Dramatic language and absorbing images blend together seamlessly into this very dark and very surreal account of ageing and loss.
"'Who’s there? Who is it? Who is it?
Who’s there? The house of bone puts its finger to its lips.
Says nothing. It’s keeping its secret to itself.’
David Calcutt’s The Old Man in the House of Bone is an invitation inside a shadowy and mysterious dwelling, one that is also full of curious magic and charismatic strangeness. Questions and secrets abound – does the occupier occupy the house, or does the house occupy its resident? Readers will find themselves irresistibly drawn in, and pondering these enigmas, too. This precise and striking series of poems is both consequential and sequential; each one building on the previous and the following like sediment, creating a brooding and disquieting atmosphere. Calcutt’s poetry is alert and surefooted – written with a humane touch, and always compelling.” Jane Commane
“The Old Man in the House of Bone is a fable, a fairytale, is a humane and tender account of an old man’s mental and physical decline into the final silence. David Calcutt’s imagery grows from the page and fixes itself inside the skull. He is a master magician, a seeker of darkness.” Helen Ivory
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A sample poem and illustration from the pamphlet can be enjoyed below.
No one comes calling at the house of bone
there are no foot-shuffles on the front step
no yoo-hoos through the letterbox
or if they do come calling they come as shades
escaped from hell through the trapdoor in the cellar
wrinklings of light and smoky silences
that twist their way in under the door
to float like mote-dust, like flies around the fruit-bowl
and the old man thinks he might just recognise a face
or the echo of a gesture, or the shape of a voice
but even as he reaches out to touch it, it vanishes
and he has only his own feet to look at
his glasses case, his empty cup, his own hands
lying crumpled anyhow on the table, like unopened letters
each one labelled with the wrong address.
Let the house of bone be a needle
slowly threading its way through to the heart
“David Calcutt’s poems outnumber Peter Tinkler’s illos, but given the power of the drawings, especially the first two, I can see why the cover gave them equal credit. All the poems relate to the indefinite memory of an old man inable to identify himself, of the searches he makes inside himself where everything is almost something else… The old man’s thinking about the war, and contains these lines – ‘…he goes on speaking/ but the silences have stopped listening and his words / drop soundless to the cold depths where the silences / eat them…’ Having been a nurse on psycho-geriatric wards everything here rang true, is the best description of the process of dementia I’ve come across. A piece of work I’d recommend to anyone looking after a dementing relative or friend, to have some idea of what their patient is going through.” Sam Smith, The Journal
Listen to David read one of the poems from The Old Man in the House of Bone:
Recorded by Robin Valk for Brum Radio.