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Review: Ai! Ai! Pianissimo, by Astrid Alben

These poems are difficult to categorise. The impression is one of light handed surrealism evoking a dreamlike state in which the bizarre and the everyday are mixed, often conveying a state of boredom or ennui, but with flashes of humour. To this reader at least they are quite incomprehensible if read as a logical sequence of events. Instead ideas, impressions, memories and insights enter the poems as they do the consciousness.

In Franchetto, for example, an artist is painting a picture and the poem begins with a description: Black poplars / black pencil thin/ black also for the water... A random memory of the sitter intrudes, referring to the yellow moon-cakes / his mother sent from Nanjing, then attention moves to her impression of the artist's hands as ,q>pink rubber gloves, hesitating ,q>between her / and the image wounding / the surface of the canvas. In The Post Box, we are suddenly made aware of how much is going on during a simple trip to post a letter - from the tragi-comic one-legged pigeon swinging its phantom leg, to the observation that it looks like rain, to the workers watching each other and the rubbish in the street.

Similar dreamlike imagery and non-sequiturs occur throughout the collection, for example in a description of people playing in the sea: Their bodies are marigolds. They are dunes ... The images become poignant at times. In To the Highest Bidder, a couple's possessions - and their experiences and memories - are sold off. All rubbish / all of it she / All of it bubble-wrapped. The couple swimming in the sea, too are soon gone: All day boars float over the long horizon / the patch where they sat taken by the incoming tide. There is a pervasive sense of futility and absurdity throughout the collection, sad and yet humorous.

Several of the poems are read by the poet online and here they come into their own, having more impact when spoken. The poet's skill lies in noticing and reproducing the way in which we perceive things - the mundane along with the important, mixed in with emotional impressions and the barely-conscious observations of unrelated details.