SJ Fowler

Edited by Dominic Jaeckle
Tenement #4 / ISBN: 978-1-8380200-6-4
153pp / 140 x 216mm
Designed and typeset by Traven T. Croves
Published June 28th 2022



A showcase, ransacked with horrid delight:
presents the placid, lurid violences
of surveillance and exhibition with startling and brutal stylishness.
A seething triumph.

Eley Williams 

A book as powerful, monumental and strange
Alasdair Gray's Lanark in miniature.

Joanna Walsh

A strange, absurd, difficult book by a hero of London’s poetry scene, MUEUM is disconcerting and enlightening. Reading it feels like walking beside the author through a lucid nightmare — as real and unreal as our own dreams, as illogical and packed with implication, but taken to horrendous extremes. At his best, Fowler shows us what would happen if we could freeze-frame and pursue the bits of our own daily lives that make it into our sleep states: a terrifying array of the small and menial alongside the vast, ghastly, and symbolic. Without affectation, in a voice very much his own, he comes close to the uncomfortable truth-telling of Ballard, McCarthy, Céline, and the rest of the minatory canon who form the backdrop to this remarkable fiction debut.

Guy Stevenson, the Los Angeles Review of Books

Before I became a guard I knew. I impressed upon them I was too large and impatient for the work. I sabotaged myself. It would hurt my feelings to see the things being made. From pictures in books. From imaginations. Being visionary is no good for me. Too much mud in the water. When I get my hands on ideas, I am less steady. And I couldn't be a host, those at the other end... The ones who speak to the public. I’d harm them. In unacceptable volumes. That’s why I became a guard of the galleries, though I shouldn't pretend I chose. A guard. With less requirements. 

A novella of ludic menace, a puzzle without pieces, SJ Fowler’s MUEUM pictures the amassing and dismantling of a public edifice, brick by brick, in prose that refracts and breaks the light emitted by history’s ornaments and history’s omissions.

Suspended in unknowable time there is a city; in the city, an event, a conflict. Amid the ash, fog and cloud, there is the manufacturing of a space—a many-winged museum on the make. On the plinths, exquisite remnants of life present and past—adorning the walls, portraits of gentle torture sit hand in hand with brutal and statuesque portrayals of camaraderie—and the gift-shop is littered with plastic curios and gilt revulsion.

Goya, as atmosphere rather than artwork, hovers amid iron age ghosts, bronzed ideas, and antiqued anxiety.

Pacing the hall, atrium and corridor, there are those who keep the museum—the various midwives to the building’s demands—and those, like the reader, who merely visit; those who pass through the vacant galleries adrift with questions. What can I touch? What is next to Egypt? What is hidden in Mesopotamia? Where do we eat? Drink? Where is the entrance? The exit?

Following the tradition of the Nestbeschmutzer authors (“one who dirties their own nest,” vis-à-vis Bernhard and Gombrowicz, et al), in Fowler’s curt, spiralling, and acute work, the museum’s keepers will answer.

SJ Fowler & Gareth Evans
(on & around a novella called MUEUM)

A patchwork quilt of readings & noises,
introduced by an exchange between
Fowler & Eley Williams

(first broadcast on Montez Press Radio, 22.09.22 / 13:55)

SJ Fowler & Eley Williams
(on & around a novella called MUEUM)



07/01     Tenement Press & Resonance Extra;
              SJ Fowler’s MUEUM (Parts I through IV)
              A serialisation of the poet’s debut novella


03/12     Tenement Press & Resonance Extra;
              SJ Fowler’s MUEUM (Part III of IV)
              A serialisation of the poet’s debut novella

05/11     Tenement Press & Resonance Extra;
              SJ Fowler’s MUEUM (Part II of IV)
              A serialisation of the poet’s debut novella

13/10      SJ Fowler, Kayona Daley, Martin Wakefield
              & Agniezka Studkinka  
              19:00, Waterstones (Kingston), London

09/10     SJ Fowler & Benedict Taylor
              15:30, 100 Years Gallery, London

05/10     SJ Fowler, Iain Sinclair,
              Chris McCabe & Chloe Aridjis
              19:00, Bricklane Bookshop, London

01/10     Tenement Press & Resonance Extra;
              SJ Fowler’s MUEUM (Part I of IV)
              A serialisation of the poet’s debut novella

              45 Minutes in SJ Fowler’s MUEUM
              A broadcast-special with Montez Press

 SEE HERE ... 

                       Fowler, during the MUEUM sessions
                       in the Resonance Chapel, London ...


                       Fowler, during MUEUM HOURS; 
                       an event to celebrate the novella’s publication
                       held at London’s Brick Lane Bookshop 

Praise for MUEUM

Deeply, beautifully unsettling, and somehow so complete that I have screwed up and rewritten this endorsement seventeen times. As a text, MUEUM seems to eat any potential response to it. Sometimes I called it a mesmerising, bravura meditation on work, power, and subjugation; sometimes I called it the psychopathology of the institution; sometimes I just made sub-animal noises. Initially I just felt awe at how compelling Fowler can make the sheer tedium of labour, in an environment terrifyingly regimented, curious (and intimate, like being let backstage behind existence itself), but this was gradually replaced by an increasing suspense and horror which got its claws into me for the whole last half of the novella. Anyway. It makes me very happy—and also insanely jealous—that works like this are being written.

Luke Kennard

Down in the mire of London's grimpen, above the drained marshlands and drift of the fatbergs, exist the cultural centres that shine like jewels in the mudcake of the greatest city on earth: London's museums. Their great domes are craniums through which pass the crazy, unbidden thoughts of a culture always moving closer to madness.

With the apocalyptic vision of Ballard and the acerbic attitude of Céline, MUEUM scatters human detritus over the shiny Perspex of our most dearly loved vitrines. Rimbaud's visits to the British Museum reading room come to mind: scratching himself down for lice as he flicked through the latest encyclopaedias. And Bataille, assembling curios so strange the Surrealists wouldn't touch them wearing gloves.

MUEUM is a novel of watchers and the watched, a testament to the fact that people are always more interesting—and far stranger—than things. And nothing is stranger than people's obsession with touching objects from the questionable past.

Prepare to travel the world, from Rome to Japan, with a travelling troupe of unforgettable characters who walk the world each day but never leave a building. SJ Fowler's MUEUM is an essential artefact for our troubled times, proving that travel of the mind is always more powerful than the real thing.

                Chris McCabe

SJ Fowler is arguably the most influential, tirelessly generative and expansively generous English artist working in experimental literature today. No other contemporary writer is as comprehensively, and ambitiously, engaged with Europe’s histories of the avant-garde in addition to such vital participation in its present. Whether in poetry, essays, fiction, painting, scrawling, sculpting, film, performance, theatre, sound, or in happenings without definition, his art draws its volatile experience of language into the mobile and embodied possibility of language as experience. Emerging in feral exploration between the poetry of Tom Raworth and the prose of László Krasznahorkai, this is a shape-shifting and omnivorous body of writing; uncompromisingly alive in the playful, violent, oblique and confrontational. When language chases and inhabits the mess of living it cannot sit neatly, and only, in a book (though there are nearing 50 publications to date) there is always more. 

In addition to his own work, Fowler is endlessly and inventively supporting other writers. For a singular writer-as-artist-making to support and creatively involve so many others has a rare and historic momentum: from founding and organising the vast and inclusive European Poetry Festival (whilst also teaching, editing, curating, and collaborating) to fostering truly international communities and building events that have grown and changed a generation of UK avant-garde poetry. Returning in amidst such travelling energy to the page, the reader of such unique work will encounter the disarming gristle of being-as-struggle, but they will also find the resounding depths and laughter of a strange companionship in that struggle. No other contemporary UK writer is as comprehensively, and ambitiously, engaged with Europe’s histories of the avant-garde. Bracing challenge doubles mischievously as an embracing welcome within SJ Fowler’s experimentation that is, at its barbed and brilliant core, a language of extreme and unfamiliar honesty.

                    David Spittle

Steven J Fowler is a writer and poet living in London. His collections include Fights (Veer Books, 2011), The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner (Eyewear Books, 2014), {Enthusiasm} (Test Centre, 2015), The Guide to Being Bear Aware (Shearsman Books, 2017), I will show you the life of the mind (on prescription drugs) (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2020) and The Great Apes (Broken Sleep Books, 2022). His work has become known for its exploration of the potential of poetry, alongside collaboration, curation, asemic writing, sound poetry, concrete poetry, and performance. He has been commissioned by institutions such as the Tate Modern, The Photographer’s Gallery, Wellcome Collection and Southbank Centre, and he has presented his work at over fifty international festivals, including Hay Xalapa, Mexico; Dhaka Lit Fest; Hay Arequipa, Peru; and the Niniti Festival, Iraq. Fowler was nominated for the White Review Short Story Prize, 2014, and his short stories have appeared in anthologies, such as Isabel Waidner’s edited collection, Liberating the Canon (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018).

Incidentally, from December 2007 to November 2014,
Fowler was an employee of the British Museum.


Top left & right, Alexander Kell, © 2014;
the skulls are stills from
Fowler & Alexander’s Animal Drums
© Joshua Alexander & SJ Fowler, 2018.