I recently read a new and very special pamphlet by Valerie Morton and Karen Dennison where the two co-writers respond to each other — a conversation with poems. Two of the poems from their sequence, and ordering information is here. I asked Valerie a few questions about the project. When answering, she first passed along this quote:
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” Seneca
Elly: How did Still Born come to be?
Valerie: It has been an enormous pleasure and privilege to work with Karen Dennison on this pamphlet which began as an idea after I had been reading about response poems and how they could inspire and rejuvenate poets into discovering places they may not have visited before. Karen and I both had ‘a poem in waiting’ and the pamphlet was born.
As we continued we realised we had created something special and that we could put it together into a collection and publish in the hope that we could raise some money for a charity.
Elly: Please say something about the title. After reading the poems, I was struck by how well it reflects, what seems to me the themes and multiple possible ways to respond to the pamphlet.
Valerie: I am glad you read it that way. The title plays on the word stillborn because I believe that even though this is such a big loss that person stays very much alive in the mind and memory and so they are still born and with you, if that makes sense?
Elly: Still Born is divided into two sections. The first half starts with a sketch of two hands and two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and the second, with a sketch of a stem with leaves. Tell me more about the structure.
Valerie: The two halves represent two stages of grieving – accepting and healing. The jigsaw image represents the ‘twin’ and separation and is picked up in a line from Karen’s poem Still Born “I….knew we were the same/except for the puzzle of my heart,/ its missing piece”.The leaf represents rosemary which is a symbol of remembrance. It could appear as a disconnection but it is in fact the continuation of recovery.
The ‘she’ in the second section can be interpreted in many ways – the living twin, or anyone trying to find a way to feel whole again, to let grief go, but never forget. It takes us through the whole gambit of how we all find our own way through – it represents hope.
Elly: Tell me about the organisation that you & Karen are donating all proceeds.
Valerie: As one of the major supporters of those experiencing and suffering the loss of a baby, this was the first charity we approached and they were grateful to be chosen. You can read more about them here: https://www.sands.org.uk/
From the back cover: ” Still Born is a heart breaking collection of poems which takes the process of grief and passes it back and forth between two accomplished poets. The poems ripple and reflect the personal and the profound nature of loss in a way that allows the reader the space to think and reflect. This is a beautiful collection which shines with love.” Wendy Pratt
Valerie is the author of two poetry collections – Mango Tree (2013) and Handprints (2015) – both published by Indigo Dreams Publishing, and her poems have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies. She is the publisher of Elephant (A Poetry of Elephants) edited by Rebecca Gethin. Since 2017 she has been Poet in Residence at a Hertfordshire Pinetum. She is a member of Ver Poets.
Karen is the author of two poetry collections – Counting Rain (Indigo Dreams, 2012) and The Paper House (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019). She is editor, designer and publisher of the pamphlets Book of Sand, Blueshift, and Free-fall, where artists respond to poetry and poems to art. Karen is co-editor of and designs for Against the Grain Poetry Press.