Chez Nous Recommendation for ‘The Old Man in the House of Bone’ by David Calcutt, with illustrations by Peter Tinkler.
To enjoy this fascinating poetry sequence, prepare a slow roasted lamb shank. As you pull the meat off the bone, let the narrative unfold. As you suck the juice, hear the rich words. No-one will disturb you because:
No-one comes calling at the house of bone
there are no foot shuffles on the front step
no yoo-hoos through the letter box...
The atmosphere is gothic, so light some candles, preferably in an old, tarnished candelabra. Imagine a mansion, with dusty corners, such as Miss Havisham might live in. It is full of whispers and silences:
Listen, the house of bone is talking to itself
mumbling something, charms and incantations, maybe
fragments of old fairy tales, and the old man’s trying to overhear
straining to catch the drift of those gummy mutterings...
The old man at the heart of the narrative is the centre of a fragmenting world, He tries to hold on to its integrity but cannot manage it. He is not strong enough. Fortify yourself with a glass of vintage poet. Relish it while you can. Calcutt speaks of the fragility of memory, of life itself. The illustration on the last page is an empty chair and a single shoe, casting their shadows. Each poem has a summative last two lines, separated from the rest by a stanza break and italics. Take a sip of your port and savour those summary couplets. Together they make a shortened version of the sequence. Each one is a prayer or a spell:
Let the house of bone be a church
where you kneel and pray to nothing
Let the house of bone be the map of your world
that stain on the bottom of the teacup
Let the house of bone be a leaf
clinging to the last branch of the tree
Your plate is empty, apart from the shank, stripped of its meat. Your port glass is sticky with the port lees. You have walked with the old man on his last journey. You have held space for him. The old man could be anyone. There is magic in this book. These poems are knitted from cobwebs and love.
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|The Old Man in the House of Bone with postage & packing|
A sample poem and illustration from the pamphlet can be enjoyed here.