How have you managed your creativity during these difficult times?
Like a lot of people, I have found it quite difficult to be creative. My attention span has definitely reduced and it’s taking me longer to do things like read a book and I think this is just fine to accept in the challenging circumstances. There is a lot to be said for just doing what feels like nothing (if you’re lucky enough to be able to) and sometimes in those quieter contemplative moments we find a creative spark. But at times when the creative spark doesn’t arrive naturally it can be good to find some prompts and in March when lockdown was announced I signed up for a Poetry School course ”I am the shape of my seams”: Out-of-Body Experience Studio with the tutor Abi Palmer. The theme seemed very appropriate to the times we were, and still are, going through and inevitably the writing was obviously affected by the mental and physical responses to lockdown but in sometimes subtle ways that helped to channel the experience through the out of body concept.
I have also created a few pieces of digital art using the amazing Procreate app. The work I do is usually figurative and I have an idea of what I want to achieve but more recently I wanted to have no preconceptions and just play with colour and abstract shape (glorified doodles really!). I dropped using the Apple pen and just used a finger to create abstract layered images and was quite pleased and surprised at some of the results.
You have recently been working on film poems. Can you tell me something about the process?
I’m very new to film poems and so still learning a lot. Part of the reason to look at them was because, other than during the Poetry School course, I hadn’t been writing much that was new and so I decided to revisit old poems and see if I could give them new life. I was also increasingly seeing other people’s poems in film-form and appreciating how a combination of media can enhance the poetic experience in a synergistic way. I signed up for Poetry Film Live, a set of resources put together by Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery and found that extremely helpful to get me started with some very basic equipment and deciding which software to get (Wondershare Filmora) and other very useful guidance. For one film, I took some of my digital artworks as my starting point and found a poem to match and just used the still images with the feature to move across them, pan in or out or distort them or use transition effects to move from one image to another. For another film I started with a poem about an object I own (a jewellery music box that belonged to my grandmother) and made a video of the turning ballerina using my smartphone and a tripod, combining this with photos of my grandmother. For that one I also applied grainy and aging effects to some of the video clips. Unfortunately the very old wind up mechanism broke before I got a good recording of the winding sound and music and so I found some free audio online to use instead and experimented with fading music in and out at appropriate points. For recording the poems I used my phone in a quiet room and made a sleeping bag cocoon around myself to absorb sound. You can find my film poems here https://kdennison.wordpress.com/film-poems/
In terms of wellbeing, how important are the creative arts to you?
Watching films and series have been a lifeline during these strange times and a form of escapism. Reading poetry has for many years been a source of great comfort and a way to share the human experience in all its forms. I would say that it has been life-changing for me. Also, often at times of my own lack of creativity, I have appreciated being connected to the creative arts as part of Against the Grain poetry press and being able to support other poets and poetry projects. Being a part of a local poetry stanza group and helping to run it has also helped me to feel connected with a supportive community.
Can you tell me about your new publication from Broken Sleep Books?
It’s a pamphlet called Of Hearts and is available to order now. Most of the poems mention the heart / have a heart metaphor. I didn’t intentionally set out to write the poems in this way but in putting the collection together I realised that there was a theme running through them to do with the heart and what it represents including loss, longing and healing. I am very happy to be published by Broken Sleep Books who won this year’s Michael Marks publishers’ award and I love the blurb about the book on their web site (where you can also read two poems from the collection) –
“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’.”
I have asked you for something to inspire writing. What have you selected and why did you choose it?
I would love if the abstract image I shared would inspire some writing and think its abstract nature leaves it open to all sorts of interpretations and possibilities. I have also chosen a video I have created especially, using free videos from pexels.com and audio from YouTube audio library. I am interested in ekphrasis and the ways different art forms can respond to each other and also in how people respond differently to the same prompt. I hope this video will prompt some poems and we could choose one or two to add as an audio track. This is the video
Karen’s pamphlet Of Hearts is now available to order from Broken Sleep Books. She is also the author of two full collections – The Paper House (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019) and Counting Rain (Indigo Dreams, 2012).
She is designer and publisher of the pamphlets Book of Sand, Blueshift and Free-fall and collaborated with Valerie Morton on the pamphlet Still Born and, as an artist, with poet Abegail Morley on her pamphlet The Memory of Water. She is co-editor of Against the Grain Poetry Press.