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Review: Ai! Ai! Pianissimo, by Astrid Alben

... Astrid Alben flies free as a bird, rather like a performance artist, or as Jane Draycott says of this debut collection, it's the poetic equivalent of physical theatre. For example, an untitled piece in its entirety The tickets to the places I went and the bras I wore to get there - placed alone, in italics, low on the page - leaves one imagining the corresponding art installation. Where ... poetry is spiritual, observant of our small place in nature and history, Alben's relationship to the world appears deliciously irreverent. In Schongeist, the narrator begins I'm leaning out of the window. / I spit cherrystones at passers-by. Later she leans out further, spit the furthest and I win.

The poet allows other lives to enter, lets them circulate amongst her thoughts and sensations, makes her non-hierarchical observations, and lets them out again. In Last of the Snow the narrator is on her way home:

The street is filled with snow.
It levitates above the paving stones.

...II ...

Who would have thought my feet this small.

The boy is cursing. Cursing it all.
...II ...

His sister is standing to one side. ...
She is discovering stillness through the eyes.

And later there's more fruit - the poem titled [The fruit having] a groove down one side demonstrates the poet's pleasure in linguistic possibility, in creating immediacy:

The percussive plums are fragments of-
plum plumplum plum thuds his heart
deaf and deranged like Goya.

With Alben, we seem to be in a cityscape of concurrent images and sounds, where reality is casual, sometimes callous, always contestable.