Karen Dennison’s second collection, The Paper House, (The Hedgehog Press) is an exquisite exploration of the landscape of childhood and childlessness, of memory and loss, of time and timelessness. Karen previously won the Indigo Dreams Collection Competition in 2011 and her first collection, Counting Rain, was published in 2012.
About The Paper House:
‘Bright with startling sensory details, these are poems in which bodies, buildings and lives stand in for each other; poems of sheds, outbuildings and the paper houses of memory. Karen Dennison’s writing is playful with time, speaking the voices of those who were never given the chance to speak, mining the depths of family and inheritance as well as the brutality of loss. These are moving, wise poems, poems in which the reader becomes “a traveller / returning home to find a house familiar / yet strange.”‘ Suzannah Evans
I enter through a small dark door,
once red, with a stained glass inset.
Hands skirting over papered walls,
a strip of pale blue falls away. A hatch
of sky gapes through the open flap of a tent
where I’m greenhouse-warm and rain
tap-dances all night on the roof.
Pieces of sapphire swim through my fingers,
the sparkle of coral-reef sea, the dart
of striped fish weaving feet.
I pick at pockets of night, like the first time
we marvelled at Jupiter’s moons
and strained our necks for hours
for a smudge of Andromeda.
Under grey unstuck from grey,
there’s a jagged square of black I can’t remove,
a tumour in the fabric of the brick.
Death slams the door, shakes the house
by its shoulders at midnight.
In my hands there are scraps of sky and sea;
I’ll paste them to a blank white sheet.
Remember the winter of ’99,
standing on Waterloo Bridge;
how a windstorm threatened
to juggle us in its shadow-puppet
theatre of air.
In the Little Ice Age, the Thames
would freeze, ice lodged
in its closely-spaced piers. Frost fairs
grew like crystals: skating rinks,
shops, dancing reels, spit-roasted ox.
Now the river’s just-ironed denim,
bleach-streaked with the lights
from Westminster Bridge
and the Wheel’s a ruby ring,
sprinkling a patch of sequin-pink.
I’d forgotten how London
is part of my skin, an invisible tattoo
of the time we spent,
the vertiginous thrill
of its backbone of bridges.
We clung to each other that day
with a rigor mortis grip, spoke
of the ice floe that broke away,
devouring people and tents;
joked of being swallowed whole,
sinking down to the city’s silted bones.
After ‘The Night Ferry’ (photograph) by Bill Jackson
He came to be alone with the stars,
to bask in a wash of blue-violet sky
before the ferry would take him, trawling
its net of foam, its v-shaped wake.
He set the camera to long exposure,
sat as still as the tripod, a fisherman
baiting constellations; caught the world
spinning, stars as needles of slanting rain.
Morning’s first light leapt in his stomach
like salmon spawning, the sun a lantern
searching the docklands horizon.
It rose, burning in his throat, inevitable
as death, as going home.