Standard Twin Fantasy
by Sam Riviere
36 pages / $7.60 buy from Amazon
1. Standard Twin Fantasy is a minimalist effort. Twinned in its very design – just fourteen short poems: 7 on the recto until you get to the staples where the whole thing doubles back on itself and delivers another 7 poems on the verso side for the remainder of the book.
2. This attention to detail makes sense for a writer who only started to write poetry whilst still an art-student and follows a swathe of books in the last few years which add such details to their poetry/alt-lit productions (trailers for books, books serialized initially as blogs, as tweets, books such as Riviere’s debut ’81 Austerities’ which include back-matter, more usually associated with non-fiction, that contains 81 reflections on the 81 poems that have come before it. Such things have been extended lately by the subject of my last 25 Points review of Richard Brammer’s ‘Public Dick Punk 83’ which goes as far as including a completely unusable index.
3. In some ways it is tempting to see Riviere as a product of Alt-Lit, and indeed he has admitted and advocated a pro-alt-lit position in his online essay ‘Unlike’: Forms of Refusal in Poetry on the Internet and has borrowed/helped to create many of the innovations of Alt-Lit, but still he seems, to me anyway, to be more of a shadowy figure in the mold of a Jon Leon or a Richard Brammer, rather than one of the many acolytes of Tao Lin, which although they are all different share a kind of Adderall-prose that doesn’t quite seem like these more outsider figures. This is pretty much a baseless thesis, more of a hunch really, but I stick by it.
4. Poem number 1 (all of the poems are untitled which I’m sort of glad about for some reason) instantly seems to evoke Jon Leon’s cast of (un)glamorous actresses, pornstars, flailing supermodels and minor TV stars with sentences such as ‘Sylvia taps a match on the rim of the big glass ashtray’, ‘Elizabeth slides a finger down the inside cover of a magazine’ and ending with the, in my own phrase ‘fucking sublime’ line: ‘Veronique angles the retro remote control and leans against the massive fridge’.
5. Point 3 will seem pretty silly to the typical English poetry reader who very much knows Riviere as a popular and rising god of English poetry, as his first book was published by the esteemed publisher Faber & Faber and he is almost certainly more successful than the aforementioned poets/alt-lit folk. Also, there is a chance that alt-lit will often seem pretty silly to the typical English (ideal?) poetry reader too, but that’s another story.
6. Point 5 sort of helps to confirm point 3 and I will now reinforce point 3 further by stating that some of this content first appeared in the very glossy AnOther magazine which means that this poet is very cool as well as being accepted (rightfully) as literary in the British poetry world. He pulls off the neat trick of being popular in lots of places at once and cannot easily be tethered into some kind of Faber house style as proven by this (possibly self-published?) pamphlet and the fact that this is only his second outing since his ’81 Austerities’ debut. He followed that up with a set of poems themed around/taking Kim Kardashian as a kind of totem (if memory serves) that could only be read by a reader requesting a password from the author.
7. ‘I am designed like depthless vinyl’ is a really good line from one of the poems.
8. These writings often hang together via a fairly simple parallelism.
9. There’s an odd blankness throughout that is coldly endearing. A similar feeling to walking around Hoxton, Shoreditch, and increasingly, Bethnal Green in London (for US readers think Williamsburg or something or wherever things have moved to now). This again means that Riviere is very cool and I don’t mean that pejoratively.
10. Music proper noun namechecks: ‘Exile on Mainstreet’, ‘Smashing Pumpkins’. Both in the same poem. Again this means he’s cool, again this isn’t meant as an insult. Bring back cool, I say.
11. ‘Total cigarette language’ might be my favourite phrase of the last few years and it’s in this book.
12. This pamphlet has a great and very funny epigraph:
“Is it possible that love is subjective, or all objective?”
13. These poems are like cellophane.
14. These poems are cosmopolitan and urban.
15. One poem finishes with a Frank O’Hara-like apostrophe: ‘How old am I, New York’. Riviere (and much of alt-lit plus my mythologized alt-lit outsiders – see point number 3) are the adopted great-grandchildren of Frank O’Hara more so than The Beats are. I think this anyway but who am I to talk?
16. There appears to be some kind of formal patterning going on overall here that I can’t quite grasp, not anything iambic or traditional or anything, but something clever, some kind of doubling, beyond the actual book design elements, to do with the twin fantasy thing. I’m not the kind of person who is any good at crossword puzzles or anything like that so I’m not the person to come to about this. Buy the book and read it, puzzle fans!
17. The line ‘Where detectives go, for practice, between cases’ mixed with the whole seemingly American urban landscape reminded me of shelved HBO comedy-detective series ‘Bored to Death’ which I was pleased to be reminded off because I’m sorry that show was cancelled.
18. Didn’t I earlier say this book felt like certain areas of urban London but have only just contradicted that by placing the whole thing in a American urban landscape? Maybe they’re not so different. Can I build a whole Fredric Jamesonian, David Harvey-ian postmodern theory of flatness around this? I bet I could.
19. ‘Sunglasses’ make an appearance in this book as they have in all Riviere books to date.
20. I don’t think ‘ice-cream’ makes an appearance and ice-cream is pretty much always a staple of a Riviere publication. The writer has made a crucial break with the ice-cream of his earlier books.
21. This poet can be very poetic sometimes (and in a good way). Take this line:
‘I’d calmly eat, and wait for the city to settle, restoring itself at new boundaries around me”
22. The final line of the whole book is: “She is about to smile or something” which, as final lines go, is as beautifully poised and ambiguous as all of the words that come before it and around it.
23. The whole visual production of the book is really lo-fi and sparse outside of the oddly purplish geometically abstract cover and I like this.
24. True to form, there’s a very short video trailer for the book on Vimeo. Google it and watch it, poetry book video trailer lovers.
25. If you’re currently receiving no service or no coverage I can tell you here, in simple easy to load words that the trailer is like some strange mixture of mad Sixties B-movie trailers for things like ‘Spider Baby’ (1963) and early-mid 1980s pop music videos for the likes of T’pau or Cyndi Lauper. Again, it’s cool and again this is not meant as a pejorative. Come on admit it, all of you, everyone likes cool things. It’s the rebirth of the cool, man. Get with it.
Richard Laing is a masked man, a divided self who likes to think of himself as a pseudonym for somebody else. He’s in it for the money and the chicks and the rock n’ roll but most of all he likes to read/listen to/watch and review alt-lit, alt-film, alt-music, alt-everything”. You can follow his tumblr at http://dividedselfie.