’94, by Sam Riviere

29 September 2013

what an amazing year
so many great albums
look it up for yourself
I’d get nostalgic but
unfortunately no-one
around here could care
too much about the 90s
meanwhile you were
what 6 how does that
make you feel it’s really
hard to tell now you are
linked to ≈10000 images
it’s funny in my fantasies
I’m the one who dies
you stay here looking as
always excellent in black

[Read in 81 Austerities, by Sam Riviere, published by Faber & Faber. Ripped from Silkworms Ink]


When Franco had Aranguren
the professor of Ethics
in Madrid
for his involvement in student politics

Barcelona’s Professor of Aesthetics
the poet Valverde
resigned with a note that read
nulla aesthetica sine ethica

– gesture and word so wed
that they twisted an Either/Or
into a well-knotted

and fastened a rope bridge across a chasm

[Read in Out There, published by Faber & Faber.]

the mountains are hazy with timeless passivity
sprawling monotonously in the left-hand corner
while clouds diffuse and fill the entire top half
before bumping daintily into a bright red parakeet
perched suicide-like on a beautiful gnarled branch
arched by the weight of fruit and one ripe peach
hung a motionless inch from the gaping beak

here is transient beauty
caught in permanence
but of what avail is such perpentual unattainment?

i know the stupid bird can never eat the stupid peach


Like Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, but got out of bed the wrong side…

[Read in The Space of City Trees, published by Skoob. Ripped from intertwingled.]

Bees in the roof, bees on the walls
stitching the house in a net of flightways,
just like surveillance, just like snoopers
in the open air.

And they rig crack, lump, recess, ridge
to the commune of a memory;
and they rig it
to the thin low wide little door
of the North in the hive over there;

and they rig it
to our conversation and commentary,
and the brittle sweat’s armada of frightened water
on our brows;

and they rig it, finally, to the minutes
of the sun’s last floodlit bit of daylight.

I had to say, today, I said,
you have us locked inside your noise-truss.

You are a brain in impermanence,
cooling, knowing, keeping
the latitude and longitude of this, our house;
each bee a synapse slowly forming an arrival.

And in your trance I had to say, this is
an afternoon of lifetimes tightened into knots.

You have gradated us:
vibrations, colours, trajectories of substance,
and the thermals
turning this house to align with yours.

[Read in Bee Journal, published by Cape Poetry.]

For 2012, I made a resolution to read a poem every day: I like poems; I should read more of them. I kept it up through 2012 and well into 2013, before finally succumbing – not wanting to read another poem about divorce in Sharon Olds’ Stag’s Leap at the end of a busy day. But I have learnt things: not least how simple it is, if you want to, to read a poem. There are lots of them! There are lots of short ones! The internet is full of them! And there is plenty of poetry – just buy some books and put them by your bed and then actually pick them up. If you read a poem that does nothing for you, that’s fine; don’t feel guilty or the necessity to have to do it critical justice: tomorrow you might read something lovely. Whereas otherwise I really am interested in the serious, in-depth analysis of literature, this resolution allowed me to focus on a more instinctual feeling for poems.

This blog was intended to record some of the arresting or calming or witty or stimulating poems I came across as a result of my new reading; and, as something of an evangelist, or at least apologist for the potential role of poetry in anyone’s life, the focus is on short work that can fit into the day. Poetry doesn’t have to be life changing – sometimes a poem might just make you smile. That’s enough (and I think Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch would agree).  At least, enough to begin with, or for most days.

The blog was therefore also a reason to keep reading on – to find new things I wanted to put here. Gradually other favourite poems crept in, things I knew before. One of the significant reasons for eventually failing the resolution was that it had always really been a resolution to read something new, something I hadn’t read before – to go and search out some of the big names I hadn’t read, and actually buy new work too (as such, buying winners or nominees for the major prizes – the Forward, T. S. Eliot, and the like – became an easy shortcut around actually being ‘on the pulse’ of new work; anybody following those prizes would probably be unsurprised by much of the work here). But then I realised I wanted to go and reread things, enjoy things in a different way – pick Human Chain back off the shelf, and see what I remembered, what I had forgotten. Posting a Heaney poem the day before he died is now, for me, a small but memorable coincidence, and will ensure I remember a more personal attachment to his work – the sort that can fade less than a mere opinion when a poet truly passes on into the public domain.

It has been, therefore, quite a productive and enjoyable New Year’s Resolution. One of the better ones.

Then the creature on the label of our favourite red
looks like my husband, casting himself off a
cliff in his fervour to get free of me.
His fur is rough and cosy, his face
placid, tranced, ruminant,
the bough of each furculum reaches back
to his haunches, each tine on it grows straight up
and branches, like a model of his brain, archaic,
unwieldy. He bears its bony tray
level as he soars from the precipice edge,
dreamy. When anyone escapes, my heart
leaps up. Even when it’s I who am escaped from,
I am half on the side of the leaver. It’s so quiet,
and empty, when he’s left. I feel like a landscape,
a ground without a figure. Sauve
qui peut – let those who can save themselves
save themselves. Once I saw a drypoint of someone
tiny being crucified
on a fallow deer’s antlers. I feel like his victim,
and he seems my victim, I worry that the outstretched
legs on the hart are bent the wrong way as he
throws himself off. Oh my mate. I was vain of his
faithfulness, as if it was
a compliment, rather than a state
of partial sleep. And when I wrote about him, did he
feel he had to walk around
carrying my books on his head like a stack of
posture volumes, or the rack of horns
hung where a hunter washes the venison
down with the sauvignon? Oh leap,
leap! Careful of the rocks! Does the old vow
have to wish him happiness
in his new life, even sexual
joy? I fear so, at first, when I still
can’t tell us apart. Below his shaggy
belly, in the distance, lie the even dots
of a vineyard, its vines not blasted, its roots
clean, its bottles growing at the ends of their
blowpipes as dark, green, wavering groans.


In my lazy way, I thought I’d save myself typing this out by ripping it from elsewhere. And then, checking, I realised that the version I found had a number of differences – as it was taken from a version published in The New Yorker in 2003. Good revisions, I think, and interesting to see.

[Read in Stag’s Leap, published by Cape Poetry.]

personally i can’t remember       hearing of a time there was so much
well-written work being produced       all of it extremely well-written
S’s first novel is excellent        H’s new collection is also excellent
i’m told how nice it is to see that I        T and E finally have their
books out i’m sure they’ll receive        excellent reviews in the broadsheets
it’s no exaggeration to say that        there are not enough minutes
in the day to give each the attention        they undoubtedly deserve

[Read in 81 Austerities, by Sam Riviere, published by Faber & Faber. Ripped from Eyewear.]