#RivetingReviews: Anna Blasiak reviews LITTLE DEAD RABBIT by Astrid Alben, illustrated by Zigmunds Lapsa

Oh, what a joy this book is! Both to read and to look at. I don’t think I have ever held a book of poetry that combines words with die-cut stencils. The entire book is just one poem, and a concrete poem at that. This poetic approach is highlighted and strengthened by the presence of the intricate die-cuts, which powerfully ‘weave into and around the gasps and gaps of language’, as the publisher’s note states. The stencils also create variability in how the text can be read.

Little Dead Rabbit is beautiful, playful and lively, and leaves the reader wanting more. Alben and Lapsa worked on it during the Covid lockdown of 2020/21. Despite the fairy-tale air, this is a book about death – the poem was inspired by a dead rabbit that Alben found on the side of the road. But at the same time it’s about overcoming loss, about healing and mending. And there is something quite soothing and uplifting about it. How appropriate and how welcome in our battered times…

Night is    the    sun         gone              cold.
Like   the    voice of      a     loved     one      who     has
                                         died
that    speaks to     us      in     inaudible     consonants
Like      a      freight       train  rumbling       in      its
                                         tracks
&    little                                 rabbit
running                                    alongside
                                 manoeuvres
in             goodbye                  whimpering

The text came first and the Lapsa worked with it to create his stencils, which suggest to a reader that the text can be read not just left to right, top to bottom, but also in other directions. While working on the die-cuts, Lapsa also fed back about the poem, and some parts of the text were then rewritten. ‘The gaps and shapes showed me where the poem had to go. Importantly, the images influence the text now. The cut-out shapes open up different ways to read the poem and for the reader’s eyes to flit back and forth, constructing different text versions,’ he has explained.

Alben was born in the Netherlands but came to Britain as a child and writes in English, though the bilingual pull is there, as is the hunger for exploring how far languages can be flexed. While writing Little Dead Rabbit, she also wrote its Dutch version, Klein dood konijn, which was published by Poëzie Centrum last year.

Apart from the book itself, I was fascinated by the story of how it actually made it to Britain. Because of the complexity of the book design, it was not easy to find a printer in the UK who would be able to produce it. So in the end the book was printed in Latvia. But, as a result of Brexit, it needed to be smuggled into this country by Astrid and Zigmunds themselves, which involved ‘trains, a car, a ferry, a blanket, a bottle of vodka, a Channel crossing and plenty of finger-crossing’. But, as they say, ‘borders need to be porous for art, poetry, music and ideas to thrive’.

Reviewed by Anna Blasiak

LITTLE DEAD RABBIT

By Astrid Alben

Illustrated by Zigmunds Lapsa

Published by Prototype Publishing (2022)

July 2022 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Anna Blasiak is a poet, writer and translator. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and, mainly as Anna Hyde, Polish into English. She is a co-translator (with Marta Dziurosz) of Renia’s Diary by Renia Spiegel. Her translation of Maciej Hen’s According to Her is forthcoming. Her bilingual poetry book, Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime, is out from Holland House Books, as is Lili. Lili Stern-Pohlmann in conversation with Anna Blasiak. annablasiak.com.

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Category: July 2022Reviews

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