Book Review

POETRY MONTH: 81 Austerities by Sam Riviere

objectively brilliant, yes, but not not not so good for me?

Quotations and sentences

I read something by Sam Riviere several years ago and didn’t really like it, but given this poet’s continued fame in the literary scene, his frequent appearance in the acknowledgements section of numerous other books of poetry I’ve read in last few weeks, and the fact that I stumbled across this second-hand copy of 81 Austerities in the bargain basement “everything’s £1” section of Housmans Bookshop, I thought I’d give the lad another try.

Lad being the operative work.

This is Lad Poetry .

The return of the poetic Lad.

Lad millennial poetry.

Millennial lad poetry.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a lad but, as someone with a dick, irrepressible desire, a love of boozing with a nihilistic contempt and disinterest in other people, I tick a lot of the relevant boxes, even if the clothes I wear and my following through on the horn are both distinctly off the ladmark.

Could I have been considered a lad back in 2012 when this book was published? Alas, probably yes, even though – if anything – I was more sexually repressed back then. Don’t worry, though, I’m still very sexually repressed so the comparison is relative.

I suppose then, the question must be this:

Do I wish I’d written these poems?

Would I have written these poems had I been talented enough?

Would I have written these poems had I the interest and engagement with pornography that seems presumed amongst the readership of this collection?

I don’t know.

Lots and lots of poems about pornography here. Possibly more poems about pornography here than poems about poo in my poetry collection…

Did I like this book?

Honestly, I don’t know.

From time to time there were lines, images, poems and ideas that I thought were fucking excellent, but throughout there was… just something a little bit off about the whole thing.

I think this was kinda the experience I had when I read Riviere a few years ago: there’s a sort of smugness to his writing, a just kinda sneer that comes across in the text that I found myself replicating on my own face during the lines I enjoyed the most…

There are lots of snigger-inducing moments here: the wordplay and the ideas expressed are clever, in the North American sense of the word: (my lover is Canadian, and something we have had many conversations about is the difference between “smart” and “clever” in North American vernacular compared to here, i.e.: “clever” over there always means a smart-alec kinda thing (“clever clever” I suppose would be how we’d use that word in that context here) and is more often used as an insult than a compliment).

Like I’m not saying the writing here is bad, I’m just saying it’s…

But I suppose… confidence, absence of self-doubt, is… errr… “good”, right?

I often say that I’m my own favourite poet, and I think this book is one of the few examples I’ve encountered where it is very very obvious that the poet I’m reading feels the same way about themselves, too: Sam Riviere’s favourite poet is clearly Sam Riviere, and I can’t say I think that’s bad

Am I feeling the way I feel about this book because I feel threatened by it?

Do I wish I was Sam Riviere?

Not really, on a simple level, because I find the idea of pornography bizarre: why would you want to watch a video of sex? I have no interest in “spectatorship”, I suppose, I also don’t understand the passion with which people watch strangers play sports, or for people to engage with celebrities and “influencers” they’ve never met on social media & & & given all the meds I’m on these days this translates into an absolute lack of interest in other people. Why would I want to hear about someone else’s life? Look at someone else’s photographs? Watch someone else’s videos? Read someone else’s thoughts? I mean I’m exaggerating here, but with another couple more years on the fucking antipsychotics and I can see myself drifting even further away than I have.

Perhaps my prolonged and concerted attempts to avoid “bitterness” have resulted in this absolute apathy. The couple of years of quetiapine seems to have done more damage to my interest in other people than the decade or so of regular drug use. Like, at least back then, I wanted to talk to other people and understood that listening to them talk at me was a fair exchange for me getting to talk at them?

Like, I just do voice-to-text into my phone then post it on my blog a few weeks later these days, and that scratches the same itch.

It probably shouldn’t, should it, y’know?

Like, I shouldn’t be getting the same buzz out of talking at my phone in the park that other people look for in people?

Like, why would I want to talk to someone if I wasn’t getting something material out of it? Conversation is a burden not a gift.

Yeah, I think I’m in a very bad way hahaha.



So, yeah, 81 Austerities is both smug and articulate, both horny and sad, both intellectual yet sitting in Wilde’s proverbial gutter; it’s also deliberately bloody provincial, treating other parts of England as if worthy of consideration. Not that London necessarily is worthy of consideration, but the general consensus is kinda that it is, right, though that’s not really something I… errr… endorse? This country is a fucking shithole, but to be fair to Riviere I suppose it was easier to pretend that wasn’t the case back in 2012, when the repercussions of the coalition government’s austerities (as referred to in the collection’s title), were yet to be seen and felt on a mass scale, even though the rot had very much been set in for decades. Centuries, even…

This was an England before hope, maybe, before the possibilities and optimism of the brief surge of mainstream left-wing thought that happened thanks to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party – a mode of thought and an optimism related to quality of life that I had honestly never even a vague awareness of, stuck in “capitalist realism” as I was-

wouldn’t it be great if –

hope hope optimism –  –  – 

I suppose on some level I’m joking about the provincialism, but I really fucking hate England, and this collection of poetry is very fucking English.

Fucking England i just bleurrgggherrrrr

I suppose, 81 Austerities is brilliant in a very traditional-

I don’t know what—————————-

Try again:

I suppose 81 Austerities is brilliant in a near-objective definition of poetic brilliance.

81 Austerities is formally, lyrically, inventive and exciting; it is witty and engaging, it deals with contemporary sociological, cultural and political issues in a fresh and engaging, open and unrestrained way; it’s accessible but also intelligent, it’s fun, but it’s also serious.

As I said, 81 Austerities is objectively brilliant. But subjectively, it’s not the kind of brilliance that I look for…

What I want to see is fucking self contempt.

What I want to see is self hatred.

What I want to see is other people whose lives are as fucking empty and fucking out of control and boring and strange as mine is…

What I look for in poetry and in writing more generally is

is is is is is is

lyrical expressions that

lyrical expressions that make me

lyrical expressions that make me feel like this constant fucking boredom and fucking apathy and just disinterest in anything other than things I read is normal or at least not unique…

You know?

I just don’t fucking give a fuck about fucking anything or fucking anyone atm, and that includes myself.

I’m just so fucking bored and frustrated and pissed the fuck off and I hold myself in such contempt.

I’m back in London again. I’m back in fucking England again. I’m fucking 34 and I’m still fucking alive.

There’s just no fucking… aaarrrghrgh

Why do I continue reading?

Why do I continue posting this fucking blog but not writing anything else or doing things to ensure that the writing that I have done is read because I think some of it is of some kinda quality, in terms of the books and texts and poems and so on that I published in the past or have written in the past and not yet published, I’m I’m I’m I’m

I’m I’m I’m

I’m I’m I’m



I’m not doing anything to cause any kind of development of my literary career, and I’m not doing anything to try and revive any kind of fucking social life or intellectual life or psychologically satisfying life?

I don’t want to fucking have a job that I hate, I don’t want to see anybody.

I’m just bored out of my fucking mind and I suppose I probably need to stop reading books of poetry that I’m not fucking in love with and read a few tomes of premium CNF.

There’s lots of poetry in the world that I do love, but the thing I don’t want to see in writing is, y’know, contentment because this isn’t a country where being content is something that’s really possible, unless you’re a cunt or incredibly fucking lucky or an idiot.

I’m not the greatest person in the world, but I’m too apathetic and repressed to pursue the pleasures of bad behaviour, you know? I’m human, y’know, I of course enjoy fucking people over, I – like all humans – enjoy few things more than feeling like I’ve done something morally repugnant yet personally defensible. I mean, I don’t really feel guilt about things and I like to avoid physical pain, but I don’t really feel much emotional pain or anything at all really?

Who knows if I’ll even decide to publish this when I come to look at it again when I’m not walking my dog in the park and doing voice-to-text.

The last time I posted a blog about Sam Riviere, actually, there was a similarly blunt and excessively bleak section that I cut but saved on my computer. It was the same kinda tone to this.

Maybe there is something about Riviere’s writing that forces me to look at myself in a way I don’t really want to?

Maybe Sam Riviere – who has a similar-seeming age and geographical background to me – is a window into the more content, more successful, less sexually repressed version of myself I could have been if I’d been luckier, the recipient of more kindness, the recipient of more love.

Maybe Riviere’s writing shows me what I missed out on and what is lost because of that.

So, maybe that means that 81 Austerities is beyond brilliant, that it’s so emotive and reflective that I can’t do anything but think bigger thoughts, engage intellectually with the world and consider this place that I hate and my unwanted place within it

So, yeah, I suppose Sam Riviere is a brilliant poet. But maybe reading his work is just too… much… for me?

Order 81 Austerities from Faber is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

1 comment on “POETRY MONTH: 81 Austerities by Sam Riviere

  1. Pingback: POETRY MONTH: Broken Sleep Anthology 2019 – Triumph Of The Now

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