Karen Dennison

Poet and artist


Scene noir and old flames

This is the third time that Elly Nobbs and I have given each other images to respond to. It’s a great way to inspire new writing.


Photograph by Karen Dennison

Scene Noir — The Protector

The shadow by my elbow
says, Never mind. A gun hides
under wrapping paper.

It’s up to me to use,
thus saving
all the other party goers.

They have no clue.
I grip the thing, contemplate
its heaviness; hide

it behind, in the waistband
of my jeans like the FBI
agents do on Netflix.

Resigned that the plot calls
for this protagonist
to shoot her mouth off, roaring

Let’s be done with it!

E.E. Nobbs

Edwin Edwards's Old Barn 1978

Photo by Elly Nobbs (Kodak Instamatic 1978)



I asked Elly about the story behind this photo. In the 1960s her parents bought the adjoining small farm which had belonged to an ancient brother and sister. The barn was full of stuff of all sorts – old magazines etc…nothing ever thrown out. As it was gradually falling down it became dangerous so in 1978 Elly’s parents had the Fire Department come and burn down the barn.



Old Flames

He piled up her letters to him,
together with photographs, favourite novels,
diaries he’d penned, poured on lighter fluid.

How she and he melted in Rome and Paris,
fluttered like moths into the night, flames twisting
into ghosts, exorcised as smoke; words re-written as ash,
while the crackling edifice collapsed.

Years later, loss hits him like sunlight
through magnifying glass
onto the crumpled sheets of paper
where he’s written his heart.

What he would give to go back,
unstrike the match, save one photo,
frame the face he can no longer picture.

Karen Dennison

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Responding to images – more poems by Elly Nobbs and me

Elly Nobbs (author of The Invisible Girl) and I gave each other an image to respond to again (see previous post) and here are the results.

Here’s the image I gave to Elly:


I took this photograph in Brussels near the EC headquarters in 2013 and manipulated it in Photoshop

Elly’s response below was also influenced by the novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler and the three sessions of a stage performance course she attended. I love the way the poem bridges different genres and how it tackles this important topic.

Two Characters & a Situation for an Improv Skit

i. Freeze – Upstage Left, Person #1:

The old chimpanzee,
veins & vitals scarred from years
at this pharma research facility, behind bars
that reach to the sky, waits
for 5 p.m. supper, hoping something

unusual might happen; she’s lonely & hungry
(her stomach is rumbling)
& yes, she’s certainly dangerous
we agree…

ii. Enters – Downstage Right, Person #2:

The white-coated human, who contravenes
(just this once) Sect.1(c)-23
of the for-everyone’s-protection lab
SHE’S SEDATED – unlocks

the escape-proof cage door, scoots in (it will only
take a second) to retrieve the tray
from lunch ignoring the long pole with grippers
he should’ve used to safely slide it
through the slot

but slipping on a banana skin, he knocks
shut the door behind him when he stumbles
… the key flies from his hand
arcs through the air to hers…

iii. The Two Characters Interact Inside the Locked Cage:

Note — the two actors
agreed before the skit
that they must
find a way to help
the old chimpanzee

so used
by us

or we’ll not let them
off the stage.

E.E. Nobbs

Here’s the image Elly gave to me:

Skiff of snow

Elly took this photograph early one Sunday morning, December 2015. It shows a part of the Confederation Trail (the old railway line) where it passes through Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

When I saw Elly’s photo Skiff of Snow, I was struck by just how many footprints there were in the snow but how the path was empty of people. It felt like a visual metaphor for the journeys we make through life and their inevitable endings.

Skiff of Snow

A snow-coated path
funnels the horizon, narrows
to a tree-lined gap, births
a wide heavy sky.

Ahead, a frozen flock
of ice-black footprints
recede to mottled-grey.
A pilgrimage of people

have passed this way,
marks unnamed,
their clouds of breath
swallowed by air.

Karen Dennison


Responding to images – poems by Elly Nobbs and me

My friend and fellow poet Elly Nobbs (author of The Invisible Girl) had the neat idea to give each other an image to respond to and below are the results. Check out Elly’s web page.

When Elly sent me the bird image it helped me to go back to a couple of fragmented lines I’d written and abandoned which I was able to incorporate into something new.

I love where the image I sent Elly took her. It’s interesting what links we make with abstract images to concrete ideas.


“Sunprints”, layered photographs by Karen Dennison

For the child

life’s like a hole
where once there was a stove pipe
in the kitchen ceiling
of an old house

with a bedroom
above: she’s on the floor
not sleeping
— one ear over this chance
to learn secrets

and no, the sounds
weren’t like seas inside a conch
shell or comets

— poem by E.E. Nobbs



“Betwixt”, digital drawing by E.E. Nobbs, using Sketchpad (based on “Blackbird”, photograph by Tom Myers)


I pull on the shape of the crow’s
silhouette, wear it like a hooded coat,
push my arms into its feathers.

I plant my feet in the branches of a tree,
autumn leaves jigsaw beneath me.
My field of sight moves, widens.

Sky is my country now. I’ve sacrificed
words for wings, speech for song.
I hover above our house, squall farewell.

— poem by Karen Dennison


The Memory of Water by Abegail Morley

I recently collaborated with Abegail Morley on her poetry pamphlet The Memory of Water (see one of the poems below). She wrote the poems as poet-in-residence for the National Trust at Scotney Castle (see Poet-in-residence – is this for you?) and I responded with photographs which I took at and around the castle and then layered and altered using Photoshop. The images appear on the cover and inside to mark the beginning of each of three sections. We decided to use black-and-white photos to reflect the atmosphere of this collection.


Puzzle of Brick and Stone (front cover image)

“In these beautiful poems, inspired by the medieval manor house Scotney castle, in Kent, the water of its famous moat is custodian of the manor’s history and does indeed lick at the past, tasting broadswords, releasing the heady swell of wild garlic that grows on its banks. And the language reflects this medium, is fluid, musical, reflective, as it raises characters from Scotney’s past – a hidden priest, the smuggler who faked his own death and burial – and interweaves these histories with imagined occupants and visitors with dramas of their own…”

Jo Hemmant, author of The Light Knows Tricks (Doire Press)


What the moat knows

For a long time afterwards water carries the burden
of its trauma, remembers how shifting ripples

once reached the moat’s edge as it made way
for the body heaved into its depths. Stunned fish

shot under logs, staffs of light silently dashed
for cover as his limbs, swung like rope, turned

and knuckled into dark corners. It was the stones
that weighed him down, pressed him through

the slits of the moat’s velvet cloth. His heart
already hushed, his doll-eyed stare left watching silt

whirl upwards until there was nowhere else to fall.

Abegail Morley