Karen Dennison

Poet and artist

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Poetry and science 2

She began in the long unlit, not knowing she was alive

The first thing she knew was light,
          then heat, the attraction of matter;
contours of her body curving, turning.

For measureless time she grew,
          gathered the dust of old ideas,
made them bright again; set them

spinning in blackness, throwing
          circles of light, molecules speaking
a language she taught them.

Now she tries to peer beyond her edges,
          but she’s trapped in a spiralling self,
a growing emptiness. Dark holes inside

suck her substance; she senses in them
          the before and after, the secret geometry
of her birth, the shifting shape of a slow cold death.

Karen Dennison

First published in Corbel – Nature and Death.

Featured image – By European Space Agency – https://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2013/03/Planck_CMB, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=108189337 

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Poetry and science 1

Over the next days I’ll be posting poems of mine with scientific themes and / or metaphors.. Starting with Light Travellers, first published in The High Window and also in Shoreline of Infinity.

Light travellers

To net the light before it escapes
our horizon, stretching
in the expanse between us; stars
migrating like geese.

To learn the language of distance,
pull the furthest past into focus
like a new-born child her mother’s face.

To unlearn the boundaries of skin,
to know how mass and energy
are twins, that all matter
knows light’s touch in its seed;

that light, knowing
nothing of time, is the ruler
we use to measure it by.

To unravel our limits, navigate
liminal space like ancient ocean explorers,
galaxies our candles, guides,
sails stitched by light.

Karen Dennison


Scratching at the Surface of Tears

As part of Abegail Morley’s series of posts on The Poetry Shed on the theme of Unlocking Creativity, I compiled a film as a prompt with a call out to poets to respond. Jill Munro wrote a fantastic poem in response and here is the resulting film poem. The written poem can also be found below.

Jill Munro author picJill Munro has been published in major poetry magazines including The Frogmore Press, Popshot Quarterly and The Rialto and her work has been anthologised by Paper Swans Press, Candlestick Press and Calder Valley Press. She won the O’Bheal Five Words International Poetry competition 2017/18 and was 2nd in this year’s competition. Jill’s first collection ‘Man from La Paz’ was published in 2015 by Green Bottle Press. She won the Fair Acre Press Pamphlet Competition 2015 with ‘The Quilted Multiverse’, published April 2016. Jill was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship for 2018 and lives and writes in the depths of Ashdown Forest.


Scratching at the surface of tears

There’s no magic rubber wands to wipe away these tears.
I drive down to you again, an undertow drags me past closed cafés
and open Costas, a route my car can auto-drive alone
to a place I once called home, across roundabout after roundabout,
past parks with empty swings and other kinds of roundabouts
to a time-lapsed place hyphenated to the ocean
where huge wind turbines turn above fields,
great grey gulls hanging, wind-surfing their way to sea,
by huge pylons disappearing to nothing in the sky,
the same as you are now.

Do you dream of grey days, splashing on like this,
of twirling brollies, can you remember in technicolour any more?
I know I will have to travel here again, my welling tears
rain-dropping the screen, I will still feel the pull
to come this way while anything left of you remains.

Jill Munro

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Of Hearts – available to pre-order now

OfHeartsMy pamphlet, Of Hearts, is available to pre-order at Broken Sleep Books – Of Hearts where you can also read two of the poems, At Point Nemo and Winter’s story.

“Karen Dennison’s Of Hearts opens with a poem about Point Nemo, the ‘spacecraft graveyard’ and furthest place from land in the ocean. The poem sets the tone for a pamphlet which explores our tiny place in a vast, overwhelming universe. It is full of crisp, lucent, technically agile and clever poems of cosmic longing. Of Hearts is a deeply enjoyable pamphlet from a poet with her eyes pressed to a telescope, searching until ‘the stars switch off’.

Published by Broken Sleep Books, Michael Marks Publishing Award Winners 2020

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Arrival at Elsewhere – a glimpse…

Against the Grain Poetry Press

Arrival at Elsewhere is a book-length long-poem response to the coronavirus outbreak of 2020, curated by one poet, Carl Griffin, but written by many (97 to be precise!). We are publishing it in November with sales in aid of NHS Charities Together and it can be pre-ordered now.

Excerpt from Arrival at Elsewhere

The darkness in the room crackles with static, 
the greater mind in regular telecom 

to maximise survival capabilities. 
The muscles of the dank air flex 

and the room’s dimensions strain and shift. 
I can hear it like the wind in the trees, 

the susurrus filling the lungs 
of birch and ash, thin and laboured

like an after gasp, the smoker’s wheeze 

that yet persists after thirteen years. 
The introvert is so remote in the interior 

there is a risk he will mislay himself 
and never get his bearings back.

It is a day so still…

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Two more poems from Still Born

In my previous post I shared the first two poems from Still Born, the collaboration of response poems by Valerie Morton and me. Valerie and I each had a poem ‘in waiting’ – here is the poem I gave to Valerie and her response. For each copy that we sell we are giving £5 to Sands, the still birth and neonatal death charity. You can buy a print or pdf copy at Books.

Rosemary for Remembrance by Karen DennisonRosemary

Rub this rosemary between finger and thumb
to escape the walled garden where you walk
the same path. Do not cling like dead roots
to these crumbling bricks. There is more
than one sun. Listen. The river is calling,
rocking the empty boat. There is more
than one heart. I know you’re lost in the lyrics
of don’t be cruel, that each verse for you
is a windowless room. But there is more
than one song. Remember the girl setting out
in the dark, how the moon was an oyster
to be shucked, how each day slid down
your throat. There is more. There is more.

Lost by Valerie Morton

That girl has been lost for too long – singing
the same song, brushing the same path,
wearing out shoes on gravel that crunches
with the memory of feet that will never return.

Today she’ll pluck the last stem of rosemary,
suffocating amongst ground elder, crush it
between her palms, and leave behind that garden
strangled by neglect. I’ll dig deep, pull her out, drag her

along the river path, following the sun, my pace
quickening at new horizons. When I can bear
to let her go, I’ll not look back to where she sits –
but forward, where each turn in the river is a new song.

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Poetry Competition 2019 – What’s the judge looking for?

Against the Grain Poetry Press

Sarah James or Leavesley colourWe are really lucky to have the very talented poet, short story writer and editor, Sarah James, judging this year’s competition. Check out details of entering HERE.

We want to pass on some top tips to help you on your way for entering our competition and any others you fancy this year. We posed a few questions to Sarah to find out what a judge wants from a poem and also what the poet can do to ensure their poem gets further and further up the shortlist pile.

What do you look for in a poem?

I try to come to poems openly and with as few expectations or pre-conceptions as possible, particularly as a competition judge. In terms of what I’ll be looking for in this competition, I’m only really going to be able to answer that afterwards. Things that I might anticipate finding in a poem I’ll love include striking imagery and…

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Two poems from Still Born

HandsStill Born is a collaboration between Valerie Morton and me where we responded to each other’s poems. Here are the first two poems – the one Valerie gave to me and my response. For each pamphlet we sell, £5 will go to Sands, the childbirth and netonatal death charity and can be purchased at Books.

For a Short Time by Valerie Morton

We might have held hands, danced
around each other, toes touching
in the liquid ballroom of a womb.

Thirty years too late I learn of you –
that I needn’t have feared
my shadow or frowned when mother

looked past me at something I couldn’t see
but felt I should.
I’ve sensed your presence many times –

now I know you are the song
on my pillow, the sudden
streak of light that warms my cheek,

the hand I often feel in mine –
and I wonder would you
have chewed your nails the way I do?

Still Born by Karen Dennison

I never got to breathe
even though I was born into air.
My pulse was quiet but you heard,
listened for it in liquid darkness.

The beat of yours lulled me to sleep,
woke me from dreaming.
When I opened my eyes I found you
crying in the shadows, suspended:

so close I never saw you whole.
I touched your face, reached
for your hand, knew we were the same
except for the puzzle of my heart,
its missing piece.