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GREAT MASTER / small boy, Liz LefroyThe whole jacket is a black and white photograph of the keys and music holder of a piano. The title is in white at the top where the photograph is dark, with the words GREAT MASTER in caps, then a forward slash and on the next line, right justified, 'small boy' in white lowercase italics. The author's name is in smaller white lowercase letters a couple of lines below, and is left justified.

Fair Acre Press, 2021    £5.00

How can we understand ourselves?

Liz Lefroy poses two intertwining questions in this pamphlet. How can we understand ourselves through others? How can we understand ourselves through art as exemplified by poetry and music?

The order of poems mirrors these concerns, flashing back and forth from Beethoven’s family and life to Lefroy and her son. Episodes and scenes from both are juxtaposed, and comparisons are invited. When the poet mentions the absence of Beethoven’s mother in ‘Beethoven-Haus, Bonn’, she follows that up with the first-person plural of her son and herself on their visit to the house:

His home is as his mother might have kept it —
tidied up, waiting.

House of a thousand notes and sorrows,
he’s already left.

He’ll not be back from Vienna this time,
and she’s long dead.

We find it serious — oil portraits, creaking boards,
shuttered windows

Lefroy is implicitly anticipating her own future absence, imagining a time when she and her son will be separated, just like Beethoven and his mother. She draws parallels between lives divided by centuries but united through a shared mother-son relationship.

Perhaps the most representative poem is ‘A Guarantee Between Us’, especially the following lines:

I’m grateful I saw my mother at the piano,
her hair unpinned, her eyes brilliant with joy.

Bach’s music sits in me like a torch, and I passed
it on to you, which means I became momentarily

lost for words the day we were in the car listening
to Beethoven, and you handed Bach back, explained

(hands flying this way and there over imaginary keys)
that faultlessness cannot reach

the wilder kind of paradise. I saw you were already
yourself, felt your confidence as a blessing

This poem portrays the passing of a love of music from one generation to another, exploring its capacity for self-expression within the framework of a family. Life and music merge in Liz Lefroy’s pamphlet, and the reader emerges enriched.

Matthew Stewart