Conrad at 160: three poems by Steven J Fowler

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The year 2017 has been declared ‘The Year of Joseph Conrad’ by the Polish Government to celebrate Conrad’s 160th birthday. To mark this, a poetic celebration of Conrad will take place at the National Poetry Library, Royal Festival Hall, on the evening of Wednesday 1 November. The event is free but booking is required. The event’s line-up of contemporary London poets includes Robert Hampson, Agnieszka Studzinska, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Steven J Fowler, Saradha Soobrayen, Amy Evans, Harry Gilonis and Edmund Hardy. Below are three responses to Conrad by Steven J Fowler.


 

 

Jim

The world rests upon the poor

                                    Joseph Conrad


A dog watches a conversation and understands.
The hot tap turns cold.
At sea, the sun climbs the sky
and sailors do not know how it might behave ashore.
The articles of war are sweetened.
The composition of powder remains a mystery to the cannon.
The motion becomes easier,
and I am open to suggestions upon the improvement of this poem.
I ask suggestions of my friends mid draft,
both trusting their poverty
and resenting their courage.
As critics make notes on what others have done,
I must rouse myself from too dull a view
of the farmyard transaction by which our wretched species
is lugged into the daylight.
Actually a dog watches a conversation and does not understand.



Judgement

Faith is a myth and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of to-morrow. In this world – as I have known it – we are made to suffer without the shadow of a reason, of a cause or of guilt. There is no morality, no knowledge and no hope; there is only the consciousness of ourselves which drives us about a world that… is always but a vain and fleeting appearance. A moment, a twinkling of an eye and nothing remains – but a clod of mud, of cold mud, of dead mud cast into black space, rolling around an extinguished sun. Nothing. Neither thought, nor sound, nor soul. Nothing.

            Joseph Conrad


The future is a sea with rubber ships.
It is a space that will contain your reaction to an event which has upset you,
which has the consequence of making you think that reaction is a solution.
In fact, the event happened elsewhere,
in history.
As an equation, it is the moving parts, the concept of time, both past and future,
multiple mistranslated languages, age, sex, fear.
The future says I’m glad you’re all going to die,
as the internal monologue of thousands, or millions,
each multiplied against each other
would be too much.
A number so big as to not be knowable,
except by those who dedicate their professional lives
to the knowledge of that number alone, and no other.
In this specific case, they have a single name.
They are, by virtue of their expertise, reclusive to the space.
That which would contain their reaction to the event
is too small for the answer.
He’s happy you’re all going to die.
If that hadn’t been invented, it’d be the mercy he’d bestow
in his rare, happiest moments, full of love, without gout,
and with not a hint of outrage at anything you’ve ever done.
For it proves the point
and makes good food for the book.



Invariable lethal fate

There is never any God in a country where men will not help themselves

                        Joseph Conrad

If you wish to look, thank you.
My next book will be a tool,
covered in letters yes, but printed on sandpaper.
You can use it for doors and your mind.
Please pretend, please dance atop my table.
History teaches if you don’t move, you die.
If you climb trees you might fall out of them.
A clock is a fine thing to own when you have a job,
but then you have to face the hard stroke of harmony.
You will have to learn to tell time.
In this quarter of the cut,
where certain trees were chosen for clocks,
there are ribbons to pass, readying for a break.
Here it is hard to admit the loved longing
behind hiding is behind our love for this kind of object.
It once represented knowledge, but there’s so much going on now
I know at least one hundred people who are up to so much.
So now it’s cyclical, Madonna and her babe,
blood on your heels, while on your knees
offering, humbly, anything, you can … if you want…
Please just be literate and never late.
 

Steven J Fowler

About Steven J Fowler

Steven J Fowler is a writer and artist. He has published multiple collections of poetry and been commissioned by Tate Modern, BBC Radio 3, Tate Britain, the London Sinfonietta, Wellcome Collection and Liverpool Biennial. He has been longlisted for the Forward Prize and won awards from Arts Council England, Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Creative Scotland, Arts Council Ireland, among others. His plays have been produced at Rich Mix, where he is associate artist, and his visual art has been exhibited at the V&A, Hardy Tree Gallery and Mile End Art Pavilion. He’s been translated into 22 languages and produced collaborations with over 90 artists. He is the founder and curator of The Enemies Project, editor at 3am magazine, lecturer in creative writing at Kingston University, teaches at Tate Modern, and is the director of Writers' Centre Kingston.