The Enemies Project
The Enemies Project is about poetry in collaboration - across the arts, across languages and nations, across form, style and content - a multifarious, multidisciplinary but essentially cogent program of events, exhibitions, tours and publications that provide the grounding to comprehensively explore the notion of collaboration in a contemporary, active, innovative realm of poetry. Across the globe, over 500 poets, artists, photographers and musicians have participated in over 200 events, in over fifty cities, in twenty one countries and there is much much more to come.
The Enemies project is about the possibilities of poetry in collaboration. Poetry lends itself to collaboration as language does conversation, and it is in poetry we are renovating the living space of communication, and this in itself is a collaborative act. The poet comes up against something other than themselves in the writing of every poem, and in the shaping of every fragment of language there is a response taking place. This project is aims to bring about and showcase original, dynamic examples of what is produced when the other in question is the equally avid mind of another artist / poet.
Since its inception in 2011 it has curated over 200 events, 12 exhibitions, in 21 nations, involving over 500 poets, writers, artists, photographers and sculptors from across the globe. The Enemies project has been supported by Arts Council England, the British Council, the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, the Danish Agency for Culture, Creative Scotland, Arts Council Ireland Arts Council Wales and many other cultural bodies, as well as utilising a wide range of institutional partners to create in-depth collaborative curatorial relationships that best utilise the expertise of such institutions as the Rich Mix arts centre, the Saison Poetry Library, the Hardy Tree gallery, the British Museum and many others, achieving its aims across an ambitious spectrum of engagements.
The Enemies project seeks to explore the possibilities of poetry as text, as language, as art, when it is married to the expansive potentiality of alternative modes of expression and / or fundamentally different artistic mediums. It is a project that looks across nations, languages, genders and ethnicities as much as it does artforms and styles of poetry. It is the culmination of an exploration of the role and practise of the poet in the 21st century, and how that has shifted with new means of communication, language, technology and curatorial purview.
The Enemies project is designed to be responsive, roving, innovative and groundbreaking in the way we present contemporary, or what is known erroneously as 'experimental' poetry & literature. We have a pioneered a series of formats for live literature which have been successful with writers and audiences across the world, always placing our emphasis on people over poetry, process over content. We have found by inculcating close bonds between poets, artists and audiences the creative results tend to take care of themselves
Our events are multifarious, but include concepts like Camarade, where pairs of poets writing original collaborations, & the Camaradefest uses this model but with 50 pairs and 100 poets reading their work over one day. We have curated 9 exhibitions for developing artists, innovative presses & around collaborative methodologies. We have programmed multiple tours and we have created unique literary projects that reflect on certain nation's cultural milieu. We have also run workshops on everything from collaborative practise, radical translation and children's poetics, from libraries to festivals to schools and prisons. Each event you can read about on this site has some adaptation or original feature defined by its subject or participants, this our unifying methodology.
An International Focus
After originally focusing primarily on a program in the UK, with groundbreaking festivals and exhibitions, the Enemies project shifted into 2013 with a more international outlook. So far projects like Enemigos, Wrogowie, Auld Enemies, Yes But Are We Enemies? and many others have seen poet exchanges and tours from Mexico to Poland, from Scotland to Ireland. These dynamic and ever shifting engagements emphasise local writing communities, bringing together core touring poets with locally based poets, all of whom are collaborating and creating brand new work. The Enemies project has thus taken its ideas around the world, always emphasising the importance of openness and exchange through collaboration and originality, and workshops and pedagogical practise have come hand in hand with the cultivation of these long lasting ties throughout the increasingly global 21st century poetry community.
This international expertise of the Enemies project came to fruition for after the Maintenant series (www.maintenant.co.uk) which was specifically focused on the ever expanding and exciting field of contemporary European poetry. After engaging in nearly one hundred interviews and 40 events, including a large contribution the Poetry Parnassus festival on their European programme in London in the summer of 2012, the Enemies project developed its specific, and we hope, pioneering format for poetry readings and events that is symbiotic to both participant experience and audience exposure. Collaboration is the key to these developments, allowing local audience awareness and community relationships to blossom for visiting poets, as well as realising new areas of practise in their work and forging cross national bonds through that work. Successfully curating events with groups of poets from Mexico, Austria, Norway, Iceland, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Croatia, China and many other nations since 2010, the origins of the Enemies project right up to the present day has founded its work on relationships with arts councils, embassies and literary institutions across the world.
The Enemies project is designed to be eclectic and dynamic, with adaptation and engagement the watchwords of its curatorial approach. A pivotal part of curating the Enemies project is the seeking out of poets and artists, whose work and practise seems suited to collaboration as a mode. Those involved are exposed to wholly new methodologies, considerations and the cultures of different art mediums in the act of collaboration, and their work is very often presented to audiences outside of their usual artform. For example, the writing partnership instigated between TS Eliot prize winning poet Georges Szirtes and avant garde, L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poet pioneer Carol Watts. Contending their personalities and outlooks would gel, even if their work was radically different stylistically, the Enemies project asked them to write a quartet of poetic collaborations to be read at Enemies projects events. The resultant work is now due to be published as a significant collection in 2014 by Arc publications, and stands as a landmark against factionalism in the UK literary scene. This is merely one small example of what has become commonplace both for artists and organisations, as in the wake of Enemies, curators from different nations have taken up with each other without our involvement.
Naturally new financial opportunities for these artists, many of whom have practises which puts them often outside of the mainstream art community, are created through the Enemies project and its partners, as with the honorariums we were able to pay to both established writers, like Iain Sinclair, and burgeoning new talents, like the book artist Ragnhildur Johanns, to collaborate together in the first year of the Enemies project. This collaboration established Ragnhildur’s reputation in the UK, as well as supporting both artists properly for their time and work, which was later sold at exhibition, with the entire profit going to them.
Alongside this practical support, in the creative space between genres that the Enemies project inhabits, a community has arisen, one in which the negotiation of collaboration is the norm. The Enemies project is a space in which over 500 artists and poets are not only provided with new environments to inhabit, but through the sociality necessary in collaborating, are encouraged to learn and grow into, through the osmosis of exchange, new techniques from new practises. The Enemies project is about the multiplication of creative modes through collaboration, and it not only supports the artists involved, it challenges them. This way the project can always remain agile and responsive, in both the work and the form of the work, and the very close development of artists that has become it’s calling card, as they ‘meet’ the audience. The Enemies project is never a closed shop to one style or social group, it is always seeking new work, new artists, new poets and new impetus.
The Poet as Curator
“It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say that SJ Fowler has charged the poetry scene in London (and elsewhere) with a fresh vitality. Since he entered the ring writing, editing and, particularly, event-organising some years ago, the diverse factions that poetry habitually splinters into seem to have converged. The scene(s) have rightened that little bit. It's probably for his relentless curatorial efforts that he is known best - for Steven a worthy and totally valid way to grapple with poetry. The byproduct being that he has created fertile ground for those working under the umbrella of avant-garde and literary writing to begin conversing anew... Steven's nonlinear and outward-looking approach offers a route out of the insularity typifying much of contemporary poetry, punching a hole through its preciousness. His commitment to collaborative practices is also a way out: out of the poetic ego - as he writes in his introduction to Enemies, "a testament to my refusing to be alone in the creative act." It's also a "record of friendships." Steven refuses to see writing as a way of separating himself from other people, whether these people are fellow artists or readers/audience.”
The poet as a curator is a rare thing most especially when considered next to the flexibility that seems afforded to contemporary artists. In poetry, there seems to be a culture of denigration for the poet who has both creative and curatorial influence on their output. The Enemies project is built on the duality of this role and aims to provide an example that overturns this lack of elasticity in the notion of a poet in the 21st century. To control both the structure and the content of one's own output, and in so doing bring others into one's activities is an important impetus for poets for the future of contemporary British poetry. The reality is that the partnerships the Enemies project instigates do not end with the Enemies project. They take on a life of their own, growing with the artists, and friendships, that define them. The Enemies project allows us to actually pioneer not only new events, programmes, activities and work, but a whole mode of being a poet and of defining a community of creative individuals.
You can read the introduction to my selected collaborations, also called Enemies, here, on the Penned in the Margins site http://www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk/index.php/2013/11/a-miniaturised-bulkwark-against-being-solitary-sj-fowler-introduces-enemies/
As the Enemies project moves into 2015 / 2016 there are five key points of its future program:
Innovative event curation: trying to genuinely break new ground in the form and structure of events and exhibitions and programmes between poets and artists. Events include the Kiddy Kamarade, a family poetry day including a creche and children’s pedagogical poetry activities, a collaborative residency with an award winning and innovative landscape architecture form to explore how language can shape the very literal but endlessly complex physical shaping of urban environments and new forms of collaborative poetry readings with established partners like the Hay-on-Wye festival.
A continued increase in our International outlook: an emphasis on bringing other cultures and languages to collaborate in England, and to explore the possibilities of translation as a practise, and what this means to language but also to different artforms, to whom the word is not so familiar and provides unique challenges. Wales, Austria, Finland, Mexico and many others are on the slate.
A sensitivity to contemporary concerns & concepts: a residency at the Hub at the Wellcome exploring rest through neuroscience and poetry, and visit to the Salzburg global seminar exploring the brain and creativity, co-curating a World without Words on aphasia and language, and speaking for the British Council at the Norwich Writers Centre on the effect of technology on literature. Enemies aims to be of its time.
Innovative collaborative connections between mediums: marrying poetry with sculpture, with England’s folk music tradition, with sound art and avant garde music, with film and film language, with animation. The new year of Enemies seeks new ground to break across artforms.
Radical translation: a long term partnership with the Translation Games project, curated by Ricarda Vidal, following on from back to back appearances at the British Library's International Translation Day, situates Enemies at the forefront of experimental translation practise, and events and anthologies will further this pursuit in 2015.
Co-curating collaboration: setting up events that are built on a collaborative partnership in the curating of those events, and exploring how that mediation of exchange in the actual programming of artistic exchange affects, and enriches that practise. The Enemies website will evidence and discuss this process with a series of co-curators for the many projects lined up throughout the year, through video interviews and blogposts and interviews.
Collectives: exploring the notion of collective collaboration and how it differs from binary collaboration, and how it inherently bleeds across mediums in an organic and social manner. Through three recently established and contrasting collectives, involving some of most exciting names in contemporary art writing, performance art, poetry, visual art and electronic literature, the Enemies project will explore whether the Collective is a mode of collaboration still relevant to the 21st century.
The Enemies project is best seen as a multifarious, multidisciplinary but essentially cogent program of events and exhibitions that provide the rounding to comprehensively explore the notion of collaboration in a strictly contemporary, ‘active’ realm of poetry. When exploring what the medium of poetry can do with film and visual grammar, motion, sculpture, song, composition, music, sonic art, photography, image, paint, ink, graphic design, illustration, publishing, language, aberrant text… poetry will be presented not just as a monolithic mode with hard edges, but an immensely fluid medium that absorbs and is absorbed into that which gives it context and inspiration.
I hope the original collaborative works the Enemies project will relentlessly present over the coming few years will speak for themselves and you have the chance to witness, if not partake, in the activities ahead.
Steven J. Fowler
Some audience comments about the Enemies Project, generously provided by the Saboteur Awards 2016 (run by Sabotage Reviews) when the project was nominated for best collaborative project:
- Unique, international, brings together poets of all ages, nationalities, levels of experience in work that ranges from the avant garde to the intimate and personal.
- Involves so many people, forging friendships, experimental exciting work, friendly warm and inclusive atmosphere.
- It's an unexpected, open-ended, thought-provoking theme, involving hundreds of poets and performers; a collaboration that has grown legs across provinces and countries, and looks set to become a worldwide phenomenon.
- The biggest collaboration out there. Crosses boundaries between mediums and across countries, puts poets into conversation. It's a generous project; every performance I've seen has contained really expressive work. I also like that although it is experimental, it's anti-factional, bringing poets together who might otherwise move in different circles.
- This indefatigable project has brought about collaborations that extend the narrow scope of the UK poetry world.
- SJ Fowler continues to get established poets and new voices on the same stage and has spread across Europe this year.
- Every incarnation of this project has been a delight. There is something special in collaboration when poetry can be so solitary and personal - a great strength of the Enemies Project is the possibility of discovery at every event. You're drawn in by the big names and come away with the work of somebody young and new.
- Nothing else like it around
- Strange, probing, affecting, beautiful.
- A brilliant project that creates collaboration between unexpected people and travels the world and across languages.
- So international! Steven is doing amazing work in bringing poets together from all over the world :)
- Bringing to life important themes
- Incredible reach, internationalism, work with PEN, SJ Fowler is the very definition of a collaborative soul.
- Local and international, multilingual and energetic. Just excellent.