Astrid Alben is a poet, editor and translator. Astrid is the author of Ai! Ai! Pianissimo (Arc Publications) and Plainspeak (Prototype). She has also edited and translated many poets from Dutch and Flemish, and she is the co-editor of three art/science anthologies: Findings on Light, Findings on Elasticity and Findings on Ice, all published by Lars Müller Publishers.
She has been described as ‘a new and original voice in English poetry, serious and uncompromising’ (R. V. Bailey) and she has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Fellowship, Rijksakademie Fellowship, Hosking Houses Fellowship, Arts Council Grant and Royal Society of Arts Fellowship. Her poems have been translated into many languages including Chinese, Maltese, Slovenian and Romanian. She has appeared at Literary Festivals throughout Europe.
Alben is co-founder and artistic director of the arts and sciences initiative PARS; editor of the Findings on… series and curator of site-specific events that are a mixture of theatre, art installation and scientific experiment.
Astrid Alben is trustee (and acting CEO) of the Poetry Translation Centre.
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Klein dood konijn
During the lockdown poet ASTRID ALBEN and graphic designer ZIGMUNDS LAPSA worked closely together on Little Dead Rabbit, a book-length poem that is part adult fairy-tale, part concrete poem about a little dead rabbit the poet found on the verge of a road.
Ostensibly a poem about death, the small corpse is equally a meditation on healing and joy.
Lapsa is known for his handmade designs and for this book he made a series of inventive, abstract die-cuts that weave into and around the gasps and gaps of language. This creates an inescapable interplay between text and image, changing and challenging the direction of reading at every page-turn.
Alben’s poems are inventive, bizarre and dynamic, and go looking for the elastic extremities of language. She was born in the Netherlands but moved to England at a young age. Forever attempting to get a grip on the bilingual brain, Alben wrote Little Dead Rabbit at the same time as the Dutch version, Klein dood konijn.
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Plainspeak Lockdown Video
Astrid talking about her alter ego, 'Poet' and how poetry needs to be reclaimed as an art form.
The poems in Plainspeak deal with place, ancestral ties, solitude, flight, insomnia and the embattled absurdities of daily life. In these startling poems, readers will experience Alben’s unorthodox alter-ego-thinking-out-louder approach with the same exhilaration as they might engage with art or jazz. Alben plays with formal boundaries, linguistic identity and the lyrical poetic voice, writing with rhythmic vitality and visual imagination. The poems tell multiple narratives whilst retaining the freedom of abstraction; they are supple and precise, each one an installation evoking different aspects of a particular theme.
Praise for Plainspeak:
'Astrid Alben’s second collection, Plainspeak, is a book of delicious paradoxes… shows the reader the rug while simultaneously pulling out from under them.'
'[In Plainspeak…] language itself becomes a third character.'
Chrissy Williams, Poetry London, Issue 96
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'Aiming to go slow, I took this in as one delirious whole, finding myself longing for the next, as soon as I had finished one of these exquisite pieces. Astrid Alben's Plainspeak is so fresh, unpredictable, deep, playful, and sincere in its art. A delight.'
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'There’s something David Bowie-ish about Poet, Alben’s alter-ego and guide through Plainspeak.'
'Plainspeak is poetry of transformation.'
'Plainspeak shows us [that] the beauty of language lies in its motion, the impossibility of fixing words…'
'Alben has a great time upending convention and conformity. In playing with language thus, Alben reclaims the radical possibility of reinventing ourselves through new and surprising language, which, she shows us, can be done just by speaking in the clearest, plainest form.'
John Petre, SPAM zine
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‘The reader gasps at the spliced, fizzing language and dark comedy of Alben’s limber couplets. The unstill persona tussles with an intrusive daimon-companion “Poet”, moving allusively through the blood and ballet of 100 years of European history while preoccupied with the everyday tasks of living, enjoying, jarring against a life.’
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‘Astrid Alben’s poems occupy a text-transcending space that is part dance, part art installation, and part astrophysics. An heir to European experimentalism as much as to John Berryman’s Dream Songs, Plainspeak is a multi-vocal poetry: unpredictable, elegant and wholly original.’
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‘Alben’s lines move at the speed of a sent text, the speed of light – they plainspeak to our current condition... you finish the book in seeming seconds, then start again... track the voice and The Poet as they try to outmanoeuvre each other in a tight race to the right-hand margin – and beyond...’
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‘But hey! I like these – very neat, and very cool...’
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‘I love these poems: the formal and the imaginative premise are both incredibly original and thought-provoking, and work beautifully in fusion.’
See also: Plainspeak Animated
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Ai! Ai! Pianissimo
Arc Publications, 2011
Intensely visual, erotically charged and linguistically adventurous, her poems explore love and life with deft humour and poise. Belonging is difficult but the impulse to connect remains as powerful as ever.
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Two translations of poems by Anne Vegter
The second instalment of Prototype’s annual anthology: a space for new work, open to all and free from formal guidelines or restrictions. Poetry, prose, visual work and experiments in between.
Try to be better
Dead Little Rabbit
A multidisciplinary anthology foregrounding experiment and process. Try To Be Better (ed. Sam Buchan-Watts & Lavinia Singer) consists of original commissions from a diverse range of writers, artists and thinkers responding to prompts W. S. Graham left himself in notebooks and letters. Astrid's poem 'Dead Little Rabbit', with Zigmunds Lapsa on design.
The Best British Poetry
One of the Guys
The Best British Poetry presents the finest and most engaging poems found in literary magazines and webzines over the past year. The material gathered represents the rich variety of current UK poetry. Each poem is accompanied by a note by the poet explaining the inspiration for the poem.
Plainspeak, Collateral Damage, Happiness, Stormy Night
PROTOTYPE is an annual anthology of new work published in July each year.
The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry
Prose poetry is at the cutting edge of contemporary writing, freeing words from the bounds of traditional poetic grammar and bringing the magic of verse to flash fiction. In this ambitious, ground-breaking anthology, Valley Press showcases new work from a diverse range of UK writers
Five Ways of Belonging, The Other Country
IN RESPONSE to surges of violent British nationalism and political paranoia around borders, and to related social and ethical crises, JT Welsch and Ágnes Lehóczky have assembled an anthology to mark the vital contribution of non-UK-born writers to this country’s poetry culture. Wretched Strangers brings together innovative writing from around the globe, celebrating the irreducible diversity such work brings to ‘British’ poetry.
The book is published by Boiler House Press to commemorate the anniversary of the June 2016 EU Referendum and in solidarity through struggles ongoing and to come. Proceeds will be donated to charities fighting for the rights of refugees.
Original Plus Dub
This is remix; destructive construction; it is, at times, a little bit mad. But there is a strange beauty that lies within the frenetic energy of it all – a beautiful madness within the random that reveals itself as you excavate further and more deeply into the material. Reading the collection, therefore, becomes an exploration there is little way to adequately do justice to how exciting reading the book is; partly because it seems we have been so worn down by the workings of a publishing industry so risk-averse that so many new books are essentially just copies of previously commercially successful ones. It’s refreshing, essentially, to read something that isn’t a prequel, sequel, reboot or celebrity memoir.
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Findings on Light
Light is one of the most essential elements for the existence of life on earth. It is the strongest and fastest form of energy. We all depend on it. But what is it when we see light? How do we see it and what can it do?
Findings on Light is an exploration of light featuring the work of more than fifty artists and scientists who shape the way we look at the world today.
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Findings on Elasticity
Findings on Elasticity features the work of artists and scientists whose binding interest is elasticity. Their findings range from the quirky, humorous and beautiful, to the mind-bogglingly complex and disturbing.
Elasticity is the sound of a piano string being struck hundreds of times without going out of tune, but also the movement of economic markets, a way of looking at how we build our urban environment, the suppleness of a dancer’s limbs or a trampoline in the back garden for a piglet to jump up and down on.
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Findings on Ice
Findings on Ice features the work of artists and scientists whose binding interest is ice. Their findings range from the quirky, humorous and beautiful, to the mind-bogglingly complex and disturbing.
Ice is the greenhouse effect and rising sea levels, but also the cold stare across the aisle, the crux of a play, the muscles of a dancer before the first movement, the silence between the notes, a German railway company and a substance that holds no fossils. It absorbs sound, reflects heat, and we eat it with a little sugar and cream whisked in.
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Gigs and Festivals
Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, 9 July 2019
Plainspeak launch event
Hatch, Homerton, London 21 November 2019
Prototype will be launching the first book in their new poetry list – and my 2nd collection, Plainspeak. There will be an amazing lineup of readers, with Kathryn Maris and Caroline Bergvall reading alongside me, plus screenings of three specially commissioned animations by filmmaker Zuzanna Pedrasik, based on poems in the book.
The launch is taking place at Hatch, a lovely cafe/bar in Homerton (about 30 seconds walk from the overground station). There will be food and drink and books for sale.
It would be wonderful to see you there to celebrate the book’s publication and launch the Prototype poetry list into the world.
Valetta, Malta 2019
Each November Ó Bhéal presents the Winter Warmer Poetry Festival, a weekend of poetry featuring around two dozen poets, some of whom perform to music. .
The festival includes readings, poetry-films from Ó Bhéal’s International poetry-film competition, and collaborations with other artists and artforms.
Putj, Slovenia 2014
Cheltenham, UK 2015
Rotterdam, Netherlands 2013
Bucharest, Romania 2012
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“Maybe poetry is the only home we have where we feel at home.”
Home Stage presents: a deep-dive into the latest poetry from Astrid Alben and Emily Critchley. Astrid and Emily’s mutual fascination with foreignness; ideas of belonging and not belonging; and the refuge of nature all find a home in their remarkable writing. Tune in to hear poetry on environmentalism, gender equality, the social impacts of Brexit, and more.
MaltaToday newspaper, 2019
The Vale presents: Astrid Alben
Live reading for the Vale.
Lunar Poetry Podcast
Astrid Alben reads her poem 'Words To Say It'.
A collaboration with artist Zuzanna Pedrasik.
Eighteen Seconds to Impact: Observations From a Moving Train
The Times Literary Supplement, 2019
Last week I boarded an early morning Eurostar train to Brussels. I was on my way to Amsterdam. I reached King’s Cross St Pancras Station with plenty of time to spare. Even so, the queues for boarding trains to Lille, Brussels and Paris trailed into the main hall. I played an old guessing game to keep me distracted: is that migrant, tourist, commuter, day-tripper, long-distance lover, criminal on the run or runaway? We all shuffled and foot-nudged our baggage through customs to a loop of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. A teenager with a backpack strapped to her spine sat at one of the pianos that now grace so many railway stations around Europe, thumping the keys. Her polypropylene reusable Blue Dopper water bottle wobbled on the lid... [read more]
Interview on BBC Radio 4 Four Thought: Capturing Moonlight
BBC Radio 4, 2017
Astrid Alben explains how only art and science together can help us understand complicated phenomena like moonlight.
Central Saint Martins, 2017
Astrid Alben reads from her poems and explores how science has influenced their construction.
London LASER is a program of evening gatherings that bring artists and scientists together for informal presentations and conversation with an audience. Free of charge and open to the public, London LASER offers stimulating talks and encourages lively discussion in an informal academic setting.
London LASER is hosted by University of the Arts London (Central Saint Martins MA Art and Science and The Lens) and University of Westminster (Broad Vision art/science research and learning project), in association with Leonardo/ISAST (the International Society for Art, Science and Technology). LASER is a project of Leonardo® /ISAST.
In Conversation with Rachael Allen: Granta
Granta Magazine, 2016
Alben reads a selection from Plainspeak, shares a poem by Valérie Rouzeau – translated from the French by Susan Wicks – and discusses how her work as a translator and editor of the interdisciplinary journal Findings on… influences her own poems.
A collaboration with illustrator Eleni Kalorkoti.
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