Of Hearts, Karen Dennison
Broken Sleep Books, 2021 £6.50
‘Lay out your unrest’ is the mantra of this publisher. The phrase is in bold capitals on the final page of the pamphlet, and also in tiny letters on the back cover. It seems to me this collaboration was meant to be. Nobody does unrest better than Dennison.
Fifteen of the eighteen poems are written in the first person. So the speaker is inescapably right there in front of the reader, recording how we are at the mercy of people and experiences we love and lose. There are no other humans here, apart from the absent recipient of her love — no buffers.
She journeys solo and can’t escape. Three poems use the word ‘tethered’ in different ways.
First, in ‘Hollow hours’, ‘Sleep, locked out, whines / like a tethered dog.’ You can’t go far, you can’t rest either.
Then, in ‘My island’:
The hardest furthest part of the journey
is letting go, untethering you from my heart,
And lastly in ‘Winter’s story’:
I sift the day through tired thoughts,
let it drift, live on the edges of things,
lightly tethered to the lip of the world.
How loss keeps her on the edge of life, not engaged in it! In ‘At the edge’, she tells us: ‘I’ll find you where the sun’s rays walk on water, leave blinding footprints.’ The poet looks into those almost invisible spaces of the natural world, where meaning is stored. Her easy rhythms lure us into unusual images of day and night, sun and moon, summer and winter. I love ‘Sorrow unbuttons her throat, throws her white coat / on the ground’ (‘Winter’s story’).
Strong stuff. And she doesn’t stop there. She takes us to the edge of eternity into ‘blood-dark space’ where her ‘heart’s a pulsar’ (‘After you’re gone’). It’s almost too much to bear. And it rings true. Is this the price of living and loving fully?
Read to the end — the last poems give colour, hope, respite. While grief sleeps, we can move more freely. Unrest softens towards healing. We are untethered.