SJ Fowler on his Berlin experiences

Sharing here Steven Fowler’s interesting blog postings about his activities in Berlin. The most recent, summing up a visit to the provocative and well-organised literaturhaus the Lettrétage, where I was happy to be hosted last year for at the SOUNDOUT! Festival. The Lettrétage have been continuing their work of bringing programmers and literary practitioners from Europe together to enlarge their networks and draw inspiration from each others’ work and realities. Work which is really pretty potent, especially if you get caught up in its enthusiastic rearrangement of mainstream received wisdoms. Certainly sharpened my thinking.

Not that Steven ‘SJ’ Fowler’s thinking needed particular sharpening up. In fact, I found I understood a lot more about his motivations for managing the apparently huge workload of instigating and organising I’ve witnessed, when I read his writing here on the threads of the Berlin conversations that struck him as familiar ground: ‘people before poetry, process over product, respect in the world, disrespect in the text…’.

That’s just one of several points in his Berlin write-ups that I took away as particularly rich and compacted language use with implications that I wanted to spend further time thinking and living on.

Read the whole Berlineries here. Thanks Steven for energy plus lucidity.


Another Athens: exhibition and events

I’m one of the crew of writers and artists who are part of the Another Athens project opening at Forest Centre+. Glad to be active back in the space there, after the 2013 April residency and the Warm Up exhibition last winter.

The exhibition opening is on Friday (6–8pm) but it’s open already from tomorrow 4–7pm. There are online elements coming and a symposium too.

Invitation to the opening is here  and general information about it all is here.

Thanks to the organising forces for getting me involved. A highlight of the process for me so far was making a sound-piece in collaboration with my estimable friend Colin Herd during over an hour’s worth of perfectly mixed business and pleasure. Come hear the results. No trailer this time, you just have to come check it out. Serious.


Veni, Vidi, Lectiti! Iain’s London visit, 24–28 October 2014.

I’m back from London now. What an excellent and self-expanding few days they were.

From Friday to Tuesday I was meeting and listening to (and hanging out with!) many articulate and interesting people, poets and other unacknowledged legislators of the world (thanks Shelley). London didn’t disappoint in its concentrations of talent.

Three events! Here’s documentation and some comment on the trio of readings I took part in. I’ve put in hyperlinks for extra info on the things I mention.

Camaradefest II was the biggie and main reason I ventured south. SJ Fowler had for the second year pulled together a diverse and strength-showing 100 poets, all performing brief outcomes of paired collaboration in hour-long blocks across the day. The forms the readings took were many. For me any criticisms about a brandedness of the event were obviously and swiftly overturned by the diversity of fronts (political, formal etc.) the presentations opened up. Some personal favourites of mine were Kirsty Irving & Harry Mann (also loved instantly by a friend who’d come along with me, which gave me added pleasure!), Olga Peck & Zuzana Husarova who brought a movement into their performance completely symbiotic with the words, and Sean Bonney & nick-e melville who appealed to my music-loving self with a drop-dead gorgeous ballad which kicked over any notion of a divide between the personal and political while also telescoping history – really genius.

The set I was in in collaboration with Colin Herd was the last of the night and there was a lot of musicy stuff for our piece to play along with. Here’s the video. We arrived at something, sounding like Steve Reich minimalism regularly interrupted by exclamatory words, via a poem by Brodsky called Elegy for John Donne. It’s an iambic pentameter poem. Most of the syllables in it we suppressed into the number 1 with a few words showing through to disrupt the typographic snow drift. Here’s an excerpted page of it so you can see what our performing score looked like. Well, before the vigourous pencil markings/barlines etc!

Censorable Poem, Iain Morrison & Colin Herd Iain Morrison & Colin Herd reading Censorable Poem at Camaradefest II

On Sunday morning we organised a Scottish Poetry Power Breakfast at the ICA for the many Scotland-based poets (and extended poetry family connections!) who were down for Camaradefest. Here’s a photo taken at the end with almost all of the readers (thanks Amy Hillman!). Poets at the Scottish Poetry Power BreakfastLeft to Right: Angus Sinclair, Luke Allan (partially obscured 😉 ), Laura Elliott, Graeme Smith, Iain Morrison, Colin Herd, Ryan van Winkle (peeking), Mike Saunders, Emilia Weber, Tom Betteridge, nick-e melville, Francesca Lisette and Samantha Walton.

Many croissants were consumed, we had a great and generous confraternity/consorority/consorty audience. Thanks espesh to SJ Fowler for getting along after what must have been a v. tiring day before. I was very glad he got to give his own placed and pitched reading after programming 100 people the day before.

Finally, I read at The Hardy Tree Gallery, St Pancras on Monday night. It was a closing reading for the Tom Jenks’ ZimZalla press exhibition, presenting ZimZalla’s innovative publishing over the last few years. He’s a poet I’ve enjoyed at a couple of Edinburgh readings before where the work he’s presented has been a delicious concotion of tightly formally constructed nonsense images which shows up the sheer width of breadth of image/disjucture available to us. Maybe it’s not unconnected that his ZimZalla press actually publishes poetry objects, pushing the content into very solid visual demands for our attention. Again, SJ Fowler had organised the running order, and thanks to his bulging little black book, there was a complex of different voices, among whom Lucy Harvest Clarke came as the strong pin between the exhibition and reading poets, launching her New World Banner ZimZalla publication on the night. She also performed a crazily moving poem to a murdered friend that she’d written on black painted Russian dolls, unlidding and placing each doll before carrying on with the text from a smaller doll inside. Thanks to SJ Fowler for the video documentation of my reading once again.

I’d strongly recommend that anyone interested in seeing a range of experimental (whatever that means, and that’s the joy of it!) work being written now, checks out the many many videos of poets on his YouTube channel. I think Mike Saunders and Amy Hillman worked their way through all the Hidden Door ones in bed. That’s my plan for the Camaradefest bits I missed if I can get it past the boyfriend. Who needs Buffy?! (I’ve literally never watched Buffy…)

To sum up this post, it was particularly good to come into connection and community with so many of the poets from London and elsewhere that I’d heard about for some time but not managed to see the work of. A true convocation. This trip has changed things for me, brought me into awareness of ways of thinking, and of debates I previously hadn’t been fully exposed to. I’m excited to feel more owned by a broader poetry body and to see how I can affect it and be affected by it.

Iain on tour in London

This coming weekend I’ll be decamping to London to take part in a trio of poetry events, all reifications of different, slightly envelope-opening thinking.

They are:

1) Camaradefest II, at the Rich Mix Arts Centre on Saturday night.

2) a Scottish Poetry Power Breakfast at the ICA on Sunday morning. Free coffee and pastries!


3) a come-all-ye closing reading at the ZimZalla exhibition at Hardy Tree Gallery on Monday night.

To tease you, here’s the teaser trailer for my Sat night collaboration piece with the ever-trusty Colin Herd on my right hand side (your left)

or your could just watch this documentation of our last collaboration at one of SJ Fowler’s Camarade events.

Hope to see some London, blog-reading faces. Be well everyone!

‘Queer Information’ – call for submissions for Modern Edinburgh Film School’s first Poetry Anthology

Here’s an open writing call for a project I’m involved in. It’s headed up by the ever-mercurial artist Alex Hetherington.

The call is for an anthology to be published by Modern Edinburgh Film School at the end of this year. As Alex says in the blurb ‘inclusion makes no inference of sexuality’, although I’m definitely interested in the part about ‘poetry in gay discotheques’ tbh…

Would be great to get a wide range of submissions – deadline is 11 November.

Am excited to be working on this as it furthers my recent collaborative-creative interests. Particularly pleasing to be being presented in the corner of my creative spread that’s grounded in visual arts practice. It’s been an element of my work for some time, but I haven’t taken my practice fully into visual art’s home territories, so to be engaging closely with visual artists and their discourse is an important developmental act for me. I guess the closest to it in my previous work was my collaboration with Zoe Fothergill last year (and she’s also worked with Modern Edinburgh Film School) but there’s a real movement towards looking at how texts can behave when given space in visual art at the moment, and I’m excited to explore what that means from whatever perspective my range of previous creativity has given me.

More on this project will pop up here as it develops!

Auld Enemies: Colin Herd and Iain Morrison –– Friday 11th July 2014, 7pm @ Summerhall, Edinburgh

Just a heads up that in the midst of life we are in the midst of a smashing Scottish poetry tour: Auld Enemies. It’s organised by the magisterial S.J. Fowler from his London eyrie and is now unleashing fun, debate, collaborative writing and merry mayhem around our rebellious lands. A core coterie of poets are whirling round Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Shetland, and Orkney before storming London at the end. They are: Ross Sutherland, Billy Letford, Colin Herd, Nick-e Melville, Ryan van Winkle and S.J. himself. The core is being added to at each destination by poetry players from the local locale. Tonight they took Dundee, tomorrow Glasgow, and I’m joining in with mission Edinburgh on Friday.

Colin Herd and I have worked on a new piece, building on some of the spirit of our Hidden Door collaboration, but cycling around a bit more for content. I’ll say not a jot more but leave you with the teaser trailer and the details (free! unticketed!) on this link here. Hope to see some of you at Summerhall on Friday evening.

Hidden Door Festival film and print contributions from Iain Morrison

SJ Fowler’s Camarade night has been and gone from Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Fest (which punches on until this Saturday 5 April, ’14). But there are videos, mes braves. Here’s the one of mine and Colin Herd’s collaboration Colinthian Hidden Dooric Iainic.  We were taking inspiration from planning documents for the street where the festival is being held, and trying a bit of musical experiment along the way. Watching the documentation, I’ve enjoyed thinking about how what Colin and I were doing related to my previous metrical music and poetry efforts for Syndicate last year, with Lila Matsumoto and Atzi Muramatsu.

And also, Roween Suess has published the 4 comissioned poems (including one from me) for her Hidden Door exhibition here. Double whammy of Morrison poetry. Double whammies all round really, what with all the paired poets reading at SJ’s night, and on his poets and artists walking tour in the afternoon. I’d strongly encourage you to look at the other uploads from his youtube channel if you want to get an effective sampler of many of the most exciting poet voices in Edinburgh(+) at the moment.

Iain Morrison poem for Roween Suess Scopien Tele Telos

Roween’s drawing and my poem for Scopien Tele Telos, her sculpture which inspired it.


Iain Morrison at Hidden Door Festival

I’m involved in the forthcoming Hidden Door Festival in a couple of ways. Am particularly glad about this as it seems like this year, the Edinburgh hand-reared festival has leapt forward in size and content quality. It seems like all of my favourite artists, musicians and poets are involved in one way or another, so I think it’s going to be a real celebration of the broadest representation of a scene I recognise and love.

Firstly I’ve written a poem for Roween Suess in response to the artwork she’s including in a show with some of the other Totes Colo artists. A publication of my it, with responses to the same work from other poets too, will be available in the exhibition space until they run out.

Roween Suess Iain Morrison bee up

That’s Roween peering over my screen in an inspirational fashion.

And secondly, I’m part of this rather wonderful list that London-based poet and performer S J Fowler has put together for an Edinburgh outing of his Camarade project, where he pairs up poets and gets them to write short bursts of new work together.

Ross Sutherland & nick-e melville
Samantha Walton & Jow Lindsay
Daisy Grove Lafarge & Anne Laure Coxam
Kirsten MacGillivray & JL Williams
Tom Jenks & SJ Fowler
Lila Matsumoto & Greg Thomas
Ryan Van Winkle & Sarah Kelly
Colin Herd & Iain Morrison
Graeme Smith & Anthony Autumn

More info here:

I’ve been having SUCH delirious fun working with poet Colin Herd who I hold in much esteem and affection. Treats for me all round!

And general info on how to get to/into the festival here. Really don’t miss this one if you can, as I think town set for a very special 10 days. Also, I’d recommend walking down East Market Street on your lunch break this week to get the buzz from the hive of activity there (2 bee puns! If you see Roween’s work, that’ll make sense….).

My Zoe Fothergill Collaboration. The correspondence file continues!

Jan the 9th and high time I posted further links in my email chain with artist Zoe Fothergill. The last post was in November I see. Check there please if you’re at sea with what’s going on below. Basically we’re collaborating and working towards a performance lecture on structure and content.


Iain Morrison said:

Hi it’s me! I’ve been in writing-thinking-blogging-Zoe+Iain-land tonight. Have done lots of thinking and I’ve put one new blog up, with two more written and set to auto-publish during the week. So that means my blog should be catching up with our correspondence.

Here’s a reply to your email from the 5th November. I hope it’s interesting. I have an idea that it might be fun for us to both reply, quiz or questionnaire-style, to a series of questions about form and structure. I think, now, that we pretty-much know where we’re at with what we’re thinking of, but it might be useful to capture it for the project and could generate some interesting text. Anyway, I have some idea, but will send in a separate email. Here’s my reply to your reply to my reply from before.


I thought your paragraph on the difference between structure and form was excellent. It answered a lot of the questions I had about where you see the difference. You wrote:


‘ok so i say structure because i think it’s far more precise.

form has many more interpretations for me.

and oed agrees so it must be right – pasted below

but maybe the more openended nature of form appeals to you more

i guess for me structure feels more inside

more understanding relations within

and form is a step remove

surveying the whole

what say you?’


Having looked at the OED definitions of form and structure, I think I understand a difference that form is somehow about what can be perceived visually (possibly not that different in an artwork or a poem actually), where structure takes into account the inner organisation of an artefact. So form=externally visible and structure=external and internal organisation.

This raises the interesting possibility just now in my head, of a see-through artwork. Can you think of any?

I notice that a word that comes up in both definitions is ‘arrangement’. The definition of form in the OED’s definition list that came closest to what I think I’ve been thinking of was

‘[mass noun] style, design, and arrangement in an artistic work as distinct from its content: these videos are a triumph of form over content’

I also love the idea of a ‘mass noun’. Cool!

You wonder if it’s the open-endedness of form which attracts me. I think what I like about ‘form’ as a word to use in this discussion is that it’s often set up as, not exactly the opposite of, but certainly the counterpart to ‘content’, so it comes out of my mouth/fingers naturally. It has a valency, history of use. Maybe that makes it too cosy to use now unthinkingly. A bit hackneyed.

As I think you say, the Andrew Grassie flips apparent content into a place less-important than the structure. The content doesn’t become the meaning and the structure does. What’re we left looking at? It’s more than our own perception, isn’t it? You talked about ghosts.

You say that the structure (meaning the process here?) becomes the principal subject. I’d like to hear what you think might be secondary subjects in this Grassie work too.

I can see a dance of meaning happening in his work. You’re presented with a formal question about what’s going on, how were the images generated, is it  a photo, is the content the artist’s work, no it seems so various, oh it’s a painting, hang on, I’m in the space depicted in the painting, but where have the objects gone, oh, this painting is made from the exact same view-point you would look through if the canvas were a window. Then once you’ve worked it all out, a second stage of interpretation happens. Why these works? Why has he done this? Why these materials? Questions which don’t have such straightforward answers as the formal ones. But I’m interested in that initial period in which we’re wooed by the work, and the game, the puzzle, keeps you looking longer – it makes it something happening in time maybe?

The submitted art he lets into his process seems effectively repressed and literally flattened/walked away from. I’m intrigued. Thanks for introducing me to this artist.

I can see what you mean about it possibly losing its meaning if you move it to a different venue. That’s a thing with site specific isn’t it? Cake, eating it perhaps. Did I tell you ever that I once misheard people talking about what I thought was ‘Site-Specific: The Musical’? I eventually realised that they were talking about ‘South Pacific’! I had a massive LOL about that.

I love structure/stricture. That’s a very nice sleight of word just there that you’ve introduced me to.

I’m interested in what you say about translation. I wonder if we could play some sort of translation game as a way of interrogating the ‘thisness’ of something. I wonder how we might do it with words and then also with something visual. Any thoughts?

You do read my poems very well. I was grateful to read your reponse to ‘in relation to’ that picked up elements that had interested me around the prefixed/non-prefixed (fixed?!) vocab, and I like that it had that effect of involving you in its play as it reached its conclusion(s). I wonder if sometimes the answer to the question ‘what is it about?’ has two answers: one which centres on the content and one which centres on the form/structure? So in the case of my poem I could say it’s about the extent to which you can relate to someone and which differences are insoluble, but I could also say it’s about moving forwards through a syntax structure and then unpicking what’s been created backwards to see where you end up. Maybe? Or maybe the second bit is the answer to the question ‘how does it convey its meaning?’, but I don’t think it’s that exactly. To say the meaning is housed in the structure implies a possible separation of the two. Maybe there are just two separate processes going on in an artwork and the trick is to manage the symbiotic relationship between them with you as the magi?

Iain x

Early response to Zoe’s initial email

Just in case you’ve arrived at this post without context, it’s an excerpt from a continuing dialogue I’m having with visual artist Zoe Fothergill in the run up to a performance-lecture we’re doing in 2013 as part of Jennie Temple’s Project!!WAKAKA! Scroll back through this blog for earlier posts.


Sent: Monday, 5 November 2012, 17:35

Subject: Re: Green for go – whizzing away off the blocks

Here’s a few thoughts in response to your dossier to keep things flowing, à la our best efforts.

So, the lists of contrained/constraint-writing, in terms of a conversation about structure and content (I’m going to keep wanting to say ‘form and content’ so you’ll have to catch me if I go off piste) is a useful place to start i think. It certainly got quite a strong reaction from me, as much of it seemed to be the geekery that used its formal/structural qualities as a way of avoiding content in any helpful way.

I was interested that Lawrence Levine in his introduction to his palindromic novel ‘Dr. Awkward & Olson In Olso’ said of an earlier effort ‘[…] I suddently realized the futility of proceeding along that line of palindromania. I could go on forever and would always end up with vritually nothing. A formless monster of dismaying length, a rodent in a squirrel cage, going nowhere very rapidly and very tediously, and ending up exactly where he started!’, exactly where he started, in a literal sense of course because of a palindrome’s nature, but probably not in terms of meaning, which I think is harder to chart the course of than these obsessive rules (and perhaps that’s the attraction?).

Levine goes on to say that when he started work on the novel (Dr. Awkward…) he ‘wanted to be a purist. Use only common English words was the dictum: no variable spellings, no oddments, no obscure names of places of peoples, no obsolete words, no foreign phrases or Latinisms masquerading as good English. But of course this was all quite impossible.’

I found the generous segments of the novel’s text completely unreadable. The bits of text were unable to solve the problem of working forward and backwards with equal success and relevance at their twin-appearances in the novel. It was obvious when you read through whether a section was really for this half of the novel or the other. For example do you think that Levine came up with, ‘Eye enos, sor cad, na, Hades sap. Olson in Oslo’ before realising that it handily reversed into ‘Olson in Olso passed a hand across one eye.’? No, me neither.

I am much more interested in where the structure/form is in balance with content in an equally matched game of chess. In that situation, the ideal as far as I think, both aspects are pushed into areas that stretch their previous bounds. One thing I like about the palindrome experiment is that is forces the writer to discover new words. I don’t like the fact that it is used so stringently that it admits no chance to mean.

Levine might counter my argument by saying, as he does in the same introduction, that in his text ‘the eccentric soon becomes the commonplace, and the reader, to his pleasant confoundment, accepts the strangeness as the norm. Or so one hopes.’

I am willing to go along with that. It may be true for some readers of certain tastes and I wonder if there’s an element of perceptual shift that can happen with an artist’s/author’s/composer’s language.  I wonder if the single-minded pursuit of a strangely new way of composing in sound/text/image eventually convinces as a new language which reveals its rules to its intimates. I’ve had experiences that would suggest this is possible. I always found Messaien’s music impenetrable, for example. He used various semi-mystical procedures to structure his compositions and turned more and more to his best attempts at accurate transcriptions of birdsong to provide the melodic layers of his dense style. I went to see a performance of his 5-hour long opera St Francis of Assisi (call me reckless!) and actually, after after an uncomfortable half an hour something clicked and it made real aesthetic sense.

I heard about an experiment that was done where people were given glasses to wear that flipped everything upside down. Because they were forced to wear the glasses the brain after a while compensated by turning the image back up the right way round. I believe in its ability to overcome obstacles and make sense of data.

I know I’ve gone on at some length here, but let me mention a couple of examples of my own writing that show where I am with this question of form and content. Sorry, structure and content, i keep doing that! Maybe we can unpick the specific differences of the meaning of the word ‘form’ in poetry as opposed to visual art….anyway…

This is a poem I wrote a couple of years ago. I was trying hard to follow a rule in which there were units of three syllables (amphimacer feet if we’re being technical) whose sounds were closely echoed in the lines on either side of it, but with a shift forward or backward in the line.


Inverse Relations

The ball of blue string had begun to unravel

loose triads it spun through a savage arena

where one who would have an idea of culture

Comes after a clear gap. No wonder there wasn’t

an ear claps got up for applauses.


Some lately in Norway have said’s said in boardrooms

what might be just hearsay: life’s eerie live, God have

a mercy or call my bluff Mary, as easy

to blame her as fairies or kelpie, unwavering

many who claim for my bairnie.


And those rotes got noticed and therefore were practiced

Gott noticed and therefore were practiced and those rotes

And therefore were practiced and got those rotes noted

Were practised and those rites rotated and therefore

Those notes got notated and therefore


Religion’s not just why recorded performance

endures, ‘Lies!’ according, before my short script, to

Elijah’s. Yet years I’ve accreted, absorbent

through summers which each dropped off dewy recourses

To think that most numbers still injure. most numbers. still.


So you can maybe see that happening. Looking at the first verse, ‘blue string had’ is echoed by ‘loose triads’ before that grouping drops off the left of the line. Also follow the sound echo of ‘unravel’, ‘a savage’, ‘would have an’, ‘comes after’.

I felt really constrained, too constrained, by this patterning and it was only a rare moment in this poem that I felt meaning got the upper hand. A useful exercise though.

Now look if you still have energy(!) at this poem from very recently in which I apply a rule much more loosely, or in fact, it’s just a looser rule. The two verses of ‘in relation to’ follow some of the same rules as a palindrome, but rather than reverse the letters of words individually, I just work backwards through the same vocabulary, picking out my meaning (much more successfully I think) as I go.


    i    in relation to


Your sofa is flammable, sorry, I mean inflammable,

my tone is pertinent, or it’s rather impertinent.

You light here to ask my opinion I don’t know

if I should give it to you I give it to you it’s the same

discoloured, coloured, no difference to the two of us

as divided into posits our indivisibility deposits off limits,


limits indivisibility poses our opposites at, divisions in two

into us the indifferent, discoloured, coloured all the same

it’s for you to give in to me should you give in to me

if I don’t know my opinion? I ask you here too lightly.

It’s impertinent, or is my tone pertinent rather?

I mean, sorry, you’re inflammable. Your sofa also is flammable.


Yes, in the second verse I’m being pushed to say things I wouldn’t have come up with had I sat down afresh, but my meaning is pushing back just as hard and compromises are won between what the form requires and what the meaning can accommodate.

I actually think I like Lawrence Levine’s language in explaining his palindrome much more than the palindrome itself. The language is quite fun enough with its squirrels in rodent cages etc. I wonder how much of his writing style has been influenced by his adventures in vocabulary, and might that not be the real fruit of his exercise?


Enough from me!

Iain x

p.s. things that I do find interesting in that list you sent were ‘aleatory’ writing (where the reader supplies a random input) – not sure if that’s a universally accepted definition, but I like it. Also, ‘mandated vocabulary’ where a writer has to incorporate given words in amongst their own. That’s something I realise I’ve used as a process and have found useful.