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

Comments are closed.