Bastard Poems: a review by Mark Wynne

Writer and graphic designer Mark Wynne has written this insightful review of our latest release, SJ Fowler’s Bastard Poems.

This new collection could be considered the legitimate offspring from SJ Fowler’s two previous works this year – Sticker Poems from Trickhouse Press (“playful shock treatment for arthritic literary convention”) and Come and See the Songs of Strange Days: Poems on Films from Broken Sleep, a majestic rumination on modern life seen through the prism of cinema. With Bastard Poems, it’s as if the indefatigable avant-garde artist (poet just doesn’t cover it) had temporarily run out of words and images but *still* had plenty more to say… and where else would a Dada disciple look for raw material than his own trash?

Shitty ads, torn and bastardised classifieds, tacky stickers and gloppy animal photography ripped from god-knows-where. The superb print quality from steel incisors only accentuates the lurid detritus that Fowler has retrieved, with no apparent concession to style or theme, and no effort to beautify or make elegant. Just seemingly random quotes and extracts from a deluded (sub) culture:

The sixth child / yours sincerely / remember your father was mental

I fear my best work behind me…


But from this Zooropa-like wasteland of nihilistic numbness emerge deeply affecting voices… sometimes profoundly moving – Isn’t she ever coming? – often very funny – ALL ERRATA IS INTENTIONAL AND THIS WORK HAS BEEN THOROUGHLY PROOFED – and frequently imbued with a mile-wide streak of melancholy – Is it not unfair to say that a city is a collection of humans? – from a writer who just can’t help but find beautiful poetry wherever he looks





And as the book rolls forward, Katamari-style, Fowler’s (possible) modus operandi emerges: he’s not trying to find profundity in the junk, he’s trying to speak through it. It’s as if he’s emerged, spitting and choking from the shitstream of “bright, stupid images” we (you and I) live in, and tried to speak (the truth) for the first time, only to find his mouth full of lame emojis (Fiercely Cute!) dumb-ass stickers (Jellicious) and empty reader surveys (How to Overcome Your Difficulties in Making Friends). It might all mean nothing but it probably means something and maybe even everything, given that Fowler himself is the bastard progeny of Duchamp, Grand Master of Serious Play. 

The final evidence? A suspiciously earnest extract informs us that Fowler’s work “ebbs between accuracy and forgetfulness… language experiments sewn together into a new whole…” Its serious and worthy blurb that could happily adorn any Susan Howe book of the last two decades, except that in Bastard Poems, the copy is squashed beneath a lazily torn photograph of a gigantic fucking bear, complete with pink pawprint smudges.

So not Susan Howe then, but very much our very own SJ Fowler, as serious and fun as ever.

You can purchase Bastard Poems here.