Skip to main content

RIVIERE'S KARDASHIAN

The sort of thing Riviere's poetry reminds us is central to much human experience in this digital age of dumbed down desire
Recently Faber published a colourful collection by the young British poet and academic, Sam Riviere. It was his second with them, and almost as oddly titled as his first. This time, it was Kim Kardashian's Marriage. Note by the way not Wedding.  That's because Wedding is a more American phrase, and one that, if googled, would bury this title forever.

Reading the poetry book, my first response was annoyance.  Not because the book is derivative, or non-poetry, or tediously banal, etc - as some critics might claim - but because it made me wonder why they hadn't published James Franco's equally post-modern and challengingly poptastic book under their poetry imprint after all. Riviere's book, let us be clear, will divide readers in a way so predictable it is almost boring to consider.

So I won't.  Suffice it to say, the poems/ texts are intertextual discourse-borrowings from the blogs, reports, tweets, media in short, relating to Kardashian's famous wedding of late.  In short, it is what Kenneth Goldsmith, the American master of this sort of conceptual found poetry to the max, calls Uncreative Writing. Poets in America, and Canada, like David McGimpsey, David Trinidad, hell, even David Lehman, have been writing about TV and film and cartoon characters for decades now; and borrowing from found works is not new either.  The audacity of this project is almost entirely related to its vessel - never before has Faber published such a brazenly experimental text as poetry - or rather not since the days when they were the keepers of the modernist edge in the 20s, 30s and 40s.

At first I hated the book, then I rather took to it, because like Franco's, it is funny, of the moment, and relevant.  You can't read it like a book of Heaney or Frost (it is not lyric or confessional, as the jacket proudly informs us, a little too obviously), but neither is this Hill, or Prynne, let alone Muldoon or Paterson.  It isn't even Lumsden or Farley.  It's not even Berry or Underwood, not even is it - goodness - Kennard. By this I mean, the poems are more flat, found, estranged, unyieldingly artificial and resistant to common poetic pleasures, even ironic ones - than almost any usual British benchmark; yet nor is the conceit, or the restraints, as complex or intensive as with Oulipo or Bok.

It is sort of an odd book, that creates its own repeating chorus of inanities, a squall of delirious idiocy, like a Groundhog Day in pop culture hell. This is all intended, which makes it less clever, because, unlike McGimpsey, for instance, Riviere relishes a bit but does not entirely yield to, embrace and worship, his subject. Kardashian is snarked, in effect, not a Muse. Or at least I read it like that.

The repeated Patersonian titles/ headings (surely this clichĂ© strategy of repeated titles must end soon?) aside, most of what is in the book is plain borrowed, twisted, dumbspeak from an empty celebrity world of vacuous blah. It is twisted in a musical, playful, smart, way, however, and some intriguing leitmotifs and curled on themselves phrasings re-emerge.  The book has a narcotic effect, like too much porn, or opium, or gin, or tobacco, or hooker sex, or video game violence, or - in effect - anything we use to escape deeper dimensions. Like Franco's book, it is a benchmark of how the benchmarks, the goals, the watersheds, all those things, are shifting in British poetry. Basically, what was cool and edgy in Canada and the States in 1999, is now cool and edgy here.  They are about 15 years behind, but catching up*.

Riviere's book is dully iconic, rudely disruptive of the usual discourse here in these shuttered isles, and worth a read - it is a slap and tickle of the mind perhaps, and inane on repeat on repeat and not as clever or learned as it would like to think - but it may be even more indicative of change, and thus more valuable, than even its own author intended. A book of the year not for the poetry per se, but because it empties, reverses the polarity of, and returns as fucked-up, what most Brits think poetry books are.

*As I predicted, in essays written in the late 90s, the Internet is levelling cultural and stylistic fields, and leading to a new "lifestyle poetry". Of course, few read my books, but Budavox (1999), which Geist called a book of the year, all the way back then, is still more subversively engaged with celebrity, sex, violence, and cultural idiocy, than Franco or Riviere's current work - and my CafĂ© Alibi is chillingly relevant also.  However, those are from small presses - but if British poetry ever actually bothers to understand what I am doing to their mainstream styles in Mainstream Love Hotel, for instance, they may be on to something as disruptive as Riviere is intriguingly becoming (to standard norms of textual appearance and behaviour).
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

SEXTON SHORTLIST!

Announcing the Shortlist for the 2016 Sexton PrizeSeptember 13, 2016 / By Kelly Davio
Eyewear Publishing is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Sexton Prize. The finalists are, in no particular order, as follows:


THE BARBAROUS CENTURY, Leah Umansky
HISTORY OF GONE, Lynn Schmeidler
SEVERE CLEAR, Maya Catherine Popa
GIMME THAT. DON’T SMITE ME, Steve Kronen
SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER REDEPLOYMENTS, David McAleavey
AN AMERICAN PURGATORY, Rebecca Gayle Howell
SIT IN THE DARK WITH ME, Jesse Lee Kercheval

The shortlist was selected by Eyewear’s Director Todd Swift with Senior Editor Kelly Davio. Don Share of Poetry Magazine will select the winning manuscript, which will be released at the 2017 AWP conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced in October. 
Congratulations to our finalists!