A New Sincerity: 81 Austerities – Sam Riviere

•   July 22 2011 // poetry   •

An incredibly belated, but nonetheless very important mention of Sam Riviere’s prodigious and wildly exciting recent writing project, 81 Austerites — a sequence of of 81 poems, nine groups of nine, each group with a heading (Girlfriend Heaven, Graveberries, Spooky Dust, American Hardcore et al) that aim to apply notions of austerity measures and the ‘cuts’ directly to poetry. On a surface level there is a purge of punctuation and technical form, but on further reading lies something far greater than purely aesthetic cuts – an inversion of sincerity, undermining tropes that are typical of contemporary poetry, that is beyond simply ironical. As Sam states… Poems about inspiration become perhaps poems about poetry competitions and arts council funding. Poems about love become perhaps poems about devalued objectified desire or poems about longing for products…


The poems themselves are by turns startling, absurd, disconcerting and very funny. They have accumulated a kind of memorabilia, what seems almost like detritus (in a good way) when taken out of – the new – context, consisting of black and white pictures, looped videos and sound clips but which force integral aspects of the poems to be considered in a wholly unpoetic medium. See below, and have a look at Sam in discussion with Harry Burke at cmd.



All day I have been watching women
crush ripe tomatoes in their cleavage
whatever you can think of
someone’s already done it
there’s a new kind of content
pre-empting individual perversions
I’ve seen my missing girlfriend’s face
emerge cresting from a wave of pixels
I sleep with a [rec] light at the foot
of my bed all the film crews
have been infiltrated by
militant anti-pornographers
sometimes in surfaces there is a dark
ellipse it’s the cameraman’s reflection

This is me eating not 1 not 2 but 3 pancakes
this is me having breakfast in america in paris
with my creepy associates
this is me punching a photographer
this is me listening to my ansaphone messages
these are my new converse all****s
this is me logging into my email
I type my password 40 times a day
what kind of effect is that having
here I am inside the reptile house
this is me examining the roofs on my street
to see on which the snow has melted meaning
the neighbours are growing hydroponic skunk
this is me playing dolphin olympics
this is me reading akhmatova while listening
to arthur russell and the feeling is mutual
this is me planning my comeback
cutting my hair at 20 to 4 in the morning
here I am in a wet field as a clown tells me to “get real”
here are my eyes suddenly in the train window
this is me surrounded by the sounds of cheap suits
these are my reviews they may contain spoilers
this is me smoking a moth for 10 dollars
this is me having my extremely nuanced feelings
overwhelmed by pop music and kind of enjoying it
this is me trying to remember a word
this is me watching a clip of a hipster being struck
in the head by a pigeon and laughing too loudly
this is me in the grip of my jealousies
this is me pointing at a rainbow
here I am running back and forth along the train
showing the rainbow to my fellow passengers
this is me glancing down at my outfit
every 5 minutes it seems I can’t help it
here I am listening to the 7th symphony
this is me in public putting on a 2nd pair of sunglasses
because I feel suddenly like crying
here I am defining my personal space.

I want something what is it
those little boobies from 1964
in the Willy Ronis exhibition
in something like somebody’s
new raspberry sweater I don’t
wear sunglasses though
I like opacity I like that you
can’t see my expression as
I’m sitting writing this
in my favourite T shirt the one
with the retro pin-up girl
listening to a black telephone on it
& with yellow armpits like Rimbaud
bless the powers that have taken
our grievances away from us

I could see clouds in my coffee
clouds in my phone
satellites like the skeletons of dragonflies
were orbiting the planet
from the train I saw a cloud of birds
wow there were birds in my coffee
birds in my phone
as if everything on earth were texting
furiously everything else I could feel
their texts arriving in my body
this has been a blue/green message
exiting the social world


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
how would you like to touch my palm
and divine how long my working
week has been mostly I watch films
and stare and try to decide what
to wear speaking as a poet I would
rather blow my brains out than run
out of credit as the biographer
of the famously unresolved 
50’s poet-suicide has commented 
capital is the index of meaning 
anything is better than stealing 
from the Co-Op with a clotted heart 
without it you don’t survive