Britain is currently enjoying something of a poetry renaissance, fuelled by a generation of young and emerging poets; one of these is Sam Riviere. One of the founding editors (along with Jack Underwood) of the anthology series Stop/Sharpening/Your/Knives, Sam has been published in a variety of magazines since 2005, and last year attracted attention with an online multimedia poetry project called 81 Austerities. His debut collection, Austerities, will be published by Faber & Faber later this year.
Born in 1981, Sam Riviere began writing poetry at the Norwich School of Art and Design, and his work has appeared in numerous magazines – The Guardian, Poetry London, The Rialto, Ambit, The Spectator, 3:AM, and Poetry Review – since then.
In 2009 he received an Eric Gregory Award for poets under thirty, and was accepted into Faber & Faber’s ‘New Poets’ pamphlet programme. His pamphlet, New Poets 7, was published in 2010 and was a Poetry Book Society recommendation.
Riviere’s poetry is sharp, urban, ironically alert to slight shades of meaning in everyday actions and his own reactions to them. Lightly punctuated, declarative and sometimes stream-of-consciousness monologues form vignettes of observation and reflection:
When I’m feeling unsure or upset
I get drunk and give myself a haircut
after midnight in poor light
with the smallest mirror I can come by
because the decisions I make
when cutting my hair are the same
as the decisions I make in my life or writing
only quicker snip snip snip
In ‘Thumbnails’, this coolness becomes almost a detachment which begins to lend itself to an understated horror:
torture is when the mind
is inseparable from the body
it is the making a point of this
the heads of the massive sunflowers
weigh almost as much as human heads
In 2011 Riviere created 81 Austerities, a blog-based series of 81 poems, plus additional text, image, and video items, framed as a political response to the coalition government’s current economic austerity policy. He has said that, rather than making the poems “about austerity”, since he himself had funding to write them, he applied “various austerities of poetic technique” to the writing of them. Indeed, this is dealt with directly in ‘Crisis Poem’:
In 3 years I have been ‘awarded’
£48,000 by various funding bodies
councils and publishing houses
for my contributions to the art
and I would like to acknowledge
the initiatives put in place
by the government and the rigorous
assessment criteria under which
my work has thrived since 2008
I have written 20 or 21 poems
developed a taste for sushi
decent wine bought my acquaintances
many beers many of whom have
never worked a day in their lives . . .
There is a finely tuned attention to the detail of words in these poems, as well as to the thing observed, as the poet watches himself watching himself and refracts his observations in a hall of mirrors. One of the main subjects of his refracted observations is girls, as in the featured poem ‘Hello, I’m visiting the area on behalf of Amnesty International’:
. . . I say my piece
to the twins in sloppy jumpers and blue jeans who answered the door
of their tall, odd house at the top of the hill, but fluff my rhythm
when they swap an honest, amused look and toss their fringes,
each moving her arm on the banister, and I can’t help but think
about the long, intimate evenings this September when they sit
on the floor of their blue bedroom . . .
Sam Riviere is currently working towards his PhD at the University of East Anglia, where he also lectures. 81 Austerities has been featured in the magazines Dazed & Confused and the New Statesman and presented as a live performance and discussion by Penned in the Margins.
Faber New Poets 7 (pamphlet), Faber & Faber, London, UK, 2010
81 Austerities, on Tumblr
Sam Riviere’s website
Stop/Sharpening/Your/Knives ( S/S/Y/K)
New Statesman blog feature
Essay, 'Unlike . . .'
Interview with Harry Burke
Music video collaboration with Luke Abbott & Katherine Mager
Faber and Faber author page