Right from the off, you sense the inviting nature of this pamphlet that circles around Beethoven, mothering, and the power of music to shape lives. In GREAT MASTER/small boy, built around her German travels with her student son in search of Beethoven, Liz Lefroy’s poetry flows easily, her distinctive voice both warm and wry. Here she is, describing her son’s first piano lessons:
‘As your mother, I exaggerate, must say –
you took to it straight off,
handling plump crotchets four to the bar,
as if born with this pulse.’
But this deftly constructed poem is completed, unexpectedly, by a swan. (Or indeed, a talented son).
‘One afternoon, we saw a swan
unlock his wings in simple beats.
Whump Whump Whump Whump.
He took to the skies.
These are thoughtful, reflective poems, often conversational in tone, but always lightly rhythmic. Lefroy has a gift for simple, vivid description – Bonn, ‘the place that made Ludwig Ludwig,/ the place he left, never to return’ is ‘uncomplaining, nevertheless, and immaculate’, her ‘squares furnished with tables, chairs, iced tea’.
The reader, accepting an invitation to understand, is led further back, to ‘Before you, 4th June 2000’, when we find the poet in labour, in the bath.
(or knee, or elbow)
prods at the surface.
I prod you back.’
Lefroy allows us a glimpse of her experience of the change a birth makes, and its lifelong bond –
‘These are the last hours before I’ll see you’
‘I wallow in this human mystery –
and you already know me inside out’.
Then comes one of my favourites, ‘Balance’, a madcap sitting room dance to Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, carrying one small child, holding the hand of the other. ‘I’m strengthened by bearing you’ says Lefroy –
‘Motherhood is lifting, pushing, carrying, hauling, holding.
I’m dancing at my peak’…
‘The edge of our world is the soft yellow sofa into which
we’ll fall over, giggling, six minutes from now.’
I loved the joy of this poem, its truth, and its humour, its good humour.
The threads of motherhood persist throughout the collection, and here’s Lefroy applying this sensibility to ‘Beethoven-Haus, Bonn’.
‘His home is as his mother might have kept it –
tidied up, waiting.
House of a thousand notes and sorrows,
he’s already left’.
In this subtly-woven poem Lefroy and her son explore the Beethoven-Haus, and find it ‘serious’.
Here’s Beethoven’s viola, here are exchanged greetings cards, here portraits of two brothers.
‘But what of the siblings who died in childhood,
his mother’s grief?…
Where’s joy, Ludwig?
Great master, small boy.’
Liz Lefroy, who does so much for the poetry community, leads us just as generously through this slim collection that goes successfully in search of music, Beethoven, Viennese Whirls and love. And our journey alongside her and her lively son is full of joy, and also what any parent will recognise – an acknowledgement of the chancy nature of life, of talent and of life-chances.
GREAT MASTER/small boy by Liz Lefroy is published by Fair Acre Press (2021) and available here:fairacrepress.co.uk