Thursday, 5 March 2015

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).
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