Kicking off #myyearinpoetry is Sam Riviere’s ’81 Austerities’ from Faber & Faber. In many ways this collection was a perfect place for me start, as it almost feels like it was written for me and for the place I am in my life (how self-centred). But I imagine that there are a lot of people that this will connect with these poems for these exact reasons, showing the enduring power of poetry against the hyperbolic chatter about shortening attention spans and the numbing influence of social media on our intellects.
There is a sense of alienation and drift to the poems of ’81 Austerities’ that many of the failed bildungsburgertum of the 21st century(do bear with me, this point isn’t as pretentious as it sounds), the class that emerged in 18th century Germany who found their position in society through an education in the arts and humanities, will relate to (still with me?!). Amongst their ranks in 21st Century Austerity Britain are the interns, the unemployed, and the zero-hour contract workers, grasping at some authentic form of life. The concept of ‘authenticity’ and the experiences we have in its service, not only in art but also in love, run through the collection in dreams and memories, such as when Riviere imagines how he would film a trailer for a John Updike novel.
Austerity is obviously a central theme to the collection, but in a subtle and only every so often, obviously political way. It’s austerity as a reflection of the philosophy of the Con-Dem coalition’s cuts to the basic services that underpin what we would expect of a life in a world of abundant wealth, and the Conservatives’ mantra of ‘tightening your belt’ is reflected magnificently in the sneering Crisis Poem, as Riviere lists the things he has got a taste for with the help of government grants and arts funding, sushi being one of them.
The line: “defer indefinitely the work towards your own capture” really struck me as it embodies the austere defiance of the artist in complete flagrance of the needs of rent, bills, and food, and also the lifestyle that the wartime Big Society ethos that seems to pollute politics and broadcasting, preaches. The first poem Crisis Poem hits this nail firmly on the head with the line ‘ as a poet I would rather blow my brains out than run out of credit’, a complete refusal to succumb to the lifestyle Austerity dictates.
The review of 81 Austerities in the Independent misses the point so wildly it’s shocking. It describes the collection as “the poetry of online dating profiles and witty Facebook status updates”, undermining the point that poetry can contort itself and present itself as something, without ever being it and embodying it; it is a reflection on the water rather than the water or the source of light. And Riviere does this with breath-taking skill and deftness of touch and feel for such a young poet. His next collection is called ‘Kim Kardashian’s Marriage’, and I definitely cannot wait to see where Sam goes next.