An Aviary of Small Birds is both elegy to a stillborn son and testament to the redemptive qualities of poetry as a transformative art. The book opens at the birth, which paradoxically becomes the moment of death when, after a long labour and an emergency caesarean, the baby's heart gives out. For the mother, her body flooded with endorphins, euphoria gives way to shock, followed by an intense and visceral grief. However, just as grief itself is not linear, so too the book follows an emotional rather than a strictly chronological arc, lyric rather than narrative. At the same time, McCarthy Woolf's formal experimentation allows an intellectual and metaphysical line of enquiry to emerge. Ultimately, it is a closely felt connection with the natural world, particularly with water and birds, that allows the author to transcend the experience and honour the spirit of her son.
Karen McCarthy Woolf writes poetry, drama and short fiction for print, online, broadcast and live platforms. In 2005 her play Dido, based on the life of a mixed-race girl who grew up in Kenwood House, Hampstead in the 1760s, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She was also writer in residence at the Museum of Garden History and literature development agency Spread the Word. Her poetry chapbook The Worshipful Company of Pomegranate Slicers was selected as a New Statesman Book of the Year in 2006. She has taught creative writing for a variety of agencies including The Photographers' Gallery, City Lit, Southbank Centre, English Pen and The Arvon Foundation for whom she also judged their six word story competition. Karen has presented her work everywhere from the Tate Modern to Buckingham Palace and this summer she was invited to read at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival and at Poet in the City at King's Place. She was a runner up in the Cardiff International Poetry Prize with her poem The Wish: judges Don Paterson and Philip Gross said of it 'The poem has grand litanical urgency and insistence to it, and pulls off that admirable trick of having a familiar word wholly reinvented and redefined before your eyes.' In 2010 a selection of new poetry was published in Ten New Poets (Bloodaxe, eds Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra) an anthology that showcased the work of ten new poets selected for the The Complete Works development programme. Recent commissions include an installation piece My T-Shirt Says for The London Word Festival and Open Notebooks a project exploring the writer's process and creativity. She is the editor of two critically acclaimed anthologies Bittersweet: Black Women's Contemporary Poetry (The Women's Press) and Kin (Serpent's Tail). She is also an associate editor at the international literary journal Wasafiri, on the editorial board of Magma magazine and reviews for Modern Poetry in Translation.
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