Sam Riviere - Framed as an ‘ambient novel’, Safe Mode abandons the traditional novel’s temporal logic in favour of spatial and atmospheric dispersal, combining intensely personal material with unacknowledged appropriated content to explore the narratives made possible by mood, or the moods made possible by narrative

Sam Riviere, Safe Mode, Text Centre, 2017.

Test Centre is delighted to announce the publication of Safe Mode, an ambient novel by Sam Riviere, and his first book-length prose text.
Safe Mode, a diagnostic tool of a computer operating system, typically takes effect when an installation has a major problem. A parallel, miniature operating system contained by, yet separate from, the main operating system – here, is Safe Mode conceived as an apt metaphor for a literary work’s relation to the author’s life, or an emergency method of recovery?
Framed as an ‘ambient novel’, a term coined by the American writer Tan Lin, Safe Mode abandons the traditional novel’s temporal logic in favour of spatial and atmospheric dispersal, combining intensely personal material with unacknowledged appropriated content to explore the narratives made possible by mood, or the moods made possible by narrative. Which is which? Does it even matter?
Maybe the true 21st century luxury is to always be elsewhere. Stations and bedrooms, names and points of view, dreams and videogames, abandoned and speculative projects, junk emails and love poems, trip reviews and horoscopes – all prove unfixed, able to shift and alternate, vie and repeat, in a text produced by strict formal procedure and conceptual drift – the QWERTY alphabet, a tarot pack.
What kind of information is the most personal or valuable anyway, and to who? The last thing you searched for? Stories told so many times you’re unsure who they happened to? This unsaved document? Or a set of found photographs, saved from destruction on the cusp of the digital era, when things could still really disappear…
An act of self-surveillance, an experiment in discretion and believability, Safe Mode utilises our newly automated behaviours – copy-paste and find-and-replace keystrokes, instant deletion, image searches, advance viewing – to scramble the channels of poetry and fiction, assessing their distorting and/or enabling influence on our personhood and reflexivity.
The book’s design reflects the text’s formal experimentation, playing on ideas of authorial identity and narrative dispersal, encouraging the reader to abandon traditional ways of reading and to embrace the disorienting freedom this facilitates.

‘Safe Mode does not run the autoexec.bat or config.sys files. Most device drivers are not loaded. In Safe Mode, Sam Riviere cunningly performs a series of low level tests on the operating system, aka our perceptual systems, working in perpetual safe mode. Like all proper resource management systems, Safe Mode manages our memory resources and soothes our images according to upper level processing constraints, and reveals how the world looks at itself. Safe Mode is a brilliant re-automation of our language and vision systems, locked down in the 21st century’s version of a software permafrost: all our linguistic attachments to faces, all our Airbnb bookings, all our mirrored ATM affects–minus the spam filters, and the black mold of course.’ – Tan Lin

‘In Safe Mode, Sam Riviere boots us into a brazenly undesirable working environment. It’s an atmosphere, a tint, it’s what might happen when clicking back and forth between tabs in this or that rental dump, shifting mental zones, measuring out days through data and the het-up in-folding of strangers. Sam’s major flair is for channelling our maladapted, disassociated softwares. Broken spam filters, tick removal, the world’s saddest polar bear, undealt-with undertones and a ghostly parade of totemic, masculine constructs rise up out of apparently benign linguistic matter. Like being run through a memory test, repetitions occur in sneaky guises, the faulty bits are re-jostled. In here, words and images are fleeting engagements, but, the text implies, attention is your resource – and, if you stay around and look again, you’ll find even stranger zones firing up in the background.’ – Heather Phillipson

Safe Mode is a new book published by Test Centre, and as an object it is beautiful. Thick paper with a loose, exposed, binding and a wrapping made from a folded, totally radiant, piece of paper that contains on one side – only visible when unfolded – chapter titles for the piece contained within. Throughout the book, the text is interspersed with black and white photographs, the majority of which are portraits, each set in the centre of a page, printed with rich detail. Safe Mode is a beautiful book, in terms of its physicality, and I don’t know how much its highly commendable design work – credits to Matthew Stewart – influenced my reading of the text, my enjoyment of the text or, perhaps, my expectations of the text. Because to make a book look this beautiful, to put the effort and the time into the physical production of the book as object, inherently implies a validity to the project – Test Centre, through the serious application of materials and design, have stated that Safe Mode is a piece of literature worth serious consideration, serious appreciation. In terms of cost, too, at £20 for this version (with an EVEN FANCIER one available for £50), the reader has committed to something worthy, something important, a book that is worth £20 for more than its mere materials. Does Safe Mode deliver? Honestly, I don’t know, but I’d like to think that it does, because I certainly enjoyed it, though I’m a bit worried that I was tricked into doing so…
Familiarity breeds affection, which is something I can attest to from both my cultural consumption and my personal life. When one spends a lot of time around a place, a person, an idea or even a fictional set of people and places, one begins to care. This is why people continue to watch the same mediocre television shows for years (HANDS UP WHO ELSE WATCHED ALL OF LOST!? HANDS UP WHO ELSE CONVINCED THEMSELVES TWIN PEAKS WASN’T BORDERLINE UNWATCHABLE FROM BARELY A FEW EPISODES INTO SEASON 2!? nb haven’t seen three, but I watched all of two and why would I want to watch more of it???).
Familiarity is why people listen to the same bad music as adults that they listened to as culturally-naive teenagers; familiarity is why people keep sharing those same handful of “poems” by rupi kaur; familiarity is why people carry on seeing the same friends, lovers, family members, for years after they’ve decided they don’t actually like each other.
Familiarity is warm, is comforting, is easy. To return to somewhere or someone you already know is easier than to explore. The potential rewards, however, are lower. You’ll never find a ruby in a mountain of rocks you’ve already looked through before, y’know.
I’m not really writing about Safe Mode any more, I’m writing about my recent break-up. Which I probably shouldn’t be doing, but fuck it, I’m almost kinda somewhat back on my feet now and surely the whole point of this blog is to be more honest, more open and more personal than is wise. Actually, I don’t really wanna talk about it, I’m still very sad and very confused, but coming when it did, while I was already in the middle of a fucking breakdown, it took me a long time to recover from the complete psychological collapse before I could even begin recovering from ending a relationship that had defined my entire adult life, and had kept me, to be honest, living a life I was very uncomfortable in, hence the breakdown. It was a familiarity that had kept me there for as long as it did, like the familiarity that kept John B. McLemore living in Shittown, Alabama. I was kinda happy there sometimes, but I don’t think ever in a healthy way, and-
I’m trying to write about Safe Mode, sorry sorry sorry sorry. Back to it.
The reason my digression on familiarity began is because the text of Safe Mode repeats. The majority of the text occurs twice, depending on which way up the book is opened – in essence the physical book contains two half-books, both of which can be read as if normal books, rather than one forward and one backwards. Each half is split into two chapters, and within each chapter there are multiple smaller units, which alternate between first then third person or – in the case of the book read the opposite way – third person then first person. Have I explained that well enough to be understood?
Both pieces tell the same story, about a man called James, as he wanders flaneurlike through different places, spaces and ideas. This repetition, seeing the same moments cast from within and without the perspective of an individual, is unsettling, but pleasing – we experience many of the same events both as the person enacting action and a person observing it – we are actor and audience simultaneously, alternating passage by passage and then reliving almost all the same experiences from the opposite perspective. Like slipping in and out of consciousness, like withdrawing from a heady dream.
Riviere describes Safe Mode as an “ambient novel”, meant to evoke a feeling, a sense, an idea rather than a plot. It is composed of ideas, snippets, aiming to recreate in writing a “life”, rather than a narrative. It reminded me a lot of Teju Cole’s acclaimed novel Open City, and similarly to my experience of that book, I enjoyed the lack of a push, a drive forwards, and I enjoyed being buffeted about amongst the thoughts and feelings of an individual life. However, I read Safe Mode not just twice in both of its two internal forms, but twice in actuality because I wasn’t quite certain I’d got it enough after the first time through. As regular readers will know, I always read poetry at least twice, it is a courtesy I give literature I believe requires it to be experienced as intended. So, by the time I finally put down Riviere’s text, there were many, many parts of it I had read in different forms as many as FOUR times. There was a comfort in this, on the second, the third and the fourth times through. The occasional humorous or especially poetic pieces caught in my mind time after time, and the warmth of familiarity grew as my experience with the text – and my engagement with it – deepened.
But I couldn’t help to wonder if I’d been tricked. Riviere’s prose is often interesting, and some of the asides and ideas he includes are compelling (a digression on a depressed polar bear, a line about no one being impressed by artistically rolled spliffs in their 30s, intriguing moments that shift from reality into dream and/or video games, discussion of literature and language and form and life and work and the environment but some bits on sexuality that I – tbf with a deeply problematic relationship with sex in general and my own sexuality (if it even exists) in particular – found a bit uncomfortable). I really enjoyed it, by the end, but I don’t know if that was because of the repetition, if my enjoyment arose because, over the course of a few days and two readings of a twice repeated text, it had become a part of me. The differences between the two halves became more conspicuous, the similarities between the photographs included in either half began to chime with what I was reading in the text or – at least – they began to feel like they did.
I know that what I should really be doing is quoting Riviere at length and using his prose to justify my enjoyment to myself and to you, whoever you are, and root them in something more serious, but I’m tired and I’m sad and I’m confused about my whole life and I just want to eat some sweet potato, watch BoJack Horseman, walk my dog around the block and then go to sleep.
That’s what I’m going to do. This wasn’t a very satisfying blog to write, so I doubt you enjoyed reading it. Apologies. Goodbye. So long. - scottmanleyhadley

Sam Riviere, True Colours, After Hours Ltd, 2016
excerpt | trailer

Sam Riviere, Kim Kardashian's Marriage, Faber & Faber, 2015.
excerpt | trailer |

Sam Riviere's debut, 81 Austerities, began as a blog responding to the spending cuts, and went on in publication to win the 2012 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.
A sequel of sorts, the 72 poems in Kim Kardashian's Marriage mark out equally sharpened lines of public and private engagement. Kim Kardashian's 2011 marriage lasted for 72 days, and was seen by some as illustrative of the performative spectacle of celebrity life. Whatever the truth of this (and Kardashian's own statements refute it), Riviere has used the furore as a point of ignition, deploying terms from Kardashian's make-up regimen to explore surfaces and self-consciousness, presentation and obfuscation. His approach eschews a dependence upon confessional modes of writing to explore what kind of meaning lies in impersonal methods of creation. For, as with 81 Austerities, the process of enquiry involves the composition method itself, this time in poems that have been produced by harvesting and manipulating the results of search engines to create a poetry of part-collage, part-improvisation.
The effect is as refractive as it is reflective, and disturbs the slant on biography until we are left with a pixellation of the first person. Kim Kardashian's Marriage is a captivating examination of artifice and reality, privacy and exposure, and an uncanny commemoration of the contemporary moment.

But a book like Zultanski’s “Bribery” uses the Web while downplaying or taking for granted its influence. At first glance, you might mistake it for pre-Internet poetry. And the same is true of a new book by Sam Riviere, “Kim Kardashian’s Marriage.” Like Zultanski, Riviere was born in 1981, and like Zultanski, Riviere seems to view the Internet with a shrug, as if to say, “Doesn’t everybody make poetry from the Web? So what?”
The title of Riviere’s book is misleading: the text inside was not, as you might have guessed, scraped from Kim Kardashian’s social-media presence or from gossip sites; in fact, it has nothing to do with her or her wedding at all, really. Instead, Riviere used the duration of Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries—seventy-two days—as a constraint to determine how many poems the book would contain. And the whole book is similarly deceptive: what appears to be a series of semi-confessional lyric poems are all mathematically based on Web searches. Through an elaborate process of cannibalizing and recombining chapter headings from his previous books, Riviere has come up with a series of keywords upon which his Web searches are based. After throwing them into Google, he accepts the first ten results from each search and then crafts them into stanzas. His book is entirely unoriginal: not a single word of his own is added.
Yet the range of what Riviere has mined is vast. Sometimes it leans toward the ecstatic—think Gary Snyder or Walt Whitman: “We’re spreading smiles every minute / with lyrics and jokes for your personal use. / O Sovereign God transcendent! / This is an excellent song.” Other times, the results swerve closer to Alt Lit or Flarf: “You have stalked this blog, / you must really like me. / Message me anytime / even if it’s just to talk. / I blog about whatever I want.” He can sound like the Surrealist poet Robert Desnos: “I meet Franklin Delano Roosevelt / He’s been walking for three days. / He makes necklaces of refined sugar, / human hair is toxic now.” Or he can invoke the oblique aridness of conceptual poetics: “baridi. [cold] / joto. [warm] / wingu / mawingu [cloud / clouds] / jua. [sun] / mvua. [rain].”
What Riviere’s book points to is the idea of the poet as d.j., weaving together samples of preëxisting language into something unique. Of course, this is nothing new. The cento—snagging lines from other poems to make your own—has been around for nearly two millennia. But what’s new is Riviere’s use of Google as an oracle, the results from which are strained through his own subjectivity, leading to poems that are at once organic and mechanical, personal and, in a sense, objective.

Described as a “sequel of sorts” to 81 Austerities, the 72 poems of Sam Riviere’s Kim Kardashian's Marriage were initially published as a password-protected blog available for only 72 days, representing the duration of Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries in 2011. The reference to Kim is initially coincidental – Riviere was searching the number 72 – but emblematic of the book’s construction, in that the apparently arbitrary connection on “72” is a direct product of Googling, just as the 72 poems are formed from the results of internet searches. The reference is also apt for the book's interest in the experience of using the internet: just as Kim Kardashian has made her private life into something to sell, has created ‘Kim Kardashian’ out of disclosure, so we, when using the internet, exchange our privacy in return for feeling more real. Our social media profiles are an endless advertising campaign for an authentic personal brand, as we hope to pass through an Instagram filter and into our dreams. The book, continuing Riviere's exploration of the poetics of identity, offers Kim as an inscrutable symbol of the hollowing-out of private identity into its performances. The final section of the original blog was just a photo of Kim Kardashian smiling.
This review is itself a sequel of sorts, as I wrote about these poems on their first appearance in 2013. I’ve since used Riviere’s work as a basis to explore where he and other poets, including recent ‘Faber New Poet’ Rachael Allen, have responded to how the internet has ingratiated itself into our lives and identities since the start of the millennium, and so how it, despite its innovations, has faded from the geeky to the mundane. With Kim Kardashian’s Marriage’s print publication, it seems an opportunity to revisit these poems as they too settle cosily back into the world, their purple, house-style covers disguising their strangeness.
Between his two collections Riviere published Standard Twin Fantasy, a pamphlet with Eggbox. With some written to accompany photos in a fashion magazine, these paranoiac, noir-ish poems, controlled experiments in depthlessness and male gaze, are “organised by the idea of duplication”: poems on the left page for the first half are paired with those on the right page for the second. And where in 81 Austerities we had witty, complex speakers seeking to provoke or convince or appal, Standard Twin Fantasy instead deals in troubled atmosphere, in being as trapped in the act of looking as being looked at. A memorable image is the speaker confessing “sometimes I wish to carry a full-length mirror down the middle/of a freeway.”
Kim Kardashian’s Marriage is 81 Austerities’ mirror image, its spooky double. Riviere has taken the section headings from 81A – ‘Girlfriend Heaven’, ‘Spooky Dust’ etc. – and sequentially re-combined them to create 72 titles, excluding only the combinations used in 81A. The sense, even in the titles, is that the moment of creation has somehow already taken place. These titles are then used as search terms in Google and poems are created from text found amongst the results. As a consequence, KKM has all of the standard Riviere fantasies – the distrust of stable identity, the corruption of desire into advertising, the politics of writing or art – without the speakers and their droll self-consciousness, their convoluted attempts to ironise themselves out of an ironic existence as consumers. For 81A, identities are anxiously dependent on their "cultural supports"(‘You’re Sweet’), whereas KKM gives us only a jumble of these supports, reflected back from the internet. And with its continued, persistent focus on the same orbit of ideas, its laborious generation out of the same words in different combinations, the unity of these poems as a sequence depends as much on Google as on any intention on the part of the author. In 81A Riviere mentions “when words touch each other in strange places”(‘I’m a Buddhist This is Enlightenment’); in KKM he apparently outsources this work, making it an act of data processing not unfamiliar to those of us who spend much of our lives blinking at screens.
Riviere has (perhaps a little in jest) described the book as “post-flarf,” a term used by the flarf poet Kasey Silem Mohammad. (‘Spooky,’ one of Riviere’s title words for KKM, is a key word in Mohammad’s Deer Head Nation (2003).) Following flarf poets who used Google to create poems that were as outrageous and deliberately ‘bad’ as possible, Mohammad and others have described the “post-flarf” poetry that attempts to marry this process with more conventional lyric concerns. KKM is best understood in this tradition, in that it tries to speak through rather than with its incoherence. Perhaps then a close predecessor is Katie Degentesh’s The Anger Scale (2007), which uses for its titles the questions from the MMPI psychometric test; e.g. “Sometimes I Feel As If I Must Injure Either Myself or Someone Else.” In the test, the participant rates their agreement or disagreement with these statements, and are scored on various scales accordingly. Degentesh’s poems consist of the results of Googling these statements, and so the poems are as much direct and pseudo-confessional as darkly entertaining. Rather than writing as though with “a pinball machine,” as fellow flarfist Drew Gardner described Deer Head Nation, Degentesh creates them as if she were working through the internet’s talking cure.
As collages, much of the attraction of these poems, amongst the casual chattiness of messageboards and Youtube comments, is their playful surprise; e.g.:
          Melodic death metal, black metal
          death metal folk and Viking metal.
          29 years old.
          Let’s be honest guys.
          Basically you charter a catamaran
          and propose to your girlfriend

          (‘girlfriend sunsets’)
          Let us draw near to Russia.
          Let us go right into the presence of film criticism.
          Let us celebrate music since 2002.
          Let us give out pies and eat corn dogs
          (from ‘american sincerity’)
The effect is sometimes a little like making sentences from those magnetic words that stick to the fridge, as the constraints of unoriginality incite us to find the limits of what can still be said. In some of the poems, such as ‘grave hardcore,’ this Google construction is foregrounded, becoming more like scrambled lists. More often, though, the joins are disguised, ('making the shifts and leaps disconcerting, such as in ‘thirty-three sincerity.’ Concepts like voice or speaker have little purchase when these poems drift between voices and tones, jointed together only by syntax. Because of what we know (or suspect) of their composition, these have an uncertain blank space where the lyric ‘I’ normally sits; the work of this ‘I’ moves between expression within the voices and expression in their arrangement, with an unclear distinction between the two. The (un)creative work is disguised, allowing any effects to catch us in the midst of our bewilderment.
KKM is basically only about its keywords as keywords, in their meaning to the search algorithm, with its moments of incoherence justified by their relation to the process of their composition. In this way, we come to accept the relationship between words as data. We incorporate our assumptions of a computer’s necessarily superficial comprehension into our reading processes. When the poem ‘the new heaven’ changes abruptly from being about Christian eschatology to being about a band , we recognise the homographic correspondence as part of how computers process text (just as 72 poems becomes 72 days of marriage). Moreover, we recognise the noisy competition between these meanings for this space. In these poems, our intuitive sense of the technological infrastructure of the internet merges with our interpretation of the poems, much as it has elsewhere in our lives.
In the 2006 essay that some joke killed flarf, ‘The Virtual Dependency of the Post-Avant and the Problematics of Flarf: What Happens when Poets Spend Too Much Time Fucking Around on the Internet,’ Dan Hoy accused poets who include Google in their compositional process, who herald Google as “catalyst for engaging the Other,” of blindness as to the work Google does in between, and of thereby implicitly accepting the ideology of “corporate algorithms” and their masters. Although perhaps based on a selective reading of the poets in question, he excoriates them at length, with some justification, for what he sees as a “retro-Futurist,” “utopian” vision of Google as facilitating access to a democratic, equalised internet, rather than being conscious of the “selectively hierarchical” mode of its operation. In the eight years since the essay’s publication its critique has become more relevant, as the way that our attention is directed online is even more controlled and mediated, and as the internet’s encroachment into everyday life is becoming ubiquitous and therefore invisible.
Data from cookies and from social media now allows websites such as Google to show us not only the information judged to be relevant to our requests, but the information (and, ultimately, the products or services) that it believes are relevant to us based off previous behaviour, or the behaviour of our friends (or ‘friends’). It attempts to answer requests we've not even made yet, and so attempts to collaborate in our self-construction as connected, social consumers. Rather than bringing the artist in contact with the Other, which Hoy describes as a “primary artistic rationale” behind flarfists’ use of Google, the internet now shows us the weird outline of our selves reflected back, our consumer identities projected outwards. If the internet is a mirror, it’s a funhouse one, warped around commercial interest in our vanities. And so in KKM, the poems never stray far from the sense that we are being sold something. The inevitable exchange behind every desirable experience or interaction is a purchase, swapping very real money for very “fake happiness” (‘ice-cream pool’), literally buying in to the realisation of the fantasy. The poems always terminate with the guilty disappointment in being asked to spend. Or, as ‘infinity sunglasses’ ends: “fucking pimped out/FREE SHIPPING”.
Just as The Anger Scale explores anger, by the challenge of the statements used in its composition, KKM is a set of poems exploring perfection, the distant focal point of desire. The poems, with their sunsets and ice cream, all take place “somewhere/that feels like the best of America” (‘ice-cream sincerity’), a hyperreal fantasy land created by films and advertising, amidst the glamour with which wealth both conceals and exposes itself. Trapped in its own keywords, in KKM everything is “always beautiful”(‘the new sunsets’):
          The television weathercasters
          are becoming more and more stunning
          and beautiful over the years,
          and some have attracted more viewers
          than Bill’s ‘perfect’ English.

          (from ‘beautiful weather’)
In these poems Riviere exploits a purer form of the blank irony exercised in 81A, a flat positivity which implies a distrust of the values it espouses whilst offering no alternative, reflecting how, as Linda Hutcheon writes, irony is unable “to free itself from the discourse it contests”:
          You are a waitress in an ice-cream parlour.
          “The orders just get better every time!”

          (‘ice-cream heaven’)
This overwhelming positivity is experienced as tension, like only half of a joke. With the jumble of disembodied voices, the ‘spooky’ trace of a speaker within language, the experience is uncanny, uncomfortable and irreducibly ambiguous. It places the burden of interpretation on the reader, forcing the reader to take responsibility for the uncertainty. It gives half of a joke and then looks at you to provide the punchline, or at your need for there to be a punchline at all. In its absorption in the perfect, KKM also represents the burden of perfection’s impossibility. Recurrent references to cameras, lenses, photos, images, etc., suggest the creation and curation of the perfect, but also the way in which we don’t so much point our cameras at things but at our idea of how the thing should look:
          Three of them, barefoot, try desperately
          to capture the water, a beautiful clear blue.

          (from ‘thirty-three sunsets’)
It’s never certain if we’re disappointed that our cameras are too inadequate or too honest, if “infinity heaven” is attainable in the world or only in our dreams. We’re left to resolve the question of whether Kim Kardashian’s wish for “forever love”, quoted as the book’s epigraph, is admirably defiant or pathetically self-deluded, of whether the narratives we create of our lives are worth the effort we put in maintaining them.
Besides the twists and turns within individual poems, which are often funny, the overall emotional tone to KKM is tragic, in that it expresses the insufficiency of the world to our dreams. It expresses how when we constitute our identities amongst the myths of consumerism, “the best of America,” when we are increasingly invested in and interlinked with the workings of insatiable machines, this insufficiency is inescapable. The achievement of this collection is that it expresses something tragic whilst engaging with the technological structures and strictures of the 2010s, with a sophistication almost entirely lacking elsewhere in established British poetry. - Charles Whalley

Catullus wrote his bridal hymns and Edmund Spenser his “Epithalamion”. Now Sam Riviere, poet of the acclaimed 81 Austerities, (2012), has written his: Kim Kardashian’s Marriage.
Except, of course, he hasn’t. This strange collection feels a long way from a wedding song. Nowhere does it mention Kim Kardashian’s lavish marriage to the musician Kanye West in Florence last May. Instead, her previous union with the basketballer Kris Humphries, which lasted for 72 days, is made the collection’s silent scaffold. There are 72 poems arranged in chapters named after Kim’s daily cosmetic rites: “Primer”, “Contour”, “Highlight”, “Powder”, “Blend”, “Shadow”, “Liner”, “Gloss”.
81 Austerities, Riviere’s impish debut, won him a Forward Prize (Best First Collection) when Faber published the poems he had written as a blog in response to the Coalition’s cuts. In fact, 81 Austerities’ short monologues spoke more often of love affairs and supermarkets than about cutbacks at the ministry. Kim Kardashian’s Marriage, its sequel, is similar. Monologue form remains, but Kim Kardashian has replaced austerity as the background symbol, rarely mentioned but often felt.
Marriage is not entirely absent from the poems, but the odour it brings is hardly sweet. The word “wife” occurs only once, late on and inauspiciously: “His wife’s graveside service/ was just barely finished/ when there was a massive/ clap of thunder… ” Another poem, called “beautiful pool”, describes a house in Florida. It has “two luxurious bedrooms” (so much for the honeymoon suite). “Do you have a dream to build?” asks the notional interviewer. The reply, presumably from Kim, is oracular and cold: “The dream is minimalist.”
Riviere is too good and cunning a poet to have fallen into the obvious traps. Kim Kardashian and her husband Kanye West already operate with such overt symbolism that commentators can be left fumbling: his last album was called Yeezus, her latest scent “True Reflection”. How can literature respond to a self‑appointed Christ, or to a woman whose every Instagram portrait is seen by more people (27 million) than lived under Caesar Augustus? -

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Sam Riviere, Standard Twin Fantasy, Egg Box Publishing, 2014.
excerpt | trailer |

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Review 31

Sam Riviere, 81 Austerities, Faber & Faber, 2012.
excerpt | trailer |

All three-dimensional objects can be experienced in two dimensions: it just takes some careful unpicking of the seams. Witty, comic, plaintive, touching, acerbic, droll, cavalier, caffeinated, irreverent, stringent: Austerities, the mind-altering substantial debut from Sam Riviere, seems to achieve the impossible in being all things at once. Initially conceived as a response to the 'austerity measures' implemented by the coalition government in 2011, the poems quickly began taking on a life in kind: 'cutting' themselves on levels of sentiment, structure and even subject matter. Not content to merely build a series of freethinking poems, these remarkable pieces seem eagerly and mischievously to analyze their moment of creation, then weigh their worth, then consign their excess to the recycling bin thereafter. Experience is speedy, the poems seem to say, so dizzyingly fast that the poetry will inevitably be running to catch up - often arriving at a scene the moment after the moment has gone. The effect is as funny and it is startling, beguiling as it is surprising, and makes Austerities a vivid reminder that deprivation, as Leonard Cohen put it, can be the mother of poetry.

Sometimes a collection comes out and it isn’t so much just a collection of poems but an “intervention” too. Maybe you can’t put your hand on it but it throws something at something and changes the game a little. Like when they introduced Hawkeye in tennis and it didn’t just help you to see stuff more clearly, it also added a whole different torque to the sport. And it’s not really about the technology being used being that new or revolutionary or anything – I mean we knew balls were out when they were called in for ages – it’s more just like the relief and excitement of seeing it play out in the mainstream sport, new, tense and dramatic. And maybe it’s just me but that’s what Sam Riviere’s book 81 Austerities feels like – a really awesome and sort of game-changing intervention.
Throughout the collection, there’s an electrifying casualness of touch and tone, the poems consciously creaking, grinding and crepitating, as though they badly require oiling up. Each line seeming to kind of flake off into the next, connected but not that strongly:
if I know you and I thiiink I do
I think I know the kinds of things
you like putting the heating
up full & walking round in your shorts
with the windows open like buying
organic mince & flushing it straight
down the toilet as soon as you get in
like searching for stunt deaths & funfair
accidents like deliberately changing
your mind like walking a metre behind
from the poem ‘Hey Perverts’ &
across the moonscapes of skateparks you are 13 yrs old
& no longer allowed to play with boys / on platform 6
wearing your amazing cape you are not in fact you
but someone else / while I’m a guy who mishears lyrics
resulting in a more beautiful but private understanding
with your dark fringe white shirt & straw hat you are
the palest goth at the picnic / resolutely uncharmed
by my very charming friend
from the poem ‘My Face Saw Her Magazine’.
One of the most impressive feats of 81 Austerities as a collection is the way Riviere sustains buoyancy, interest and surprise across what is a pretty sizeable book. This is achieved by an ungainly-in-a-nice-way balance of wildly varying styles, perspectives, even personae, alongside recurrent motifs and structures that hook the collection together. It’s like a sort of lyric collage, except the bits and pieces being collaged together aren’t assorted bricolage per se but self referential shards, personae and fractures of the same mind. The fact that many of these structural and thematic motifs are self-dissected in the deadpan index/summary/poem, ’81 Austerities’, with which the book closes, can be seen as sort of the definition of ‘rye’, taking the hard work out of the poems by giving you neatly packaged reflections on them, to ‘take away’. Reflections like: “ok funny” and “back on the ironic high horse?” and “ok- as well to know, but then that’s the point, a found poem grinning at itself.”
The counterintuitive thing is, though, that rather than allowing you to get off easily, these neat little summations force you to look for something more or to resist looking for something more in particular, i.e. to resist neatly capturing, casking and stilling the poems. To allow the poems to occupy “the world beyond inverted commas”. But I definitely don’t want to go all ‘new sincerity’ on you, because I don’t think that’s at all the most interesting thing about these poems, in spite of the fact there’s a tongue-in-cheek section, titled just that. And the style is deliciously and sympathetically parodied in ‘Nobody Famous’, in a sort of cut back, chiselled-off frenetic version:
This is me eating not 1 not 2 but 3 pancakes
this is me having Breakfast in America in paris
with my creepy associates
this is me punching a photographer
this is me listening to my ansaphone messages
these are my new converse all****s
this is me logging into my email
I think my password 40 times a day
here I am inside the reptile house
The sense of things constantly shifting and unfixed is achieved not only through variety in style and personae but through devices like the ‘Alternative Title Matrix’, with which you can pass at least a few minutes programming new titles for the poems and the collection from words such as “bible” “crumb” “swan” “album” “robert” “lowell”, “spooky” and a whole lot more.
One of the poems I most loved in the book was a strange, deadpan, slightly angry little lyric, called ‘You’re Sweet’, which opens with the mirroring, doubling lines: “is my sense of self too easily shaken / is my sense of self too dependent” and finishes with a coup de grâce par excellence à gogo: “I’d be screwed if I woke up one day / without all my cultural supports / & apparatus hey lucky for me / that will never happen.”
And ‘Time Please’, I can’t help thinking, is a right-on-the-money disecction of this scene from Tom Cruise’s Ginsberg parody in Cocktail:
Mr Cruise I don’t drink
alcohol so I can’t relate
to your performance and
in my opinion you should
be punished for your outburst,
not rewarded
One of the recurrent inquiries or explorations is pornography, which sums up so much of the fake, financed, overblown and exploitative, a natural target for Riviere’s talent, and not wanting to sound too Nicky Clarke or anything, perfectly captured in the lines’ zippy clip and buzz:
the food was spiffy
and the drilled back sex toy is great
but satisfying one appetite stimulates another.
An interesting companion in this regard would be Rob Halpern’s extraordinary, powerful collection Music for Porn, which came out last year. And while in different ways there definitely are shades of Ted Berrigan, John Wieners (name checked in the poem ‘Sensors are Tingling’), early Tony Towle, Stephen Jonas and Joe Ceravolo, among other US influences, a more homegrown set of precursors for this kind of union of lyricism and experiment would likely include figures such as John James, Tom Raworth, Lee Harwood, Geraldine Monk and Pete Brown, etc.
Sam Riviere is an exciting poet, unafraid to take his poems into the parks where people tell you not to go (those parks little frequented by either self identified “experimental” poets or otherwise) and apart from anything else, it is pretty knockout heartening to see the Forward Prizes go to this book for best debut collection, and Jorie Graham for best collection. - Colin Herd

Judging last year’s Forward Prize for Poetry, I was disheartened by how much poetry ignores the modern world. If you wanted an elegy about disappearing bees or an ekphrasis on an Old Master you were spoiled for choice; but there was little that acknowledged the diverse connections of our social lives such as the internet, email, texting. It’s a problem: how can poetry, traditionally a reflective medium, cope with the swift promiscuity of online experience?
Sam Riviere’s 81 Austerities (shortlisted for this year’s Forward Prize for best first collection) began in 2011 as a blog in protest at the Government’s spending cuts, and now nestles between classy Faber covers.
Riviere’s language is pared down and deadpan, with no punctuation. The collection opens with “Crisis Poem”: “In 3 years I have been awarded/ £48,000 by various funding bodies/ councils and publishing houses/ for my contributions to the art/ and I would like to acknowledge the initiatives put in place/ by the government and the rigorous/ assessment criteria under which/ my work has thrived since 2008”. This is a joke at the poet’s own expense as well as the taxpayers’ – teasing the state patron with ironic sincerity.
The sadness of failed love affairs and the boredom induced by internet pornography are recurrent (and interrelated) subjects. How to dream of a beautiful girl when you can see 10,000 images of her on Facebook? You look at your phone and think it’s “as if everything on earth were texting/ furiously everything else I could feel”. The haunting banalities of email etiquette: “I dreamed I wrote a poem/ beginning ‘Hi!’ and ending ‘See You Later!’”
The self-deprecating endnotes that accompany each poem (“a bit too up itself?”) are too harsh. But self-punishment is part of Riviere’s poetic personality, as shown in the splendid “The Council of Girls”, where he imagines being put on trial by old girlfriends, his text messages read out and analysed. - Sameer Rahim

Sam Riviere’s Tumblr page ‘81 Austerities’ contains a short character profile:
British poet Sam Riviere maintains a popular Tumblr account and tweets regularly. Like everyone else nowadays, he has an MFA. His poems often address issues that didn’t exist in the ’90s.
Next to this excerpt is a graph plotting the number of visits to his Tumblr page. A textbox notes the number of visits on Saturday, August 4th 2012, two days after Faber & Faber published 81 Austerities in book form: 27. Markedly, it does not state the peak, nearing 75 visits, on the day of publication.
Social media and poetry seem to go hand-in-hand, both suited to a manner of publishing one’s self-doubt in self-deprecatory fashion. Take ‘Crisis poem’, the first of the collection: ‘my work has thrived since 2008 / I have written 20 or 21 poems’. Or ‘Dream Poem’: ‘I know what you’re thinking / it’s dull unless they’re sex dreams … / mine are pretty banal’. Riviere’s poetry queries the worth that the poetic voice holds today, in a country that has begun producing institutionally-trained poets through MFAs, but whose government is cutting funding to the Arts. What worth is popularity on social media when placed against the cohorts of other more-visited Tweeters and Tumblrs? In an age of information overload what’s one more penny in the fountain?
Andrew Neilson, in his review for Magma Poetry, locates in Riviere ‘an appetite to reveal the workings or consequences of […] pose.’ For Nielsen, lyric poets concerned about the poses they make are inherently ‘poseurs’, etymologically affiliated with pretentiousness. Yet, this is not solely a poet’s domain. Hipsterdom’s self-conscious posturing makes it a generational thing. Take ‘Closer’ as perhaps emblematic:
this is the part where
he faces an ornate mirror
prods his varnished complexion
seems heroic
and demonstrates genre savvy
by changing his accent
an ambiguous clone ending
in the right hands creates
a powerful sense of an indifferent universe
in the wrong hands creates
pretentious crap
Does the ‘he’ have to be a poet? He could be just about any sucker posing in the mirror. The poem’s speaker may distinguish between what ‘the right hands’ and ‘the wrong hands’ create, but the binary is hardly so clear cut. Surely such posed knowingness  hints at a dual condition: doubt with a swagger; bravado with a stammer.
With regard to these equivocations the footnotes are a case in point. For ‘Closer’ Riviere redirects to the footnote of the previous poem, ‘Confessional Poem’. Here, almost perfectly arranged – but not quite – in Herbert-esque angel wings, the speaker ‘watching TV’ receives a call. The poem turns, in the fold between the two wings:
———————-[…] you
—-were calling from the scene
of a serious car accident
—-in fact you were dying
———-of all the friends you
————–could have rung
———you’d chosen me to find
—–a meaning of some kind
to end your life or rhyme
Riviere’s footnote quibbles the schmaltzy sincerity: ‘– not sure this does anything except say, ‘I’m different, I’m better’’. These footnotes niggle as doubts do. It is as if Riviere cannot let his poems into fixed print without a few last caveats. Like he wants to keep some of the blogpost feel, leaving himself room for comment.
Perhaps the doubts are justified. In spite of hipsterdom’s love of equivocations, online, opinion is frequently voiced as polemic. It comes as either total approbation or abrogation, as exemplified by reddit’s up/downvote or Facebook’s Like/[Dislike] option. Riviere’s Tumblr page cites the first Amazon review of 81 Austerities, headed ‘J.I. Smith gives 1 star, ‘1 Austerity: Don’t Buy This’ [Format: Kindle Edition]’:
If this is 21st-century poetry, what a sad indictment of our time. Have we become so solipsistic and insensate? We live in a world where high art consists of expensive kitsch and expensive trash, where contemporary music consists of hisses, farts and sequenced loops of traffic noise, where poetry consists of simian grunts, newspaper cuttings and a muddied bog of consicousness. [ed. his/her spelling] If only we could have austerity where it’s needed.
Online, in the luxury of anonymous comment spaces, castigation is the name of the game. Perhaps Riviere writing himself into his collection as his first critic simply shows ‘genre savvy’.
A poem such as the brilliant ‘Year of the Rabbit’ ensures Riviere keeps two steps ahead of the likes of ‘J.I. Smith’. Opening with the lines: ‘there is no purer form of advertising / than writing a poem’, it continues:
if I were a conceptual artist
I would make high-budget movie trailers
of john updike novels but no actual movie
Cherry-picking ‘the scene where angstrom drives towards / the end of his life’ down a blossomed suburban boulevard, Riviere cues the trailer’s finale:
I would fade in the music
as the old song was fading out
keeping up the backing vocals at the same distance
kind of balancing the silence
the word RABBIT appears in 10-foot trebuchet
What could be more kitsch? Apart from maybe if it was in Helvetica.
Updike, and his trademark phallo-centrism, provides an easy enough segue to another of 81 Austerities themes: pornography. Riviere repeatedly deploys the word ‘clones’ to tap Baudrillard’s diagnosis of our post-modern society’s satisfaction with the replica image over the real thing. In writing about masturbating over a video of a chat-girl, a pornstar or an (ex)-girlfriend in ‘Coming Soon’ – ‘I’ve watched it 50 60 time my face is inches from the screen / your eyes seem to search my eyes’; or composing a found poem – ‘My Real Name Is’ – grafted from former ‘Adult Video idol’ Saori Hara’s autobiography; Riviere conveys the jouissance (literal and figurative) intrinsic to this sordid, manipulative and narcotising media. Pertinently, considering the first line, the poem entitled ‘Clones’ contains the most punctuation of the collection:
But for once, I was in control.
Patty is my name titillating how r u.
She’s a spooge gutterslut that gives
a good porn fantasy.
The finest brown-skinned spunks in the world
can be found getting slammed on this porno site.
Lawd do you watch the moon on that hoe.
Riviere’s ventriloquism here is reminiscent of John Berryman’s use of ‘Henry’ in his Dream Songs, and William S. Burroughs’s crude depravities. Like nauseating pop-ups Riviere springs these poems throughout the collection. Like Burroughs, he will surely have his detractors for including such topics. Like Burroughs, Riviere’s admission of pornography into his poetry should be credited too for the indictment it bears upon today’s porn-addled society.
Riviere’s debut flags up many things difficult to stomach about the ephemeral way we live today. In doing so, the demands for attention it makes, although at times quavering, hold it above the run-of-the-mill doubters churning out their brand of contemporary lyric poetry. - Sam Caleb

Aerodrome (South Africa),
Dazed & Confused,
Fortnightly Review,
HTML Giant (US),
Metazen (Canada),
New Statesman,
Oxonian Review,
PN Review,
Poetry Foundation (US),
Poetry International Web
Poetry Library,
Poetry London,
Poetry Review,
Sidekick Books,
Soma (US),
Thought Fox,

Faber New Poets 7, Faber & Faber, 2010
info | excerpt

A Novel By blackbox manifold
D.F.W. and other poems poetry foundation
Woody Allen and other poems shabby dollhouse
four poems to sophie the scrambler
seven poems + audio + translations lyrikline
Poetry Column the quietus (2015)
'Unlike': Forms of Refusal in Poetry on the Internet pool (2011)

  • anthologies
  • interviews
  • If a Leaf Falls Press
  • PMP 5
  • S/S/Y/K
  • The Truth About Cats and Dogs


    Founded in 2015 by Sam Riviere, If a Leaf Falls Press publishes pamphlets with a focus on appropriative and conceptual poetics. ‘Season one’ of the micropress ran to 23 limited-edition pamphlets, featuring contributions from a decidedly international and diverse roster of writers, poets and artists including Emily Berry, Crispin Best, Audun Mortensen and Monica McClure. Last year, a number of the pamphlets were exhibited at the Poetry Library in London as part of an exhibition on Conceptualist Poetics. The second season of the press is now underway, and is due to feature pamphlets from Matthew Welton and Nadia de Vries.  
    Sam has published two collections with Faber, 81 Austerities and Kim Kardashian’s Marriage, along with the pamphlets Standard Twin Fantasy (Eggbox) and, most recently, True Colours (After Hours Ltd). He is currently serving as poet-in-residence at Edinburgh University. Via email, we discussed the state of contemporary conceptualist poetics both in the UK and abroad, the idea of the pamphlet as a singular form for publishing experimental writing, and the potentially transformative effects of procedure and appropriation in poetry.
    From an editorial perspective, If a Leaf Falls Press seems quite ambivalent to any specific conceptual imperatives. The broad thematic focus on "appropriative and arbitrary writing processes" is wonderfully underdetermined, and has resulted in a really eclectic first season of pamphlets. I am interested in how you originally envisioned the press back in 2015; furthermore, whether you see the series as an engagement with, or a refusal of, certain tendencies within the broader resurgence of appropriative and "conceptualist" poetics? iviere
    I read that as “woefully undetermined” at first. I’d been thinking about starting some kind of poetry press for a while…at first I imagined a print-at-home PDF publisher. I just had the name of the press from that Lil Wayne song. When I started my residency at Edinburgh I discovered I had a discount at the University Printing Services and it moved quite quickly after that. I knew I wanted the press to deal with ‘found’ or ‘appropriated’ or ‘procedural’ work… so it’s definitely engaged with conceptual writing, a few of the key statements of which I still find basically convincing. I guess I’m not sure that I agree with the assertion often levelled against conceptual writing, that subjectivity has been evacuated from those texts. It’s more that sometimes the subjectivity made legible is that of boring egoism, possibly. I guess that it’s ‘post’-conceptual writing now – as in, the-crisis-of? There wasn’t even a Wikipedia page for conceptual writing for a while in 2015. So I’m somewhat interested in exploring or vindicating some of these processes and strategies.
    The criteria are deliberately vague, but in the initial call for submissions I invited “unofficial translations, rewriting, plagiarisms, monographs, too-personal poetry, responses or revisions to existing works, annotations, drafts, listicles, inside jokes, fan fiction, anecdotes, statistics, anonymous or pseudonymous lyrics…,” later adding: “unfinished or abandoned work, work made at work, work (for money) that’s been turned into work (as poetry), work that, for whatever reason, is considered unsuitable for wider public availability, work that might not seem in context with the rest of a poet’s output, bad work, found work, forgotten work.”
    I like the idea of redeeming a text composed for money by publishing it as a poetry collection. Some of the most interesting of the 28 or so publications to me so far are the ones that risk testing poetry’s transformative capabilities somehow. Considering those texts as poetry seemed to activate these extra dimensions in them.
    For example Amy Key’s History, which reproduces her Uber notifications over a year. I don’t want to direct anyone’s interpretation, but to me there are several ways one could proceed with reading a text like this. If there is something problematic in the presentation of this language, or in the artifice of inserting regular stanzaic form, there is also a strange integrity in lifting language straight from a source – ‘from life’. There’s less intention, which allows for a certain disinterestedness…a certain realism. I find the invitation of texts like these, which only becomes apparent in their appropriated form, to think about ideas around ownership, intentionality, communicative urgency,­ particularly of dematerialised modes of language, to be quite revealing – compelling, even.
    Some of this for sure is intended as antagonism towards the main of UK poetry, where a kind of literary consistency is considered the hallmark of ‘quality’. One of the immediately surprising things was the willingness with which people sent me work that fell outside their ‘proper’ writing. There is a kind of authenticity fetish in the reception of poetry. The idea that a poet is someone with a message which the reader passively receives. (The phoniness of that contract was drawn attention to in a nice way by the plagiarism scandals a few years ago, which seemed to reveal that having the ability to recognise a ‘prizewinning poem’ is pretty much the same as writing one.)  Anyway I’m interested in disturbing this perception in a really minor way with the press’s output.
    from Amy Key’s History (If a Leaf Falls Press: Season One; 2015-2016)

    I was recently re-reading an article you wrote where, after watching a reading by the poet Audun Mortensen, you have this realisation in which "the integrity of the 'I' in poetry became corrupted, as if by a virus". In relation to this, I think the deployment of procedural and appropriative tactics can serve to illustrate that all language is in some way 'contaminated'; that all strategies within poetry are historically contingent and arbitrary devices, not guarantors of the 'authenticity' of the poet's 'voice'. I also think these kind of tactics aren't new - they have been central to the "other tradition" in US poetics throughout the latter part of the 20th Century (along with ideas from Russian Formalist poetics, which emerged decades prior to even this). What seems to be demonstrably new to 21st Century conceptual writing is the absolute primacy of the concept and the concomitant demotion of textual content to the status of 'junk' language. I think that reader-passivity you talked about within UK 'mainstream verse culture' could be equally applicable to some conceptual texts, where comprehension of the concept takes overwhelming priority over actual textual engagement - I am perhaps suspicious of the notion of a 'thinkership' replacing a readership, as has been suggested by certain conceptual poets in the US. Instead, the programmatic statements that accompany the poetry do the main work here, in an almost didactic sense. The publications of If A Leaf Falls Press however, whilst coming from a conceptual/appropriative tradition, exist as sovereign texts in their own right. By denying the reader the conditions which produced the text - by withholding the conceptual workings that underpin it - the press pushes against the above. Perhaps you could talk about this editorial decision? 
    The statements of conceptual writing sometimes appear more interesting than its ‘actual’ literature. To produce some of those texts at all – to invent them even, as ideas – seems somehow superfluous. Or you may as well just ‘say’ the process – it’s at that point where just noting the possibility might be preferable to actually doing it. There are artists I can think of who work with text, whose entire practice seems to consist of these sorts of somewhat literal ideas that people must have had before but that none of them considered worth carrying out. They’re just ‘poo thoughts,’ really.
    Not providing clues to the method or source of the pamphlets seems to have the effect of freeing them of needing to be read too much within a conceptual framework. They cease to be 'merely the idea' in an embodied form. They don’t insist too much. It can relax the formality of procedural work, widen the interpretative field, and gesture towards writing exceeding the form, however much a specific concept underpins the project. In some cases, the sources or method can be inferred, in others it is less clear what’s going on. I like the way they feel unmoored, sort of approachable as objects. There’s a thought, probably a fantasy, I had recently about appropriated poetry, as a sort of ‘classless avant-garde’. Classless in both senses maybe. I don’t know…could appropriative writing emerge as a kind of folk art in some contexts? Google poetry/flarf/spam poetry, or work in similar form, has occurred people all over the world in the course of using the internet, many of them entirely unaware of the US poetry world’s particular anxieties. Linh Dinh pointed out something similar to me last year – Vietnamese internet poetry has been around since the 90s…what could this have to do with these particular Western usages and their meanings in territorial poetry disputes? It might still be about the imperialism of technology, its infrastructure. But maybe loosening the hold of a particular discourse over these methods is a good thing, thinking about the range of objectives that appropriation of language might have.
    Technology has raised concerns about the integrity and authorial fixity of language by itself – it sort of makes them explicit in a way that’s new for many people, even though these ideas have a history in linguistics and avant-garde poetics, etc. This is also about alienation, obviously – being detached from labour and production to the extent that we are detaching from language. When you send an email you can observe, almost feel, your language deserting you. Or ‘you’ becoming part of this totalising archivable structure. I think this is sensed more than it’s understood.
    What does mark out a lot of conceptual and appropriative work since the emergence of the internet is the tactics of information management within a context of complete saturation, the conceptual mastery over the 'junk' - ie: having an absolute superabundance of information equates to having no information, like Borges’ Library. The prioritisation of the concept is used to work through these conditions, but, as Matvei Yankelevich has argued, the textual content itself becomes effectively “dematerialised”. This particular mode of conceptualism therefore becomes more about the circulation and production of discourse as information, rather than the “word” as material signifier; i.e. we can all talk about Goldsmith’s Day, but no-one actually need read it. Converse to this logic, the press seems focussed this idea of the ephemeral or elusive product; aesthetically minimalist, extremely limited-run and - importantly - exclusively physical, pamphlets. However, the press is marketed and distributed entirely through online channels, with Vimeo trailers and Twitter as the primary vehicles for promotion. I was wondering about this inherent tension here; I am interested in why this is not an e-publication - what of the material form of the pamphlet appeals to you - and how this informs the broader ambitions of the press. 
    Some of it is chance, which is kind of also exemplified by the name. That’s the starting point, ‘if a leaf falls’ – like, ‘I don’t give a shit’. Its most frequent use on twitter is as a mishearing of the philosophy-lite thought experiment - ‘if a tree falls in the forest…’, or a witticism to do with overreaction – ‘I feel so bad today I lose it if a leaf falls’. Some zen stuff. I like that it emphasises unimportance, coincidence, the short-term – brevity, along with a kind of hysterical urge to preserve it. ‘Press’ has that further meaning… to press a leaf. So it seems appropriate that the methods of production are largely accidental. Accepting the contingency of the project has led to my thinking through reasons for doing things in certain ways rather than others, which has maybe ended up being the point.
    I’m quite interested in the book or pamphlet as kind of embodied form – like a poetic form. So the physical presentation of the text also describes its limit, exercises some formal constraint or pressure or whatever on the content. It’s like a device…maybe this is enhanced by the scarcity of the editions? Their presence in the world feels kind of tenuous, as if they’re sort of ‘between objects’ – PDF files, commodities, zines. I feel as if the editions all having different runs, which was an instinctive decision, also gestures towards the press having a potential formal capacity as well. In a lot of ways it’s still online publishing – payment, promotion, printing, submissions, are all done via the internet. But like you say, sometimes a problem with digital production is the overabundance of choice, finding a sense of formal limit – you can make a text a million pages long if you like (publishers like Troll Thread are doing stuff like this). You could make a PDF with a page area is size of a country. Someone could literally make the Library of Babel: From this angle, selecting the extreme restrictions of a physical pamphlet is clearly a formal decision of some kind… I think there are reasons for making the reading experience take place outside the sort of ‘interior’ of life online.
    Also, a pamphlet is definitely a poetry ‘area.’ I remember Christopher Whitfield asking me something a few years ago at a reading at Goldsmiths, I wasn’t able to give a decent response and I kept coming back to it… The question was about placing poetry in a commercial environment, I think – how that affects things. If someone publishes their lyric poem on social media, is it enriching the reader with literary content that remains uninflected (uncontaminated?) by its channel, which we can say enforces a particularly truncated mode of reception? Or, is it innovative use of the network – i.e. is it basically advertising for it? Or, is it more that it advertises the audience’s sensibilities, via them performing their approval, i.e. is it a way of labelling the product (as that’s what our attention is online)? Or is it somehow all of these? It’s not clear where the ‘real value’ of a text lies in these environments. People can instagram my poems or whatever, I obviously welcome it. But it’s interesting to watch certain styles of poetry being commercially steered, or steered by a network – this can happen at the level of production – strains of tumblr poetry crafted to get thousands of notes, or a style of performance poetry which emerged from protest movements being painlessly accommodated in a bank advert.
    The tonality of that mode is what makes it available for use in marketing – the deployment is so smooth because that’s where it was already heading. It’s a soft target, but the logic holds elsewhere as well – it’s funny that there can be so little distinction between a commercial and a poetic ‘objective’.
    So… the press is almost acting out the converse – exploring what happens if you displace commercial language into a ‘poetic context’. I’m interested in the properties of that zone, that ‘area’. Is poetry ‘as a category’ enough to redeem Uber?
    Makes me think of this Joe Wenderoth poem:
         Sometimes there’s no coffee in the coffee. I plow through
        it and it is definitely a coffee area, but there’s no coffee in it.
        I always think there’ll be a little at the bottom of the cup,
        but there never is. If it’s missing at all, it’s all missing. The
        fact is, coffee isn’t just a substance – it’s an event, and its
        manifestation depends on countless subtle conditions, most
        of which are not speakable. -