One is a CROWD – Steven J. Fowler

Literature as a European mother tongue: In our series “One is a CROWD”, we introduce you to authors from all over Europe who will be involved in the CROWD omnibus reading tour, taking place from May to July 2016, featuring 100 authors who will be travelling through 15 European countries. We asked them five questions about text production, reception and mediation. In case you were wondering what a literary activist in London looks like, meet Steven J. Fowler! 

Who are you as a poet/writer/author/artist?

All those words might all not be associated with me soon, so they are all secondary labels, necessary approximations. If I had to answer, I’d say it’s for others to say and me not to listen to.

What kind of literary tradition, authors or concepts have you found inspirational for your work?

Modernist and the avant-garde. I’m primarily interested in modes of expression that reflect three things

  • The way the world is actually experienced, for me. Strange, changeable, fragmented, varying. Affected by mood, diet, sleep, memory …. Never stable, never sure, never neat, knowable, logical, careful…
  • Unknowing as ethics. The ethics of being unsure of all but mortality, and the consequences of this in art and expression.
  • The future – that is what we do not already know, looking towards a way of being that is to come, being ready, being on the front line of this.

Please name several contemporary authors who you think are most significant – in any possible sense – and why?

Difficult to answer. I’m very very passionate about the work my generation is producing, I put on so many readings to see authors read. But I also know I read aberrantly, taking small samples from authors who have created whole oeuvres. Maybe everyone reads like that, but I don’t tend to like to criticise or celebrate authors until I’ve spent serious time with their work.

That being said I’m happy to just roll off some of my very favourite poets in the world at the moment, from a stand point of their influence of me. All of these people I’ve witnessed or read and then felt they’d given me permission to create something new as a poet myself

Maja Jantar, Cia Rinne, Zuzana Husarova, Jorg Piringer, Leonce Lupette, Morten Sondergaard, Eirikur Orn Norddahl, Asta Fanney Sigurtharsdottir, Colin Herd, Tom Jenks, Ross Sutherland, Patrick Coyle, Christodoulos Makris, Ailbhe Darcy …

What do you think about the current state of the relationship between the author and the reader? Is there a mentionable shift in that relationship through New media as in terms of being alienated on the one hand or being enlivened on the other hand?

I think the big question on this matter is about world population. It’s doubled since the 70s. So there’s twice as many humans as 50 years ago on the planet. This means there’s far more people to be authors and be readers. Things have become diffused, de-centralised, and new media has arisen at this time, is a symptom of that, not a cause. I think it’s a positive thing, so much of the pessimism about new media – non-stop access, the isolation of the individual, excess of information – is all a choice. One can choose not to be a part of that, or take it and leave it.

There have always been interactions and disputes between the discourses of poetry and politics. Do you see possibilities of emancipatory strategies concerning contemporary interactions between poetic and political discourses and agendas? How can/should/do these literary strategies look like?

I think, often, these questions are answered by people who show a fundamental assurance I cannot relate to. I find most problems, most questions, confusing, and more complex than I can understand without serious consideration and time. Therefore the answers to these questions are way beyond me. That doesn’t mean I’m left inert in the face of very real challenges. In fact, by acknowledging my changing, confused perspective, a certain kind of pragmatism tends to come to the fore, and I am free to be active.

If I have to answer, and briefly, then I’d simply say there are interactions and disputes between politics and people, politics and culture, politics and language. Poetry is a tiny, all but irrelevant part of these interactions and disputes. Poetry has no more claim or power over these discourses than baking or gardening. People who write poems can be powerfully influential on politics and culture and people, but not exclusively because they write poems. There is nothing innately useful in poetry for positive change in political terms, apart from maybe a sensitivity to language (which might manipulate us), but you need not be a poet for that.

My opinion then, following from this, is that a strategy for change with literature is about people over poetry, process over product, context over content. That’s why I think organising collaborations with poets from all over the world, organising readings and projects – this is a political act that actually is inclusive and positive and makes changes. Others talk of being political with poetry, being liberal, with an ethics based on empathy, and then they isolate many humans who happen not to share their exact political opinion, and cause divisions and bitterness and fallout. So I’m interested in real space.


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