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Ai! Ai! Pianissimo

Ai! Ai! Pianissimo

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"These are poems of the subtlest, most unsettling kind, alive to the paradoxes of intimacy and estrangement, of desire and the distance growing at its heart…”
Philip Gross

"Her depiction of the violating experience of relationships... makes impressive use of unusual imagery and irregular syntax and rhythm."
Tara Bergin, Poetry Review

"If you enjoy a mystery tour or a poetic roller-coaster - or if you are alert to the dangerous vitality of words - this is certainly for you. Ai! Ai! Pianissimo will ask you to read words freshly and bravely and to stride with courage and fear across the gaps – and the gaps, of course, are where poetry works."
R.V. Bailey, Envoi

"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."
Gillian Drake

There are surprises at the turn of every line in Astrid Alben's new book. Her poems spit themselves like cherry stones through the windows of their words and bounce out into the world, finding and striking new targets in ways that only good poems can do. Intensely visual, erotically charged and linguistically adventurous, they explore with deft humour and poise the ways we rub along together both as lovers and travellers across the shifting borders of multi-media, international life, where belonging is difficult but the impulse to connect remains as powerful as ever – Language is a map and I admire your paperclips (from 'Modern Love Affair').

'Poem for Breakfast'

It's raining outside.
The stubborn forever kind
like a door just slammed.

After all you can't tell the rain
to slow down or speed up any
more than you can command

someone to inhale the space
between the streaming drops
or the no wind to ebb it along.

Meanwhile you boil two eggs
for three and a half minutes.

'To The Highest Bidder'

A clearance sale to do
oh Christ
away with everything
including him including her.

Including the space across the table at which they met.
The bike ride that final day of autumn.
The crystal scream hand-blown
with the maker's initials etched in.

Including also the bones he had to pick with her
the unwanted gesture of abandonment
a raised hand open like stone
a take-away heart
probably German
probably belonged to one of them as a child.

Also to go under the hammer:
a telephone in mint condition with all the words still in.

A bitter fish the bitter lemon.
A leaking teapot
the colour yellow.

All rubbish
all he
all of it she.
All of it bubble-wrapped.

We are also there seated among the bidders.
Consider what we might take
what then might be ours.

'The Empty Bath'

When we yank the sea from its bed
like a sheet off a mattress
the pier
is a broken finger.

Whale carcasses
are stacks of post
to be delivered the next day.

At night the moon
rises without its mirror.
Every wave now sleeps
within the earth.

Yes he nods
pulling the plug from underneath her.
Adds Coral reefs. Grand Canyon.
Soap bubbles and rubber ducks.

"This, the first collection by Astrid Alben, an Anglo-Dutch poet, born in 1973, who has had poems printed in Stand, Magma and the TLS, is fresh, funny and as daring as it is dazzling. She describes, in Stuffing for Being "the puzzled reflection / in her face not quite he almost"; in Take-away Heart the 'cheerless chicken / wings flailing in their marinade': and, in Bucking Bronco how she is 'Tired so tired of being his rodeo ride / bucking his matchstick legs / jolting backward sideways and up / hey ho hey ho.' Fittingly, the final poem, which begins: "In the event of my death", invites the reader to remember 'that I got some really, really good sex / (although not necessarily from you).'"
Keith Richmond, Tribune

Astrid Alben (b. 1973) is an Anglo-Dutch poet who grew up in Kent and the Netherlands. Since 2006 her poems and reviews have been published in magazines such as The Wolf, Poetry Review, Drunken Boat, the TLS, Stand and Shearsman. Alben has translated the work of several Dutch poets, including the entire oeuvre of F. van Dixhoorn. In 2011 she was invited to speak about her translations at Poetry International Rotterdam. In 2004 Alben co-founded the Pars Foundation. Pars collects the findings – architectural sketches, articles, music scores, poems, research data, journal excerpts – of renowned and emerging scientists and artists from around the world and binds these in a publication series. Findings on Ice was published in 2007 and launched at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Findings on Elasticity was launched at the Wellcome Collection in 2010.