Karen McCarthy Woolf

Poet, editor, critic, urban nature, collaboration and translation, diversity advocate

Born and based in London, England, UK

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Born in London to English and Jamaican parents, Karen McCarthy Woolf is a poet, critic and editor.

Her debut An Aviary of Small Birds was nominated for the Forward and Fenton Aldeburgh prizes. Described as ‘extraordinarily moving and technically flawless’ (Poetry Review) it was a Guardian/Observer Book of the Month.

The relationship between nature and modernity is a recurrent preoccupation, and one that led her to the National Maritime Museum, where she was resident throughout 2015.

Her poems are translated into Spanish, Swedish and Turkish; she has read them on BBC TV and radio and live across the world.

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Ten: The Next Chapter (editor), 2018, Bloodaxe Books

Voyage, with Sophie Herxheimer, 2016, National Maritime Museum

Elva Dikter/Eleven Poems translated into Swedish, 2016, Versopolis/LittFest

Ten: The New Wave (editor), 2014, Bloodaxe Books

An Aviary of Small Birds, 2013, Carcanet

The Worshipful Company of Pomegranate Slicers, 2006, Spread the Word

Kin: New Fiction by Black and Asian Women (editor), 2003, Serpent’s Tail

Bittersweet: Black Women’s Contemporary Poetry (editor), 1997, The Women’s Press

Extract: 'An Aviary of Small Birds'

My love is an aviary
of small birds
and I must learn
to leave the door ajar…

Are you the sparrow
who landed when I sat
at a slate table
sewing lettuces?

Webbs Wonder, Lollo
Rosso, English Cos…
Swift and deft
you flit and peck peck

quick as the light that
constitutes your spirit.
Yes, you were briefer
than Neruda’s octobrine.

So much rain that night.
Our room is an ocean
where swallows dive.
The bubble bursts

too soon, too late, too long:
all sorts of microscopia
swim upstream, float in
on summer’s storm.

The tenor of your heart
is true as a tuning fork struck
– and high! My love
is the bird who flies free.