Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Robert Sheppard: Thoughts on Collaboration 9: Nemeses: Selected Collaborations of SJ Fowler, 2014-2019 (+ review on Stide)

All posts in this ‘Collaboration’ strand may be accessed via links on the first post, a hubpost, as I call it, here:

If you jump back to ‘Thoughts on Collaboration’ 5 and 6 you may read about The Enemies Project, curated by SJ Fowler. Part 5, about 'Enemies' and my part in them (with videos), may be accessed here.

Part six is a round up of my own literary collaborations in Twitters for a Lark: poetry of the European Union of Imaginary Authors (the EUOIA), which formed parts of a number of ‘Enemies’ gigs; see here.

Here is an example of a collaboration between Tom Jenks and SJ Fowler. It is an hiliariously funny guide to life after Brexit. Perhaps you’ve already seen it. It’s less part of my ‘Thoughts on Collaboration’, and more of an interlude between parts 5 and 6. I witnessed this performance, April, 2019, but it is unfortunately not documented in Nemeses. ‘Next slide please Harry!’ 

Steven Fowler comments on my earlier posts about collaboration here:

More recently, I have written a review of SJ Fowler and 54 others: Nemeses: Selected Collaborations of SJ Fowler, 2014-2019. HTVN Press, 2019. Please read that review before moving on to what I have witten below. Thanks to Rupert Loydell at Stride for publishing it.

That may be read HERE

It was, as you will have just read, not an easy book to review, and I really couldn’t do justice to the richness of the contents, though I had a good go! In terms of the longer piece I am writing on collaboration, I think it will be useful to look at other collaborations than the ones I focus on in the review. After all, I am very clear that I want to focus upon ‘literary collaboration’ rather than collaboration across media, not because I am committed only to that, which I hope is clear from the range of my own creative collaborations, but because an 8,000 word essay can only hope to examine three collaborations at most.

Another ‘problem’ – it’s not a problem, of course, but a delight! – is that Steven Fowler collaborates with many European writers. Indeed, it looks as though the European Poetry Festivals he has organised for the last few years are taking over from the more UK-focussed ‘Enemies’, while using a similar format. (See here for the latest: It's been postponed by the you-know-what until an optimistic October.)

The streak of internationalism in all of Fowler’s work has intensified since Brexit. (Our collaboration in Twitters for a Lark was to invent a Swedish poet: he now consorts with real ones!) But the book I am writing the essay for is clearly going to be a survey of British poetry, so I will have to limit my approach (a bit).

What I want to do in the next post in this strand is to examine the poetics of collaboration at play, which I outline but I don’t examine in my review. Indeed, I say: ‘I want to leave the poetics to one side and plunge into two sample offerings.’ Now, I want to return to those poetics. One paragraph I wrote I thought was potentially useful in my critical examination:

In reading literary collaboration on the page, the reader often has recourse to a peculiar binary refocusing that feels like a lack of focus. That’s because the flow of the writing is continually interrupted by itself, by the switch between writers. (Imagine two drivers switching at the wheel of a truck, without stopping.) In some cases, where the dialogue is not visible, you stop trying to guess who wrote what. This, I believe, is a sign of success. It hasn’t achieved a third voice (a term which is based on identity of writers not on the identity of writing), but it could be said to leave a linguistic trail coherent enough to regard as a single discourse.

I’m sure some version of this paragraph, in its way, a bit of a summary of much that I have said (in these 12000 words so far!), will appear in my piece. One problem, though: I can’t find any origin for the idea about collaboration producing a ‘third voice’. I know Laura Tansey used it at the Edge Hill conference I write about in Thoughts 7, but I don’t recall, neither do my notes indicate, a source.

All posts in this ‘Collaboration’ strand, including those posted after this one was posted, may be accessed via links on the hubpost here: