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Review: Ai! Ai! Pianissimo, by Astrid Alben

Intrinsic to each of these new collections of poetry is the notion of privacy. In each case, the strongest and most touching poems are the ones which appear to come out of an intense, personal experience - sex, love, mourning - the point at which intimacy becomes formalised, yet when the formal is powered by the intensity of feeling.

The title of Astrid Alben's first full collection, Ail Ail Pianissimo, is intriguing, yet slightly misleading. Alben's poetic strengths are arguably best displayed in the poems which engage chaotically and abruptly with their themes, rather than those which play more softly. Her depiction of the violating experience of relationships, for example, makes impressive use of unusual imagery and irregular syntax and rhythm. In The View love begins - perhaps - with a man spilling tea in a woman's lap and then fetching a cloth to wipe her clean, while in Bucking Bronco, he bucks her outwits her outdoes her. Similarly, in Take-away Heart the distance between he and she is weirdly, yet clearly, conveyed: Let's get take-away she says. / I need to be in your hair..

This collection is full of interesting viewpoints and narratives: in To the Highest Bidder a couple attend the auction of their own failed relationship, where everything, including the space across the table at which they met, goes under the hammer. Here, Alben's strange grammar and sparseness of punctuation lends her poetic language a disturbed and disturbing quality, one that could certainly be further explored in subsequent collections.