‘Dead Souls’ by Sam Riviere – An Outrageous Rant on Modern Poems and Poets and Poetry Events


‘Dead Souls’ by Sam Riviere    (2021) – 289 pages


You may have heard of the Russian classic ‘Dead Souls’ by Nikolai Gogol. However this ‘Dead Souls’ by Sam Riviere is about the sorry state of the poetry community in England and the rest of the world today,

Yes, this is a delightfully unhinged rant about poetry. The narrator is so obsessed and incensed that he can’t even take time to organize his thoughts into paragraphs.

It’s about poetry readings where no one who is there wants to be there, “and though the audience members attended with an outwardly cheerful, hardy demeanor, occasionally their masks slipped”, “making the reciting of poetry at best a kind of willed insanity”.

For a long time now there had been no poetry in the poetry.”

This ‘Dead Souls’ is honest, cutting, cruel, and quite a laugh riot. This is a novel that is intended to provoke the people who read it, probably many of them in that small poetry community that he is writing about.

Most of ‘Dead Souls’ takes place, where else?, at the Travellodge bar after the poetry readings at the biennial Festival of Culture.

A long poem by the poet Solomon Wiese had been found by the computerized system named the Quantitative Analysis and Comparison System (QACS) to breach the newly introduced standards for plagiarism and thus his current and future work was deemed unacceptable by all publishers.

It’s even worse if you harbor some form of respect for the writer, Solomon Wiese said, the worst thing you can do is to meet a writer that you in some way respect, because you will leave the meeting having lost all respect for that person, and you will be unable to recapture or reconstitute that respect by returning to the work, which you will find has been contaminated by the writer’s tedious and egomaniacal private persona.”

These type of revolting statements actually attracted me to this new ‘Dead Souls’. There are many of these statements in the novel like the following one about poets without poems:

if one admitted that the things they called their poems were nothing of the sort, that they were actually word-approximations; they were arrangements of words that resembled poems when you looked at them, but turned out on further examination not to be poems at all; they turned out to be nothing like a poem, at best they were simulations of poems”

The first one hundred pages are one long merciless rant about modern poetry in London. I liked that. On the next fifty pages, Riviere kind of lost me by getting away from this subject, and I almost gave up on the novel. Whenever Riviere’s characters don’t talk about poetry or literature, the novel dragged for me. Then the novel returns for the last one hundred pages to bemoaning the current fate of literature, and once again it held my interest. The lack of paragraphs makes ‘Dead Souls’ a difficult read.

Anyone who has attended a poetry recital within the last five years will probably want to read this novel if only for its spleen.


Grade:    B+





7 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve been tempted to read this one, but as someone who organises poetry readings for a living, some of it might be too close to the bone 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


  2. This sounds like fun, like Gert Loveday’s novel about a literary festival….

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, “Fun” is a good description of my reaction to “Dead Souls”, except for the fact that it is all one long paragraph, which means that the breaking points had to be the ends of sentences which aren’t always the best places to stop reading. I kind of agree with many of his opinions about poems today. If every poem must get praised, how do you distinguish the good stuff from the bad stuff? And when is a collection of words just a collection of words and not a poem – “no poetry in the poetry”?



      • *chuckle* Well, I’m no poet, so I find it easy enough to identify the bad stuff because I can’t make any meaning from it.
        And conversely of course the good stuff is the stuff I get meaning from *but* it must also have some significance or intelligent idea behind it, to distinguish it from Dr Seuss or doggerel.

        Liked by 1 person


        • I guess if I get some kind of picture or some feeling or some insight from a poem, it is a good poem; if I don’t…



          • That’s what I expect from all my reading, really. That’s why I’m not getting on very well with writing from some of our younger authors, they seem to revel in the banal… and of course life often is, but that doesn’t mean I want to read about it.

            Liked by 1 person


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