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Mari Ellis Dunning

Pearl and Bone

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 'In this profound study of the maternal journey, Mari Ellis Dunning does not attempt to speak for all mothers, but she can speak up for the many that become "pale and bloodless ghosts". These essential, visceral poems ensure we pay attention to the fear, risk and shame that accompanies the female pregnant body, whilst weaving a picture of the truthful, tender reckonings that are the poet's own.' – Rebecca Goss


'This collection is one to be savoured, perhaps in the dead of night when sleep is impossible and words come to be our companions, to say what we cannot' – Caroline Bracken, Nation.Cymru


'Dunning has a real talent for taking huge issues and using poetry to shine light on them in new and creative ways. The progressive world we deserve, and can sometimes convince ourselves we live in, will only be reached by addressing some difficult home truths. Pearl & Bone is a beautiful and creative step towards that.' – Liam Nolan (A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Books Council of Wales)


'Mari Ellis Dunning's Pearl and Bone centres on her becoming a mother for the first time and falling into the alternative universe of purely female experience, compounded by the lack of interest shown by most male politicians. Influenced by Sylvia Plath's poems about motherhood, Dunning manages to have echoes of Plath's strong voice and still create her own... Altogether the book exudes a dynamic energy, partly charged by the possessive feelings of motherhood... partly by Dunning's engagement with the politics that circumscribe female lives in the modern world. Not content with simply writing out her own situation, she writes poems to victims of male-dominated society such as Christine Keeler, Marshae Jones and Sarah Everard... engrossing.' – Helle Michelsen, Planet


'A captivating collection of poetry which flows between moments of tenderness and harrowing rawness ... Intimate, yet coolly objective, they are touched by a sense of wonder and discovery.' – Buzz


'This is a collection that speaks of vulnerability and strength, fragility and endurance, but it does not shy away from the more difficult aspects of motherhood.' – Created to Read


'This is a brave, complex, powerful, angry, and loving book, full of poems that argue, discuss, share, and reject the abuse of power that women and children are constant victims of... It is a model example of issues-based poetry, where argument is not reduced to sloganeering, preaching or demands, a concerned and original voice in the current debate about sexuality and gender.' – Tears in the Fence


'The mother’s narrative is interspersed with poems tracking the arc of Christine Keeler, a structural plaiting that equates the two women. Also brought into this equation are Zelda Fitzgerald (‘Letter from Zelda Fitzgerald’), Jane Eyre’s Bertha Mason (‘Poem for Bertha Mason’), both ‘Mary’ and ‘Mary Magdalene’, both Sarah Everard and Marshae Jones – also ‘The moon’, looted by men who ‘pocket parts of me, like rubies’... In her foreword Dunning asks: ‘Does the ability to occupy the space between life and death, the almost supernatural magic of pregnancy and birth, ignite fear in some government officials and heads of state?’ This is the ‘space’ in which the poetry in Pearl and Bone casts its spells and blessings.' – Ellora Sutton, Mslexia


Pearl and Bone explores the complexities of becoming a new mother amidst a global pandemic, with the stories of other mothers interwoven amongst the author’s intimate moments, from pregnancy to childbirth and beyond. These poems showcase the lost voices of women through history – in the throes of labour, Mary paces the stable; in a dim Soho studio, Christine Keeler poses for the infamous Lewis Morley photographs; while above us, the moon laments the number of feet that have stormed her surface.

Beautiful, emotional and richly imagistic, Mari Ellis Dunning presents mothers in many forms: those experienced, chosen, unwitting, and presumed, asking us to consider the true nuances of motherhood – delicate as pearl, durable as bone.

Shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year for her debut collection Salacia, this is the poet’s highly anticipated second collection.


Interview with The Broken Spine can be read here.

Writer of the Month feature with The Broken Spine can be read here.

Articles in Nation. Cymru here and here.


Mari Ellis Dunning’s poems and short fiction can be found in recent and upcoming  editions of Banshee Lit Mag, New Welsh Reader and The Lampeter Review, amongst others. She has also been the winner of The Terry Hetherington Young Writers Award, and placed second in both the Lucent Dreaming Short Story Competition and the Sylvia Plath Poetry Prize. The Wrong Side of the Looking Glass was written in collaboration with Natalie Ann Holborrow and published in 2020. Mari is a PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University, where she is writing a historic novel set in 16th-century Wales, exploring the relationship between accusations of witchcraft, the female body and reproduction/fertility. Mari also teaches Creative Writing part-time at Aberystwyth University, facilitates workshops and engages in poetry festivals and events. She lives on the west coast of Wales, with her husband, their sons, and their very adorable poochon.