Claire Booker reviews ‘Mahler’s Hut & Other Accommodations’ by Alan Price

Image result for ‘Mahler’s Hut & Other Accommodations’ by Alan Price

 

 
Which of us hasn’t yearned for an artist’s hut – that womb like space in which to delve for truths? Gustav Mahler’s little chalet in the Vienna Woods peeps out from between fir trees on the cover of Alan Price’s newest pamphlet. Mahler himself emerges from this sequence of poems as a wounded creator, an épateur of the Viennese bourgeoisie, a man of clay (and hemorrhoids), a traveller into the land of the dead.
“You foolishly entered the summer hut/ to write music you imagined was pure./ Such discipline working the long musical line.”
Price understands how, for the creative artist, life is a struggle between vision and execution. His finely worked poems attempt to fathom the creative impulse. In ‘By the Forest’s Eye’, he depicts the uneasy symbiosis of nature and art through the medium of the great god Pan, who observes Mahler at work on his 3rd Symphony:
“I’ve listened to your tones. Now hear what nature/ tells me. Bird, animal, insect, flower, tree march/ to my soul, ascend the ladder. You were created/ in the last hatch of my brain. You’ve seen the origin of the chain. If you climb up I’ll count the parts./ Sometimes a limb, petal, wing is broken. All flaws/ hurt my generative eye.”
There is a touching poem about infant mortality (Mahler lost five brothers) containing the exquisite lines: “The pips of those lost hearts/ planted in music of tempting fruit./ God’s bells chiming for the falling apples./ The voice of the orchard angel praising/ your orchestration.”
Each of the Mahler sequence of poems relates to an individual symphony. In ‘Felling of the Tree’, Price brings life and musical composition into powerful resonance. Mahler’s triple loss of his young daughter, his position at the Opera House and his health found their way into his Symphony no 6: 
“A propulsion of every right note to the right disaster./ A ‘love of fate’ imagining five hammer blows./ An ear for structure and sanity reducing them to three. . . ./ Falling like an axe with a Mahler cry.”
Price makes connections seemingly effortlessly: “The black sky pours down/ its hoard of grotesquery” on the lake “as Mahler insanely rows.”  “Goethe keeps shouting/ the eternal feminine.” “The darkness falling when abandoned/ The giddy way you waltz to the ditch.” He is like an artist applying layer after layer of brush work to build up tone and texture. He is not averse to sly wit either. In ‘Requiem for an Atheist’, the profligate Berlioz demands twenty cymbals for his orchestra:
“Far too expensive for a requiem,/cried The Ministry for the Interior./ At its premiere only six were used,/ the minister counted them.”
The second, shorter section, of Mahler’s Hut, is an eclectic mix of stand-alone poems. The three most affecting are prose poems. In ‘The Work’, a female librarian’s life has been fragile: “The nose-bleeds, the ridiculed red hair, mutterings of shame/ about her size, the school attacks and her hard-won pride.”   The Cure’ cleverly fits form to content in a thumb-nail sketch of a stutterer. Most powerful of all, ‘The Dignity’ visits the territory of social class and aspiration, where the poet remembers a friend who has died of asbestosis:
“You are gone/ my beautiful maker of doors. Sometimes I can see you walking/ with that shoulder bag, your eyes alive to unconditional honour.”
Price’s poetry is erudite, but he wears his research lightly. His technical skills, which are impressive, only augment the humanity at the core of his search for truth. Price’s deft juxtaposition of the demotic and the mythic, the musical and the prosaic makes for a thrilling read. Mahler’s Hut will appeal to anyone who finds interesting questions more satisfying than easy answers.
 
 
Claire Booker’s debut poetry pamphlet Later there will be Postcards is published by Green Bottle Press (www.greenbottlepress.com/our-books). Her poems have appeared in Ambit, Magma, Poetry News, The Rialto and the Spectator among others. More information at www.bookerplays.co.uk
You can order your copy of  Mahler’s Hut & Other Accommodations by Alan Price ( Original Plus) – price £3.60 here: http://thesamsmith.webs.com/originalpluschapbooks.htm#971222028

Read More

And our Pick of the Month for December is ‘the cumquats of christmas past’ by Ali Whitelock

 

All you want for December’s Pick of the Month is ‘the cumquats of christmas past’. This strong and beautiful poem by Ali Whitelock had a profound effect on the voters and, for many, left a powerful impression long after reading it. It was, quite simply, an ‘incredibly moving’ picture of grief.

Ali’s poems have been published in several magazines and journals. Her memoir, poking seaweed with a stick…. was published to critical acclaim and her poetry collection, and my heart crumples like a coke can will be released in 2018.

 

the cumquats of christmas past

you hailed your taxi tuesday the eight––
eenth of february 2014 at four twenty seven p.m.
i watched it approach swerve to the kerb
its back doors fly open––if this was death i saw it
crouched behind the wheel & jaded as a night
shift driver full of red bull & no doz & cheap 7/11
coffee ten thousand cigarette butts spewing
from its ashtray’s filthy mouth
the driver bundled you in––no fanfare
no prayers no bach cantata sung in sotto voce
that might accompany you on the fresh black
tarmac of your new road ahead––& nothing
soft for you to lay your head on
just a cracked vinyl seat stale cigarette
smoke a strawberry scented christmas tree jiggling
like a tea bag from the rear view mirror. i lay my
hand on yours leaned in whispered something like
i’m sorry made sure your pyjama sleeves were clear
of the door before pressing it closed as the first
bubbles of fermenting sadness rose in me
and i forced them down like cumquats into a jar
filled with brandy in preparation for christmas
which was still ten months away & for weeks i kept
cramming till the skins of my cumquats tore
their flesh bled out & you could no longer
tell where one cumquat ended & another
began
& when finally christmas came i half
decked my halls whispered infrasonic compliments
of the season too low even for a passing whale hung
empty stockings from the mantle their gaping mouths
speechless by the un-kindled fire & when finally
lunch was served & those of us left were gathered over
turkey & ham i took my jar of preserved cumquats
from the dark of my pantry, made my way around
the table & heaped everyone’s plate with a side of my
compressed orange grief.

 

 

Voters comments included:

The grief is palpable. The writing easy but descriptive and efficient. Almost overwhelmingly sad but controlled,acknowledged and accepted

The cumquats of grief that’s why – how they pack in more around Christmas, preserved, ever jammed.

The concept of Ali’s grief being squished down like cumquats in a jar totally hit the note – and spooning them out at Christmas just about finished me…! Absolutely loved it.

Very evocative language! What a wordsmith!!

Ali’s work really captures the crystal prisms of December

I love Ali’s breathless ramblings that cut closer and closer to the bone with savagely unscrambled line. Great stuff

Very emotional felt the grief of the writer

A quirky, punchy and powerful poem. Works very effectively – love it!

I can see, smell and taste the cumquats.

love the syntax, imagery, emotion

It punches me in the stomach and I love it.

Ali’s voice is so original yet speaks to the heart of what is Universal. She’s a thrilling find!!

it was the perfect portrait of the cab driver. such compassion for him while drawing this ghastly portrait.

The poem dealt with grief in such an original way. Many of the lines stayed with me long after I read it. Very original and moving. Would love to read more of Ali Whitelock’s work.

This poem combines wonderful lyricism with a visceral use of the vernacular. It is an intimate telling which is what poetry should be

Brilliant, brilliant soulful writing!

I adore her quirky poetry, it makes me want to read more (and get to know her!)

I love the way this poem flows, without rules and she captures the approach of death in a sad and unique way

This poem resonates emotion … the grief is palpable but not obvious in the chosen words. Original. Creative. Yet totally relatable.

Simply a wonderful poem that does the very tricky thing of making another person’s loss and grief so tangible and visceral to the reader. The details: eg. making sure pyjama sleeves were clear of the taxi door which is then pressed close like the lid on the jar of cumquats. Breathtakingly good.

Read More

Joyce Walker

 

 

 

Second Screening

I gaze at my imperfect breasts,
Scarred by two other operations
And wonder what I’ll feel
If it is third time unlucky.

It’s odd that losing one
Would terrify most women,
But with me, it’s thoughts of
Leaving things undone, unsaid,
Of no longer being there
That scare.

So if my figure goes,
Who cares?

 

 

Joyce Walker is a retired administrator. Has had poetry and stories published in a number of magazines.  She won 1st prize in the Writers Brew story competition in 2002 and was runner up in an Erewash Writers Flash fiction competition in 2013.  She took 1st prize in the Writers Forum Poetry competition in July 2016.   She loves the First World War Poets.

Read More

Colin Crewdson

 

 

 

Meeting the family, 1937

These are sunny days. They sit arranged
around the teacups, teapot centre,
cakes to eat in this glade of leaves and glitter;

she wants her fairy-friends to show up
but her visitor’s here, laughing with her brothers.
Her shoes shine white as bone china under the table,

small grass stains on one heel. Father’s absent,
feeding his chickens, but her favourite dog
sits up next to her, eying the sandwiches.

I know he likes me, but how much?
she writes on the flysheet of her latest
Walter Scott, in shorthand.

 

 

 

Colin Crewdson lives in Devon, tends his garden and writes when not fending off pests and other work.  His poems have been published in several other magazines including The Journal, The Open Mouse, Anima and The High Window.

Read More

Dan MacIsaac

 

 

Catbird

 

Dumtella carolinensis

 

Gray pretender

samples beats

 

from spring peepers

and circus jays.

 

Coy poacher

salts its song

 

with crow ratchets

and blackbird rasps.

 

Droll plagiarist

cribs calls

 

from silken oriole

and spring bobolink,

 

even thieving

the wildcat’s

 

wounded mew.

 

 

 

 

Dan MacIsaac writes from Vancouver Island. His poetry has appeared in many journals, including Magma, Avis and Agenda, and is forthcoming in Stand.  Brick Books published his debut collection Cries from the Ark in September 2017.  His writer website is danmacisaac.com. 

Read More

Ben Banyard

 

How you’ll describe me to your grandchildren

I like to make you laugh, but worry
that’s not the substance fathers are made of.

Tell them I was funny, then, if you like,
but don’t be afraid to say that I shouted sometimes.

Remember that the times you said I was being mean,
I was tired, or sad, or worried, or afraid.

You are such good, clever, unfathomable children,
but it’s easy to lose sight of that sometimes.

Right now, you think I can repair everything you break
but I might let you down on that score one day.

In fact, tell them what you like about me, I won’t know.
But please give them my love.

 

 

 

 

Ben Banyard lives and writes in Portishead, near Bristol. His debut pamphlet, Communing, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2016, and a full collection, We Are All Lucky, is due out from the same press in 2018. Ben blogs at https://benbanyard.wordpress.com.

Read More

Ian Heffernan

 

 

 

 

Vernon Square

They’ve posed themselves in favoured spots
Around this dour, abortive square
That sits beside the King’s Cross Road:
An innocence of London drunks.

One stammers helplessly in sleep
Then coughs and gurks; one makes to sing,
His voice a sort of half-formed fart;
A third stares out a traffic sign.

All in their different ways engaged
In gently teasing nothingness.
The early sunlight holds them now;
As morning thickens they’ll move on.

 

 

 

Ian Heffernan was born in 1965 and grew up just outside London, where he still lives. He studied at UCL and SOAS. He works with the homeless.

Read More