A project and tour focusing on poetry in collaboration, supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and involving more than 40 poets, visited 5 locations across Ireland and concluded with a show in London (18-27 September 2014).

An extension into Ireland of SJ Fowler's Enemies Project

Curated by SJ Fowler & Christodoulos Makris
Produced by Christodoulos Makris

Core Poets:
Patrick Coyle, Ailbhe Darcy, SJ Fowler, Christodoulos Makris, Billy Ramsell, Sam Riviere

Full Tour Details:

Thu 18 September, 8pm: Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast
Christodoulos Makris & Sam Riviere, Billy Ramsell & SJ Fowler, Ailbhe Darcy & Patrick Coyle
Stephen Connolly & Stephen Sexton, Manuela Moser & Padraig Regan, Sophie Collins & Robert Herbert McClean, Caitlin Newby & Andy Eaton, Tom Saunders & Lorcan Mullen

Fri 19 September, 8pm: Verbal Arts Centre, Derry
Christodoulos Makris & Patrick Coyle, Billy Ramsell & Sam Riviere, Ailbhe Darcy & SJ Fowler
Aodán McCardle & Áilbhe Hines, James King & Ellen Factor, Sophie Collins & Robert Herbert McClean

Sun 21 September, 8pm: Galway Arts Centre, Galway
Christodoulos Makris & SJ Fowler, Billy Ramsell & Patrick Coyle, Ailbhe Darcy & Sam Riviere
Elaine Cosgrove & Anamaría Crowe Serrano, Susan Millar DuMars & Kevin Higgins, Eleanor Hooker & Sarah Hesketh

Tue 23 September, 8pm: Triskel Arts Cenre, Cork
Christodoulos Makris & Sam Riviere, Billy Ramsell & Patrick Coyle, Ailbhe Darcy & SJ Fowler
Sarah Hayden & Rachel Warriner, Doireann Ní Ghríofa & Cal Doyle, Paul Casey & Afric McGlinchey, Eleanor Hooker & Sarah Hesketh

Thu 25 September, 8pm: Irish Writers' Centre, Dublin
Christodoulos Makris & Patrick Coyle, Billy Ramsell & SJ Fowler, Ailbhe Darcy & Sam Riviere
Rob Doyle & Dave Lordan, Michael Naghten Shanks & Cal Doyle, John Kearns & Kit Fryatt, Anamaría Crowe Serrano & Alan Jude Moore, Aodán McCardle & Áilbhe Hines
a panel discussion exploring the collaborative process and other experimental writing approaches (7pm) w/ panelists: Rob Doyle, SJ Fowler, Kit Fryatt and Christodoulos Makris, moderator: Susan Tomaselli, editor of gorse literary journal

Sat 27 September, 7pm: Rich Mix Arts Centre, London
Christodoulos Makris & SJ Fowler, Billy Ramsell & Sam Riviere, Ailbhe Darcy & Patrick Coyle
Kimberly Campanello & Kit Fryatt, Pascal O’Loughlin & Marcus Slease, Philip Terry & Martin Zet, Robert Kiely (absent) & Sarah Kelly, Becky Cremin (absent) & Stephen Mooney

Reports & videos:
Belfast & Derry, Galway & Cork, Dublin & London

what they said about Yes But Are We Enemies
(a selection)

An extraordinary beginning to the Yes But Are We Enemies? project in Ireland, the wonderful poets of Belfast couldn't have been more generous and hospitable, and enthusiastic, to us and the idea. Such a privilege to meet so many I have admired from afar in person, including Billy Ramsell, Ailbhe Darcy, Robert Maclean, Susan Tomaselli, Damian Smyth, and to be taken in so fully by the amazing young poets around the University and the Heaney Centre in Belfast like Manuela Moser, Stephen Sexton and Padraig Regan. After arriving and exploring the city a wee bit, I was taken in to a bookshop lock-in by Stephen Connolly who has created a real scene around the Lifeboat reading series before we headed to the Crescent Arts Centre. The readings were uniformly intense and generous, and the vibe, as so often is the case with Enemies, was really warm and cohesive, and carried on into the night after the poetry. Such a great way to begin our tour.

The feeling between the people on this project is already so exceptionally close and generous that it's really taken me aback. I always expect these things to be positive, but to go from space to space with such warmth and endless conversations between all those involved, to have such humour present, and for it to be so palpable, and so in the work, it's just wonderfully gratifying. All this set against the intensity of Derry was very engaging to say the least. It is such a distinct and powerful city, Derry, so tense though, it has to be said. The time I had there will stay with me, going from the Bogside area, the Free Derry museum, to the Guildhall, with it plantation history and its Londonderry Derry, there is such a such a historicity, of didactic opinion that, far more than my experience of Belfast, I felt it everywhere. I was staying in a heavily Republican area and even got into some conversations about my English accent, friendly ones, but real all the same. I found myself casually reading a book left out on a bookshelf for people to read in a cafe about the siege of Derry, called Never Surrender. I witnessed a march of orangemen through the city. The people are wonderful, hospitable and kind, and outwardly friendly, but the oft referred to history of the place is not a misnomer, not an ossified piece of some tourists myth. It is there, breathable, in the place, and in the poets too. All this is the context of such lovely times with Ailbhe, Billy, Patrick, Christodoulos, Sam and others.

The great strength of our event in Derry was the width and experimentation of the poets and their performances. So wonderful to see the work of Aodan McCardle, Ailbhe Hines, James King, Ellen Factor and others, all based in Derry, so experimentally vibrant and brilliant, complimenting the overall feeling of an Enemies event. This is the cutting edge of the Irish avant garde, that which should be far more prominent in the country and is thirsty for a chance to show itself it seems to me. The verbal arts centre was a wonderful venue and our event was part of the Irish wide culture night programme.

The difference a three hour car ride through the north west of Ireland can make. The intensity of Derry for the easy gait of Galway. The change was pretty extreme. I rode in Billy Ramsell's car with Ailbhe Darcy, while the unfortunates got the bus. Nothing like a poet's road trip, and with Billy, a gentle education in Irish history (welcomed, asked for), Irish language (and it's poetry), and Trad music (which is uniformly beautiful). Galway itself was like a small, Leprechaun ridden Barcelona. The volume of tourists, tourist bars, tourist shops, students, and people in general was pretty surprising to me, and the hot weather (apparently extremely rare) made for a change of tone. But runs down on the seaside, against the atlantic, and the food and the friendliness of the people made it apparent why so many people love it as a place. Again the cohesion and care the group has for each other was palpable, we all ate together on what was really our first day without a reading.

A full day in Galway and then to the arts centre for the reading itself. Some beautiful contributions from Elaine Cosgrove, Anamaria Crowe Serrano, Susan Millar DuMars, Kevin Higgins, Eleanor Hooker, the wonderful Sarah Hesketh who'd come all the way from London to join us, and Sam and Ailbhe, the genuine talent of the latter bringing some non-ironic feelings out of the former for the first time in his life I'm sure. My performance with Christodoulos was a wee bit unexpected by the audience perhaps, a bit more performative, or contradictory, or combustible than they'd expected, and in contrast to the gentility of the fine poetry beforehand, it was noticeable, the discomfort. I am glad we did it, despite not wanting to make people feel awkward, I do believe that is a valid aesthetic reaction and guards against the complacency and comfort that often lazy lyrical poetry can bring. Moreover, it is a very real part of what this tour and project stands for, that the avant garde of Ireland has been smothered and needs its platform with the more 'poetic' poetry. By the time Patrick was utilising repetition as a humourous and interrogative tool against listeners complacency we had got a walkout! Strike one for the project.

Yes, but are we enemies is the intriguing title for a refreshingly eclectic group of touring and local  poets. The TDC (Theatre Development Centre) at Triskel was a very suitable venue for this well attended event in Cork. It’s about twenty by sixty feet of windowless dark grey painted stone and concrete with a modest but adequate lighting rig. I call it the cave. It’s perfectly conducive for intimate happenings in theatre and poetry alike. All in all there were about fifty bums on seats (that’s bums attached to legs and spines as opposed to bus shelters and park benches) and another fifteen or so leaned on the wall or sat on a platform at the back, an impressive turnout for an experimental poetry gig.

Steven J Fowler and Christodoulos Makris who have co-curated the Irish leg of this innovative and ambitious project, graciously introduced the evening. S.J Fowler has already brought the project to four other countries, his stated aim being to encourage experimentation through poetry in collaboration, to question how we read or listen to poetry and to find new ways of composition. The Irish poets, Ailbhe Darcy, Billy Ramsell and (Dublin-based) Christodoulos Makris, along with English poets Patrick Coyle, Sam Riviere and S.J Fowler, are now coming to the tail end of the Irish tour  which has included Belfast, Derry, Galway, Cork and Dublin. It will finish in London on Saturday the 27th at 7pm at the Rich Mix Arts Centre. In each city they visit, they are joined by six local poets. The collaborative combinations are ever changing, so each event, while relating to the theme, is its own animal.

In Cork, Sarah Hayden and Rachel Warriner were first on. I enjoyed their energy. The friendship they share was evident and brought a sense of fun to their piece. What for me was most impressive was that while they each have a distinctly unique voice, to my ear in this instance they seemed to speak from one. The words were constant, almost cascading from their lips, strange star lists and a sort of haute couture of expression. In truth, I hadn’t a clue what it all meant, but I didn’t really mind as their delivery had a dynamism. They would finish each other’s sentences and punctuate moments by speaking in unison. I was at the very back of the room and in terms of performance, I would have liked a little more volume. Unfortunately I missed some words and ends of sentences. They both came across as very comfortable in their poetic form, intensely experimental and avant-garde. Although difficult for me to hold onto any sense from the words, I found their flow exciting and wildly puzzling. The word I took away is ‘smirm’. It’s not in my dictionary, but I think it should be.

Cal Doyle and Doireann Ní Ghríofa followed with their theme of the city and spatial history. Straight away, I was deep in Cork, ‘Tetris city’. The RNH hall looming became a huge movable piece in an ‘endless change’ of a concrete jigsaw. ‘Walls fall’, ”the city looks the other way”. Cal and Doireann’s collaboration was a series of poems celebrating the strong contrast between their voices. Cal hit us with gritty urbanity, got unashamedly stuck into the hard core ‘underbelly’ of city living, ‘ dance, fuck, dance, fuck…dance, dance, dance, cum’. Who doesn’t love a good ol’ boogie? Doireann then, with the clarity of a strong and sensitive woman, seemed to absorb Cal’s edgy images, soften and return them changed, ‘reconfigured’, giving an acceptance and warmth to the harshness, ‘the city pulses our blood’, ‘the city lives in us too’. Lines such as ‘ a door that creaked in like pleats in an accordion’, sent a butterfly flutter through the room. I fully enjoyed this partnership, the masculine and feminine combined. Cal was for me, at times akin to an educated punk, a rebel to Doireann’s grounded, gentle wisdom.

Next up were Eleanor Hooker and Sarah Hesketh. Through their collaboration they discovered themes of retrieval, memory, loss and killing. ”Water is tender to the dead’. The image of a dead calf appearing and disappearing on the edge of a lake, was achingly delicate, mysterious and true. I felt a purity in Eleanor’s presence, a brightness in Sarah’s. With Eleanor there is the sense of a woman who breathes water. She is of the lake. When ‘Granny’s voice fell from a sleeve’, I longed for a memory of a woman I’ve never met. The words ‘forge a melody from shock’ disturbed something in me, something fearful, something buried. Is poetry the lake that can bring all things to the surface, however dark or unresolved, however deep her mud? Are we ‘our own inconsequence’? Eleanor and Sarah’s presentation resonated with me. I was glad to discover two writers that I’ve not heard read before. I’m only sorry that my ability to maintain focused attention wasn’t better and that my note-taking was not in reality, an illegible scrawl.

Fourth in the line up were Afric McGlinchey and Paul Casey. They penned a fine collaborative poem, matched each other line for line, layered image upon image, speaking from a universal perspective:

Enemies are always true to each other, more faithful than lovers…
more faithful than rain to fire, shadow to light, child to mother,
the chick who climbs out of the egg and begins to peck at her.

The person responsible for inspiring so many excellent poets with the undoubtable worthy concept ‘Yes, but are we enemies’ was next to take the stage. Steven J.Fowler was joined by Ailbhe Darcy. They delved into the theme of a nuclear holocaust, managing to lighten the severity of their subject with a dark wit. Ailbhe spoke ‘imagination is the worst part of torture’, to which Steven quipped ‘the redemption’. I saw a mischievousness in Ailbhe. Steven had a steady self assuredness, ‘one golden boy’ appearing totally at ease with his audience. I wasn’t quite sure where the poetry was taking me, however. Like I said my attention span was wavering. I did feel safe in their hands and took this line home, ‘inundated by rude people as though we were computers and they numbers’.

Christodoulos Makris and Sam Riviere engaged in a clever letter writing exchange. It was a game of top dog that lightened the mood and inspired much laughter from the audience. ‘What is the use in talking to people who think they know better?’ None I suppose, but listening to two trying to prove the same is entertaining. When one of them piped up with ‘ignoring women is the only thing that turns me on’, I thought to myself, now that’s good comedy. Why? Because with some women it might just be a good strategy. I was happy to be introduced to Christodoulos and Sam, two new voices. Their straight talking made the overall experience a bit more playful around the concept of ‘enemies’. ‘savages come from everywhere’, yes indeed and ‘every arrival is the story of a departure’.

Patrick Coyle and Billy Ramsell were a great combination to round off proceedings. They put the performance into the poetry that was perhaps a little lacking with others who relied solely on reading from the page. Patrick had an energy to him that was buzzing. He was having so much fun himself that it couldn’t not be felt. ‘Oh de do da day’ yay! His approach was spontaneous in that he incorporated seven syllables from every other reading of the night to his, ‘do da do da’ and when he took out his smart phone, used the taping tone of the digits to emphasise a line, I was fully with him. I relished in the daftness of ‘orange rhymes with orange’ and ‘these camp-town racists who sing that song, oh de do da’ gay racists? I suppose it takes all kinds of enemies to make this special, spatial planet. Billy Ramsell who probably won’t like me at all for putting his name after that last sentence was a worthy candidate to end with. No one else enunciates quite so deliberately. He gives every word its full shape, started into his poem slowly, tasted the snap of every consonant, then gradually found himself swaying, eyes closed and words flowing. It was about memory, memory extraction, harvesting and transfer. It was memorable.

- Rosie O'Regan, Yes, but are we enemies, 23/09/2014 @ Triskel, Cork (Sabotage Reviews, 25/9/14)

As someone who has lived in Cork for the past three years, I am a little shy in admitting that I had never been to the Triskel Arts Centre before going to the poetry reading entitled “Yes But Are We Enemies”. However, this poetry reading changed my attitudes and I will definitely be attending more events like it in the future.The Enemies project is a collaboration initiative, designed to bring artists of different styles, cultures, content and ideals together to create diverse work, which somehow seems to complement its counterparts. The Enemies project extends to other disciplines such as photography and music, and has featured over 200 artists, poets, musicians and photographers since the founding of the initiative in 2013. Yes ,but are we enemies is the Irish contingent of what is fast becoming an international collaborative movement, and so it is very exciting to see Cork playing a key role in this debut Irish tour. At the Triskel we saw this collaboration style in the form of paired poetry in which two poets, some local and some travelling with the Enemies project, co-wrote and read a shared poem. It’s an interesting technique as it allows for more than one aspect and multiple sets of emotions to be explored within a poem. As a result of including more people into the creative process, poets benefit from including more people in the audience of the poem. The overall aim of the evening was to encourage us as observers to question how we read and listen to poetry, and to ultimately have our attitudes towards poetry, especially paired poetry, changed.

Throughout the night, seven pairs of collaborative poets read their combined work to a small overcrowded room in the Triskel. It was also reassuring to see UCC students who were invited, in their own right, to partake in the reading. Sarah Hayden and Rachel Warriner opened the festivities with a poem about body image. At points, both poets read the same lines of the poem, which created a ghostly aspect to the poem, which suited the tone of being haunted by one’s own body image and the ideals of what we should look like. Cal Doyle and Doireann Ní Ghríofa took a different approach with their poem, as Doireann described the physical landscape of Cork City, Cal gave an account was more hard core (which included several profanities, which lead me to question the suitability for the child sitting beside me). More organic performances followed from the pairs of Paul Casey with Afric McGlinchey, Ailbhe Darcy with Enemies co-curator SJ Fowler, and Sam Riviere with Enemies co-curator Christodoulos Makris. I personally didn’t think that the other two pairs, Eleanor Hooker with Sarah Hesketh and Billy Ramsell with Patrick Coyle, worked very well together. These poets read their individual poetry rather than reading poetry together, which I thought was the purpose of the evening.

Overall, I had a very enjoyable time at the Triskel Arts Centre. From now on I will not overlook what it has to offer when I’m looking for something to do, and I strongly encourage you to do the same.

- Elaine Hanley, 'A New Experience of Poetry'

Time is bending, feeling like a lot longer than less than a week since we were in Belfast, and writing about things that have happened a day ago while doing things I'll write about in a day. Cork was perhaps the highlight of the tour so far. A city without anything overbearing it but itself, that is it felt like a real city, a fully one rounded one, and Billy's hometown. Again I was driven to Cork, passing the magical Bunratty and Ballygibbon, while Billy and I chatted about Ireland and Irish things, amongst poetry discussion. I got to see where he grew up, got to really about Cork before I explored it myself. We stayed by the University, and it was freshers week, but also near Fitzgerald park and the beautiful hidden riverpaths that lead East out of the city. The city was perfectly lovely, though I was stared at relentlessly. Long, strange, intent stares. Not sure why.

The reading itself was a grand success. The venue, in the Triskel arts centre, was packed, 50 seated, at least another 20 standing. It really felt as if Cork's poetry scene was highly developed, full of festivals, visiting poets, an active community. It was lively discussions preceding the readings, and getting to meet Paul Casey, Afric McGlinchey, Doireann Ni Ghriofa, Sarah Hayden, Rachel Warriner beforehand, I realised they all organised readings, had their own presses, taught in schools, translated between languages and so forth. It felt much more like a Camarade event in London with each pair bringing an openness, a volume and an individuality that some other readings can't achieve because they feel like the first time the poets have been given the chance to collaborate and communicate in this way. Not so in Cork, all the 7 pairs delivered with a palpable sense of enthusiasm that spread through the attentive audience.

One of the best Enemies events I've ever been a part of. Hard to describe just how intense, and how brilliant this event felt. Very much, it would seem to me, to be a culmination of a variety of circumstance. The first being the underappreciation of the strength of the Irish avant garde. Here poets of that ilk came together, from Cork to Derry, from Dublin and beyond to share a series of works so radically different in their experimentation, but all wonderful in their power and authenticity, that it became undeniable there is an amazing thing happening right now in Ireland. From audiovisual collaboration, to performance art, to found text, to multivocal readings, the event did what we initially planned this tour might do, and it gave a home, and created a platform for really diverse writers to prove us right.

It was also in the Writers Centre, a beautiful place, but known perhaps for its formality, and we crammed it, filled most of the two rooms, and somehow used the ornate nature of the surroundings to intensify the intimacy of the works. We also preceded it with a Q&A, which became, in a gentle way, a discussion with a hypothesis, about collaboration and the Irish tradition. Had the following hours poetry been a damp squib, we might have appeared foolish, but seeing its fire and its clear success as an enterprise, all the more it was as though we had convinced the audience about the salience of our ideas.

And finally, it was the last Irish date for us six travelling, and assorted others, and it felt like a goodbye of sorts, because it was. I had such a wonderful time reading with Billy and the others, and really felt as relaxed as I can remember feeling at such an occasion.

There were tears shed at the very end of it. Often the London event, following the time spent in the country of question on Enemies tours can feel like an afterthought, a rounding up. This was all its own thing, packed with people, full of great performances and full of its own energy. What can be said about #YBAWE? It was perhaps, overall, the best thing I've been a part of in the project so far. So good was the time in Ireland, in the cities and travelling, with the beautiful core poets and the local others we met along the way. So good was the work, the poetry, and so satisfying the feeling at the end as at the beginning. Not the last time Ireland will be in my thoughts for poetry I am sure.

This has been very much a week of recovery and catch up after eleven days touring as part of the ‘Yes but are we enemies?’ The tour was an outgrowth of Steven Fowler’s extraordinary ‘Enemies’ initiative, which emphasises collaboration and experiment and has invited pairs of poets from all over the world to create and perform together. And by doing so step outside their artistic comfort zones and work toward new literary ground.

There were six ‘core’ poets involved: Ailbhe Darcy, Christodoulos Makris and myself representing Ireland, and  Steven Fowler, Patrick Coyle, Sam Riviere representing the United Kingdom. In the lead up to the tour itself each Irish poet worked each of their UK counterparts to produce a collaborative text. I can safely say that working with Steven, Sam and Patrick pushed me down avenues I otherwise might have left unexplored. The three works produced were very different but united -at least I hope so- by the spirit of risk and engagement from which they arose.

The tour took in six cities and featured no less than 43 performances by 45 poets across six cities, the six ‘core’ performers being joined by pairs of locally-based poets at each stop along the way. It was a thrill to read in Belfast for the first time, to make the acquaintaince of Stephen Connolly, Stephen Sexton and others associated with the next generation of that city’s thriving and vibrant poetry community. As indeed it was to talk GAA in The Sunflower bar, home of the surely-soon-to-be legendary Lifeboat series of poetry readings.

It was my first time in Derry, a city that seemed to offer an edgy but definite welcome. I was left with the impression of a city doubtlessly still divided but very much on the up. It was fantastic to walk its walls on Saturday morning and feel their stones reverberate with a post-Culture-Night hangover. The work the tour brought to the Verbal Arts Centre was perhaps appropriately abrasive and left-of-centre, featuring performance-art-influened pieces by Aodán McCardle & Ailbhe Hines, by James King & Ellen Factor as well as Sophie Collins & Robert Maclean’s bizarre and demented take on the Iris Robinson scandal from a few years ago, a piece that for me was very much a crazy highlight.

Galway -coming in the wake of Derry- seemed mellow, breathable, chilled-out. A site of play and recreation. But also weightless somehow to the point of whimsicality.  Our two days there featured the first of what would be several massively enjoyable communal meals: a sweetly searing curry at the Thai Garden. I enjoyed too the post reading drinks in the incomparable Blue Note  with Elaine Cosgrove and Annamaria Crowe Serrano, who together produced an exhilarating piece around the theme of domestic violence.

My home town of Cork was next (though I nearly crashed the car several times en route due to an excess of laughter provoked by my passenger Steven J Fowler). Maybe it’s just because I was ‘playing at home’ but the atmosphere both in Triskel for the reading and afterwards in An Spailpín Fánach seemed really great; warm, supportive, celebratory. I was especially taken with Cal Doyle and Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s psyco-geographic probing of Cork’s long history and with the relentless immersive flow of Sarah Hayden and Rachel Warriner’s evisceration of the beauty industry.

It seemed oddly appropriate, too, that this stop should feature a mini Poetry Africa reunion, courtesy of Afric MacGlinchey, Paul Casey and the great Kobus Moolman, who’s visiting from Durban at the moment. And I have to mention how great it was to meet Sarah Hesketh: I felt that together with Sam we came close to solving several fairly major aesthetic conundrums.

The Dublin reading in the Irish Writer’s Centre featured another massive and appreciative crowd and was preceded by an debate / roundtable ably chaired by Susan Tomaselli. The work presented here was again more abrasive and experimental in nature, featuring visuals, music and performance art. Steven Fowler and I rewrote our collaboration completely, coming up with a piece for six voices that was a blast to compose and perform. It was great to see familiar faces like Dave Lordan, Michael Shanks, Dimitra Xidous and Alan Jude Moore, a man with whom I finally had the chance to sit down with and have a few pints.

London to finish: it was a treat to dine together for one last time, this time in a local family-owned fish restaurant, which struck me as a true slice of London and where Steven seemed quite the celebrity.  The reading in the Rich Mix Centre brought everything to a fitting close, threading together strands and impulses that had arisen throughout the tour as a whole. I really enjoyed the piece by Kit Fryatt and Kimberly Campanello and Philip Terry and Martin Zet’s sound poetry take on Heaney’s ‘Anahorish’.  Saying farewell wasn’t easy.

It will take me a few weeks, I think, to process this eleven day voyage and extravaganza. There was so much to take in: friendship, ideas, aesthetic possibility. There’s just so much happening in irish poetry right now, just so much barely hidden energy that’s waiting to explode. It was a privilege to travel around the country and take it all in first hand.  My thanks go to Steve and Christodoulos for making it all happen. Definitely one of the absolute  highlights of my poetry life so far.

- Billy Ramsell, Yes but are we enemies?

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