a group of people reading poetry

Choose a poetry book

Suggested books

81 Austerities by Sam Riviere (Faber and Faber, 2012)

Our Book Club in April 2013 discussed Sam Riviere's 81 Austerities (Faber and Faber, 2012), winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2012.

We usually begin each Poetry Library Book Club by asking attendees an ice-breaker question. This Book Club we asked, in the spirit of austerity, if anyone had any money saving tips? We got some very useful answers, from buying technology that's been slightly superseded (it may not be the latest smart phone but it will probably still do everything you want it to and cost half the price) to logging on to http://www.ideastap.com/ an online network to support creative people at the start of their careers.

Sam Riviere was born in 1981 and began to write poetry while at the Norwich School of Art and Design, and completed a Masters in Poetry at Royal Holloway.  His poems have appeared in various publications and competitions since 2005, and in 2009 he was a recipient of an Eric Gregory Award.  In 2010 Faber and Faber published a pamphlet of his work as part of their Faber New Poets series which was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice.  In 2012 Faber published his collection 81 Austerities which went on to win the Forward Prize for Best First Collection that year.  He co-edits the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives, and is currently working towards a PhD at the University of East Anglia.

Sam Riviere started keeping a tumblr blog called "81 Austerities" in the Summer of 2011.  Tumblr is a type of blog which is largely visual in nature, and allows for individual posts to be quickly and easily shared with and disseminated by other Tumblr users. By its very nature, posts are designed to be looked at in isolation, one by one over time, as they're published, by the Tumblr community. At the same time however, all the posts are visible on the homepage in a single sequence (and this is visible to anyone on the Internet, not just Tumblr users). This Tumblr ran between May and July 2011, and these pieces were then published in book form by Faber & Faber in 2012.

Here is a clip of Sam reading his work from last summer, so you get a feel for his reading voice.

1. The first poems we looked at were the opening poem from Riviere's Faber New Poets pamphlet and the opening poem from 81 Austerities:

"Poems" pamphlet p1
1. How do you find this poem as a view of a muse?  Funny, disturbing?
2. How would you feel if someone wrote this poem about you?
3. How do you find this poem as a view of writing?

"Crisis poem" 81 Austerities p3
4. How do you find this poem as a view of writing?
5. Are you surprised it was written by the same poet as "Poems"?
6. How do you feel towards the poet after reading this poem?  Is it a "crisis poem"?
7. Do the line breaks make it difficult to read?
8. "Clotted heart" in the penultimate line is the most poetic phrase in the poem (I think I counted only 3 other adjectives in the whole poem).  What affect does this phrase create at this point in the poem?  What do you think it means?
9. "Poems" has a very definite ending how do you find the ending of "Crisis poem"?  What don't you survive without?

2. We then looked at two poems from 81 Austerities that were on the theme of dreams.

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep." Prospero - the Tempest
"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." - Yeats, "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven"

"Dream Poem" p22
1. If you were a dream analyst, what do you think you might make of the witch doctor?
2. He says "mine are pretty banal" - is this an account of a banal dream or not? Is it a banal poem or not?
3. Does he use assonance (repeated vowels), alliteration (repeated syllables), metaphor? How far would you say this was a traditional poem?
4. What do you think "sitting up here out of danger" could mean outside of the context of the dream?
5. What do you think he is trying to say about dreams?

"No Dreams" p63
1. How does this contrast with the poem on p.22? (in terms of banality, in terms of dream-as-inspiration...)
2. Do you think there is a sense in which we experience the detail of his day in this poem as a dream, in which one person's reality can become someone else's dream? (Are poems just dreams to the reader of the poem?)

3. We then looked at the influence of Ezra Pound on Riviere's work.  At Southbank Centre in January, as part of the Rest is Noise Festival that is taking place this year, Riviere took part in a talk in which he spoke about the influence of Ezra Pound on his work, in particular Pound's collection Lustra (first published 1915).

You can read a biography of Ezra Pound here:

Read "The Pinch" p16 81 Austerities
Read Pound's "The Garrett"

1. Can you see any connections between Pound's attitude to wealth in "The Garrett" and Riviere's in the poem we looked at earlier "Crisis Poem"
2. What about Pound's attitude to relationships in "The Garrett" and Riviere's in "The Pinch"?

Read Pound's "In a Station of the Metro"
3. Can you see a connection between Pound's image "Petals on a wet black bough" and Riviere's "like leaves in a big ashtray" in "The Pinch"?  Does Riviere's image sit comfortably in his poem?
4. David Hayden writing in PN Review talks about the "various tones of irony and sincerity" present in Riviere's 81 Austerities and quotes "The Pinch" as an example of this, talking about the irony in the poem up until the "apparent sincerity" of the final line.  Do you agree with Hayden?  Can you see irony and sincerity at work in the 2 poems of Pound's we've looked at?

4. We then talked about the Contents, Notes and Index in 81 Austerities
1. What do the section titles suggest to you? (Adverts, Brett Easton Ellis, sweet despair of consumer apathy)
2. How do the index titles contrast the section titles?
3. What categories do you think are missing? Do these categories cover all poetry?
4. What is he saying about the poet's role as guide through the book? (See p 22 81 Austerities)
5. We believe the notes are by George Szirtes' Riviere's PhD supervisor at UEA. What do you think about the choice to include these notes? (Not appropriate for a finished book of poems? Is it showing transparency / lack of pretention?)

5. The last poem we looked at from the book was "Finally Rich" p89
1. Should poetry be aspiring to be like portrait painting where a poet is paid to create a portrait for you in verse?  Should you write your own poem for your relative or get an expert in?
2. Riviere talks about a "real poet" wanting to get to the "truth", therefore a poet can't just write to order about someone from a factsheet.  Because there's no money in poetry and therefore poets don't write poems to make money is it more truthful than other art forms like writing Hollywood blockbuster films where you can make a fortune?  Are you only a "real poet" if you're broke?
3. Thinking about this poem in relation to the first poem we looked at "Crisis poem", where Riviere talks about the £48,000 he's received from various funding bodies, do you think that in order for poetry to remain truthful it needs to be funded by the Arts Council?
4. Is there a place for poetry in a capitalist society?

General concluding questions about 81 Austerities
1. The book contains 81 poems, hence the title, but do you think the title would have felt very different if it had been another number?  80 Austerities, or 76 Austerities?  Riviere was born in 1981, do you think that might have influenced the title and how many poems he put in the collection?
2. Is the view of Britain/modern life presented in 81 Austerities something you can relate to?  Is it only other poets who would fully appreciate this book?
3. Would anyone who's read the book like to recommend a poem from the book they think the rest of us should go away and read?
4. Is Riviere just having fun with these poems or does the book have a serious message?

We finished the book club by looking at some of the critical response to 81 Austerities and discussing if we agreed with the reviews. Riviere's collection has been praised in all the major broadsheets The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent and has been admired by The New Statesman and Dazed and Confused.

Please follow these links to read a selection of reviews:





We hold a folder of press cuttings relating to Sam Riviere in the Poetry Library.  We also hold the following collections and anthologies which feature his work:

1.  81 austerities / RIVIERE, SAM. -- London : Faber and Faber, 2012. (Book) Adult collection

2.  Maintenant : the Camarade project / JENKS, TOM ; MCCABE, CHRIS ; COYLE, PATRICK ; PESTER, HOLLY ; RIVIERE, SAM ; UNDERWOOD, JACK ; PARMAR, SANDEEP ; BYRNE, JAMES ; WILKES, JAMES ; MOSADEQ, GHAZAL ; CRITCHLEY, EMILY ; NORWOOD, TAMARIN ; BONNEY, SEAN ; HILSON, JEFF ; SLEASE, MARCUS ; ATKINS, TIM ; Fowler, Steven Johannes (introduction). -- New Mills, Derbyshire : Red Ceilings Press, 2011. (Pamphlet) Adult anthology


4.  Ny poesi / BONNEY, SEAN ; HILSON, JEFF ; RIVIERE, SAM. -- Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside : Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2010. (Book) Adult anthology

5.  [Ooxxoo poetry collection] / GREENWOOD, PETE ; MACDONALD, ALEX ; RIVIERE, SAM ; UNDERWOOD, JACK. -- [London] : [Ooxxoo], [2010]. (Pamphlet) Adult anthology

6.  Sam Riviere / RIVIERE, SAM. -- London : Faber and Faber, 2010. (Pamphlet) Adult collection

7.  This is what a poet looks like : poems from The Book Hive, 2011 / FIGURA, MARTIN ; IVORY, HELEN ; PARKIN, DEAN ; RIVIERE, SAM ; SZIRTES, GEORGE ; TURNBULL, TIM ; WRIGHT, LUKE. -- Bungay, Suffolk : Nasty Little Press, 2011. (Book) Adult anthology

8.  Adventures in form : a compendium of poetic forms, rules & constraints / Chivers, Tom (introduction). -- London : Penned in the Margins, 2012. (Book) Adult anthology

A selection of work by Ezra Pound in the Poetry Library collection:

1.  Collected early poems of Ezra Pound / POUND, EZRA ; Martz, Louis L. (introduction). -- London : Faber and Faber, 1977. (Book) Adult collection

2.  Ezra Pound: poems selected by Thom Gunn / POUND, EZRA ; Gunn, Thom (introduction). -- London : Faber and Faber, 2000. (Book) Adult collection

3.  Lustra of Ezra Pound / POUND, EZRA. -- London: Elkin Mathews : Elkin Mathews, 1916. (Book) Adult collection

 4.  Personae: collected shorter poems / POUND, EZRA. -- London : Faber and Faber, 1990, 2001. (Book) Adult collection

5.  Selected poems 1908-1969 / POUND, EZRA. -- London : Faber and Faber, 1977. (Book) Adult collection



:: Back to Suggested Books ::

Back to top Register for newsletter
Bookmark This Page