over the physical, emotional and economic materialism of the poet expressing it. So I have always sought out European poetry from the now, and travelled a lot on the continent, and built relationships across Europe. I’ve been so lucky to do so. and it was therefore an organic stage of growth in my wider curatorial activities, trying to do something with high literary and avant garde performative poetry and collaboration, internationally over the last 9 years, to start the EPF. The festival has been a consolidation of this work with a specialism in contemporary European poetry and the energy around it is an amazing thing to me. I’m grateful for people’s enthusiasm.

What is your favourite part of the literature festival? Why would you suggest someone attend the festival?

The performances, the events, are remarkably energetic and experimental without ever being aloof or oblique (well I think so). They are proofs of concept in my opinion. People often tell me they have never experienced this kind of challenging and complex poetry in such an engaging and welcoming atmosphere. This is my goal, to have people be intellectually challenged but socially embraced. Collaboration and an emphasis on liveness does so much.

What was the catalyst that made you decide to dedicate your life to literature?

Chance. A complex and near unbelievable series of chance encounters. It involves a horrible job, a big car crash, a charity shop bookshelf. I didn’t finish a literary novel and didn’t read a poem until the age of 24. And from there, the fact that literature was entirely interior in its experiental effects upon me, that it wasn’t for anyone but me, that it could help me navigate the excess of language I possess. Reading and its benefits cannot be quantified, and though I wouldn’t every argue for its carte blanche benefits to everyone, it certainly saved me to a certain extent, gave me a way to live.

If you were going to be castaway on a desert island, what five books would you bring with you?  

  1. Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke
  2. The Insulted and the Injured by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  3. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
  4. The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
  5. Leavetaking by Peter Weiss

Read more about SJ Fowler and the European Poetry Festival.