A Tool to Express Bafflement

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Shuddhashar:  What is it that you strive to explore and convey through your poetry?

SJ Fowler: That it’s okay to be baffled by the fact of being alive, and that language is a tool humans use to express their bafflement, and that this is both funny and terrible.


Shuddhashar:  How do you interpret the present world, and how have current events spurred you to write?

SJ Fowler: I do not know. It is too much for one person to pretend to take in. All living is fundamentally confusing, and from that obvious beginning we all make the best of it we can, by parcelling it into little chunks of time and events and trying to keep moving forward. Current events spur me to write because if I wasn’t writing I’d be doing something worse with my time. I cannot point to the beauty or awfulness of the world as a spur to my writing as that would be self-righteous. There has always been both things, but I am alive now and want to write and the world is there to write about.


Shuddhashar:  What literary pieces – poetry, fiction or non-fiction – and writers have informed and inspired your own writing? How have they done so?

SJ Fowler: My influences are very wide ranging, in so much that my reading is wide, outside of poetry especially, and while there have been some influences on my poetry, they were mostly people I met and associated personally with an approach to writing. Tom Raworth, Anselm Hollo, Tomaz Salamun, Tadeusz Rozewicz. After that there are a great deal of peers, collaborators and friends who have influenced me, 100s of them. I often collaborate to learn, and so they have been the direct influences. From Tereza Stehlikova to David Spittle, from Thomas Duggan to Christodoulos Makris, from Ranjit Hoskote to Rocio Ceron, I’m lucky to say they cross the globe. Then there have been many artists from different fields who have arguably influenced me the most, precisely because they weren’t poets or writers, from musicians like David Byrne, Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon, Brian Eno to comedians like Chris Morris.


Shuddhashar:  In what way do your personal identity and experiences shape your poetry?

SJ Fowler: It is so innate that my personal experiences shape my poetry that I would not place them literally in my texts. It is a given, there is no escaping myself, my life. There is no ‘not me’ I can escape to to reveal myself in my poems. I am, and I mean this literally, not philosophically, mostly mysterious to myself.

I can be boiled down to obvious physical traits or accidents of detail, that’s fine, but in my own personal circumstance, I do not wish for this to be in my work. It would be, again just for me, banal and a great limitation, when so much of my existence, and what is possible in poetry – the language art, with its endless potential for expression – remains ludic, and therefore exciting.

So I am shaped by what I am because there exists no state for me, or anyone else, not to be. In accepting that, paradoxically, I can get away from what is obvious and immediate and move into spaces that are more intellectually stimulating and subtle and make me feel more at home in the world — because they are complex, like the world.


Shuddhashar:  How do you use structure, language and grammar to accentuate the message of your poetry? Do you subscribe to conventions or break them?

SJ Fowler: I think there are conventions for breaking conventions, and so I try simply to follow my own instinctual desire in the making of the poem. I wish to choose not only my subject, but my method, to discover something I did not know before I wrote the poem. Language then is my material. More often than not I am working through language, cutting and resetting it, upon itself, to the alienation of readers and sometimes myself, which I enjoy.


Shuddhashar:  What is your opinion about the conflicts and solidarities between political poetry and the literary and artistic values of poetry?

SJ Fowler: I think it entirely depends on our definitions of those terms. Political poetry with a big P, that is poetry that literally mentions and describes its message, is valuable in the context of where and when and how it is deployed. As such, a poet writing in a nation where they face direct, authoritarian oppression and ignorance yields such direct poetic register with incredible courage, and to great affect. However a poet who does so in another place, where perhaps millions of people agree with them and they are often speaking to the popular opinion, without concordant action or sacrifice to support the poems, is often doing so for an ulterior motive, to perhaps become part of a social group or movement, to gain meaning in a conformist mode that they may claim is radical. Meanwhile there are poets one short reality away, in a different, nearby nation for example, who are suffering interminably, and this isn’t mentioned. So I believe we cannot approach these terms as fixed; they are fluid and contextual. There are brave political poets in every country, but the value of political poetry is not innate. My personal feeling is that complex, subtle literary and experimental poetry in the English speaking world is political and useful, because it undermines the oppressive, conformist thinking that emanates from lax political messaging, PR, and advertising, which permeates deep into culture. Structural undermining, rather than literal. But such work would not be political (though extremely valuable) in a place or time, or from a different poet.


Shuddhashar:  Does your poetry transcend national boundaries? Does it appeal to different nationalities or linguistic groups?

SJ Fowler: I want it to. I do tend to be better known in other nations than my own, which is, historically, a compliment of significance. I seek translations, and I seek audiences in many countries other than my own. I like to organise too, events and projects and tours, across the world, and have done this for a decade. Whether my work actually transcends boundaries, that isn’t a question I can answer, but it certainly isn’t simple enough to stay in one place.







Fear the bear, the bear is real

 I know they do not know.

George Seferis


In this universe there are free broken bones

for those who listen to their own songs

without headphones.

It’s a better version of speaking

called singing,

which makes the state smooth,

and enters into worlds

of which you bourgeois audiences,

scratching your backs loudly,

remain blissfully unaware.

It’s a version of emotions

but only appearing upon the surface,

needing just a glance to be felt.

It’s like you pretending you can’t be shocked,

just before you are shocked

at the first inexplicable

sound or forced gesture

upon a stage.

Really the state of yourself beyond surprise

is not accessible,

and as a car pours through your living room wall,

so the brickwork falls in,

like a sure sense of justice,

that has just nowhere to go.

It’s all a palette after all,

a serious waste of considerable talent,

watching sounds like music

as though they were sights.



the Interrupters

no two can meet the way we have met

WS Graham


a foyet like the day of the dead

for it is full with missing children

this is how violence starts, first

the perception of a slight of an insult

within the context of a culture that

has taught the imperative that you must

never back down. Second, the decision

that the affront can only be answered

in a physical reprisal. So death ensues




like with women

the desire for multitude

leads to a certain solitude


does this work support me in what I truly wish to do?

or does it paralyse me, promising the achievement of a spectre

while maintaining conditions of that paralysis


chacabuco foam, they took to take her teeth

deprived of her enemy

she shucks dust


if it’s still human

& fine weather, in the admin. of stars

on the clarity that isn’t the bottomless

of rather a dead mother – by tractor

those contests of dead chests

proudly thrust out forward


and the gasps of love, after all, had got him

ready. john berryman


the made comes like a swelling vision

an eye cracked beneath, good stoppage

the past are taking over

from the time it takes for my eye to see

the light that it has been agreed

will be let go


chilean watches are the best movement

like a rat that was scorched by flame

and filled, rowed up in old slaveminer’s houses

tranquill waterless mountains

many a man here lies, holding holy shit

only the sin that laid them low

knows how they forgot life


the tractor digger furrows

the sand & in so did

get to doing

the devastation of the skeleton’s integrity

bits as in teeth chics

fingertips and bone chips

spilled out the side thresher


an unfortunate

accident for the searching






Crimson Peak wrestles The Empire                                                                    

British aristocracy portrayed as loveable, because they can be.

American appetites for deeper histories, plastic industries and being pale.

Waiting in the rain for him to leave, old clothes well tailored. Staying put, all alone.

Do the drapes match? Beware of Crimson peak.

Quite sharp, quite interesting development, don’t you think? Your accent. Not a complicated dance really. Yes charming, dashing, so much so to obscure so much

Behind it, people say, grinding, eyes closed to the grind, wouldn’t you say?



The inherently bad wrestles masculinity

A woman approaches a dog and says good boy. The dog says         I’m not good.

A city of sickle cells is not even a relation to the bloodthirsty accident that makes up a city of people.

People are cells. Out for dust.

The best one can hope for is to be, or rather admired, which is also never known to most. What’s genetic and not in fashion?

I have a mean streak for the underground. Which is not to say there is not disease in you lumping us in together.

Your talking is the poetry now. Also a trait, to aspire to self-sufficiency in order to love. To not care what everyone thinks. Everyone is something.

Admirable quality makes a comeback in that scene from Terminator 2, when the skeleton became a viewer of mushroom clouds.




what prison bars do not

is what a spider web does not

bars laid upon stones

on stones & stores

empty, elbow decoration, by bars.


climb a love below the granite line to lock with the

locking sound. The setting lock, the frozen sea of

granite. The smoke of prison bars shape trees


Each bar is a virgin. Each door a flock of

joists & atoms. I am the filament of granite. I

have become the child of filter & filigree. I am a

prisoner at the feet of the dark house. Its sons

are architects





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