Sally Douglas reviews blueshift: Art from Poetry – Poetry from Art

blueshift: Art from Poetry – Poetry from Art, edited by Karen Dennison

blueshift is a beautiful little pamphlet consisting of a sequence of fifteen pieces of artwork and poetry, each by different writers and artists, and each responding to the one before: a chain reaction of visual and textual imagery which is a delight to experience.
The poems and the artworks are all very different, each a free and often tangential response to the previous work, and this is part of what makes the reading of this book such an exciting experience. However, even when the relationships are quite oblique, there is always a linking thread, like a strong but very fine wire, glinting from under the surface of the text.

The first poem in the collection, Rebecca Gethin’s ‘Wolf Moon’ responds to ‘Corvus’ by Emmy Verschoor, a mixed media work featuring a wolf silhouette against a background of abstracted greens and blacks. The poem tells of

a landscape weeping into another form
of itself – leaf vein to bird’s song, forest to river valley

and this could be seen as a metaphor for the pamphlet itself, the way in which each work transforms and transmutes some aspect of the one before.

Lizanne van Essen’s cut-and-fold artwork ‘Wolf Moon’ takes the ‘dark labyrinth’ of Rebecca Gethin’s poem and transforms it into a sharp layered monochrome forest with the wolf a barely visible dark shadow baying at a low translucent moon. Saras Feijoo’s ‘She Who wanted to Fly’, transmutes the wolf moon of Agnes Marton’s poem ‘Captain Fly’s Journey to the Wolf Moon’ into the soft blues and greens and greys of pastels and graphite. This then is taken up by Stephanie Arsoska and becomes ‘The Girl in Blue’ whose

…song is a dark needle

reaching to where sky
hems the land

and these images are in turn interpreted in a stunning textile work by Tessa Frampton.


Throughout the pamphlet these reinterpretations shift and breathe as the different poets and artists pick up on something from the previous work and take it to a different place. One of the things I found very satisfying was the way in which the colours move through a spectrum as the series progresses. We start with blacks and whites, cold greens , blues; but after ‘Blueshift’, the poem by Pam Job which was chosen for the title of the series, brings in flamenco and mantillas and Lorca, Pete Kennedy’s digital collage ‘Sifting the words of your siguirillas’ incorporates a flash of fire, and suddenly the heat rushes into the collection. Karen Dennison’s ‘Guitar Dreams’ is full of light: a ‘face engulfed / by white flames’, doves’ wingtips ‘singed/ by noon sun’ and lips ‘scorched […] pomegranate red’.

From this point on the poems speak more of an interior space. Claire Collison runs with the pomegranate image with an acrylic painting of uneasy red seeds packed into a jar and a powerful poem about illness, in which the speaker, because the experimental drug she is taking is called ‘Persephone’, dreams she is making pomegranate jam, dropping ‘pink gobbets into sterilised jars’ :

Your aunt tells you to sieve it, but you say no,
it’s not to eat, it’s to look at.


(Emmy Verschoor)

Another stunning image, Sheena Drayton’s ‘Persephone’s Mistake’, leads Becky Cherriman into memories of art classes art school where ‘parts of me rotted dark in corners’, and the final image, ‘Frustration’ by Sam Smith, beautifully rounds off the collection by drawing all the colours together in a surreal oil painting of a green pear impaled by red, orange and blue coloured pencils.

One of the great pleasures of reading this book is the physical beauty of it. The production values are superb: each image is beautifully reproduced on high quality paper, and each poem is given plenty of space to breathe. It is a pleasure to look at and to handle, which is important, since these poems and artworks make the reader want to keep going back to find more and more resonances and relationships between them.

blueshift is the second pamphlet produced by Karen Dennison to have its genesis in an ekphrastic chain of responses. In fact, it is a continuation of the first, since Emmy Verschoor’s ‘Corvus’ is a direct response to the final work in Book of Sand, (2014), E.E. Nobbs’ fabulous poem of the same name.
This is a collection to be read and re-read. I do hope the series continues and there are more to come.

Sally Douglas is a Devon-based writer with a particular interest in visual art. Her first poetry collection, Candling the Eggs, won the Cinnamon Press 2009 Poetry Award, and her poems have appeared widely in journals. She blogs at sallydouglas.blogspot.co.uk.


Karen Dennison reviews Smashed Glass at Midnight by J V Birch

Smashed glass at midnight cover imageThis chapbook of twenty poems is published by Picaro Press, an imprint of Ginninderra Press. It is notable for its narrow shape, egg-shell-like cover paper and transparent endpaper. The poems are about loss in a number of contexts, including failing relationships, childlessness, hospital admissions and dementia.

Each poem brings a distilled image with an intense focus where the abstract and the unseen often become embodied things. For example, in Sense of an ending – ‘The air between us is tired/wants to lie down/dream of doors being open’ and In What the old house thinks ‘my yellow’ is a living thing that once danced and sang and has now been stolen.

Emotions also become living entities, through the use of visual metaphor, that communicate with, possess, and control the speaker. In Offspring loss has its own will, taking the form of an unwanted companion, and ends up being carried in the speaker’s handbag and releasing itself as a ‘god-awful sound’. And in Instinct, ‘..it stood awkward at her door/ in a uniform it couldn’t breathe in.’

The poems also have the feel of a dreamlike distance as if the speaker is looking back on the past,  detached from an earlier self where there was a sense of loss of control; where her body, hands and mouth had their own minds. From Admission – ‘her hands restless spiders make nests in her hair’ and she ‘moves her words to her fingers/ touches her mouth when she wants to speak’. Loss of control also features in Body where ‘many women have choices/mine are made for me.’

The image of the mouth punctuates these poems, recurring like an archetype where sounds and words are involuntarily released and then purposefully held-back. In Release, ‘I peel down/unravel myself./ Start with the flap at my mouth that’s teased for too long.’

Paper and folding also feature as metaphors for fragility and acceptance / closure. In Revelation ‘you thin me to paper’; in What the new wife does ‘she folds into routine’ and in Leaving ‘I place my goodbye on the table/ seven years of tears/ line dried, folded in pairs’.

This collection really resonated with me and its images stayed with me long after reading, a reflection of their strength and symbolism. I highly recommend it.

To end, here’s 17 years in full which I have chosen because of the stunning ‘moths that martyr the windows’.

17 years

Our mouths are no longer in love
they forget their place
what they used to be.

After rising I pair lonely hellos
spend the day elsewhere
although you left some time before this.

And still we return
to goodnights like moths that martyr the window
until we fold into ourselves.


Karen Dennison is a poet and artist. Her website is here.

J V Birch is a British poet living in Southern Australia. Her website.


New pamphlet – The Memory of Water

When I started off on this Scotney Castle sequence I had no idea that I would be lucky enough to have Karen Dennison’s photographs in the collection. I’d asked her if she fancied collaborating and after she read the poems she said yes. We spent time wandering the grounds – Karen’s eagle eyes settling on the roots of trees that looked like woven rope, or collecting reflections from the lip of the moat.

We created a limited edition handmade pamphlet but the card I chose for the cover was too thick to staple so we ended up hand sewing them. They did look beautiful but I was hugely relieved we made so few!

A year later the text gave itself to a different story, one that found its voice and momentum in a completely new way. Actually, a way I really didn’t expect. The number of poems grew and found their own footing and Karen supplied more photographs, and we have a wonderful full cover colour – Karen’s stunning photo and Ronnie’s eye for design is brilliant. So here it is in all its glory….

TMOW matt to be changed LOW RES
Skin deep

Ripples recede as if the water sits back on its haunches,
geese glide into the space between air and knees.
The fluster of wings fetches him from the path,
running as if there’s a ghost at his heels and, like a boat

slipping its moorings, he bobs into view. The water licks
at its past: tastes the metal of broadswords as they slice
its tongue, the heady swell of wild garlic on its lips,
the bitterness of nettles hung around its banks each spring.

The custom of collecting buds from barely-warm ground
is lost on him as he slides, swan-like at the muddy edge,
pulls himself back in time. He looks up at the deserted castle,
the morning’s fog wraps around it like a scarf,

and somewhere in it are the stirrings of forgotten language:
ramparts, gatehouse, defences, keep. All of this is lost on me.
I see where he collided: the nest of eggs, how the sun
lights each one like a sonographer doing a scan.

(petra, meaning ‘stone’, + ichor, the fluid)

I kick off my shoes, roll jeans to knees,
cuffs up thin wrists. Sun prods

through leaves, flashes on my skin
like a slippery fish with interlocking scales –

I’m a single word, an unbuttoned shirt
flapping in the breeze. I’m thinking

I adore this weather, this history –
him – can smell the scent of my ancestors

in the shrubs, grass, soil, hear the dreamlike
way rain shifts quietly on the pelt of trees

when the sky gives nothing away. I didn’t know
rain could fall this lightly, this slowly.


If you’d like a signed copy let me know via thepoetryshed@hotmail.com, otherwise the lovely Dawn and Ronnie at Indigo Dreams will send it to you (cheaper and more quickly than Amazon!). Support small presses please… because they’re worth it.

There’s more from Ronnie and Dawn at Indigo Dreams Publishing in the next posting.

Box of books


The Riverhill Effect


The Riverhill Effect

This morning I could count the flowers in my garden:
two yellow roses, three purple irises, seventeen weedy daisies;
tiny tokens from Mother Nature.
Cracker prizes for getting this far.

Riverhill has won more.
Thousands of wedding dresses
drift above the paths with joy and light;
hundreds of silky Gothic bodices
flirt in curtained corners;
and tens of tall, trousered pines
proclaim that they shall not be moved.
Life. Living. Lived.

Because at the end of the day
those tattered, tired flower-frocks are allowed to drop
to the creeping, spidery floor, where they are welcomed
by the stink of compassionate rotting and living decay.
Until, with deadly magic, rips are mended,
hems re-sewn, buttons replaced,
mud washed away, so that
the garden will wear new clothes next year,
harder-wearing, more beautiful, more abundant.

Lying on the grass, nose close to the earth,
eyes blind with pain and fear,
I can just smell the same rich rot in my own soil.
Here too is space for repair; for mending.
Simply let the flowers drop, let the compost work,
and we will both have new clothes next year.

Sara Carroll

Waterloo Cedar

In memory of Henry Buckley of the 15th Hussars

It’s a Sunday afternoon, 18th June 1815. Lunchtime.
The battle of Waterloo. Nobody is quite sure
when it started, watches then were set by the sun.
A shot, a charge. Wellington. Napoleon. Armies
of tens of thousands, delayed by weather, thick mud.

Henry. A brave young man at 18. Had some lover’s
hands once undone the toggles of his tunic, gold braid,
felt his chest before the sword? A hedge of bayonets.
Troop colours: blue, yellow, red and blue. Battle honours,
and yet he died, one of many. Others injured, or missing.

It was to be the end of Napoleon’s one hundred
days in exile – this tree now over one hundred feet high.
Afterwards they built the Lion’s Mound to mark the spot
where the English beat the French, with a little help.
Henry. Futile fields. Was it for this the clay grew tall?

Light cavalry, horses in battle, the conclusion: ‘a close thing…’
In bookshops now, row upon row of military history
every decision recorded, catalogued, codified. Today this
cedar, grown so tall, in spite of further war the world over.
Here now, give thanks for Henry and all who’ve gone before.

Steve Walter


after John O’Connor

Bolt your feet to the ground,
centre yourself in the cavity
of your chest.

Breathe out.
Extend your arms
so they’re rigid as planks.

Right-angle your hands, stretch

fingers like claws, so palms
push imaginary walls.

Turn your back on the vast valley

of sky, the earth below

too deep, too wide.

Look down, let shoulders
take the strain, neck buckle
with the weight of clouds.

Breathe in, limbs quartering

the light. Close your eyes,

let darkness swim.

Karen Dennison


Day Out

The garden of Kent rolls from my feet,
a shift of soil thin as a pauper’s shroud
across shoulders of chalk.

Traffic slurs the space between bird song
and in the distance green shifts to blue.
Azaleas punch fists of glamour at the June sky
and rhododendrons choir open throated song.

Two dreamers on the lawn
shut their lids to the view.
Shadows sculpt hidden eyes
that watch the spark and pulse
of tangerine clouds rimmed with lime.

Legs astride, arms wide as a tent
the statue on the hill
pushes open an invisible space,
commands me – Be here now!

Sheena Clover




Winter and happy Christmas from the Sheditor

akaren Artwork: Karen Dennison



When you text, you said you’d bring a radiator key
and suddenly you’re my knight in shining armour –
you can conquer lands, slay dragons
with your sword. And I fell in love with your words,
the Yes, I have one, and the I’ll put it in my bag.
Here is my hero at the end of a phone,
texting me all the wooing words a girl needs,
now it’s winter and snowing outside.
When you left, the radiator still needed bleeding,
air locked between pipes and room:
a word, a sentence, a message.
I listened to the gasp
when I turned the key,
but couldn’t quite hear what you said.


First published in Obsessed with Pipework


Karen Dennison’s shed



The path edged past the apple tree, swing,
runner bean teepees, thorny blackberries –
to the shed, a crooked shipwreck,
its door over-sized, stiff.

Inside, a jumble of danger: rusted nails,
saws and shears, face-height webs,
black crumpled spiders poised
to unfold from the dead.

At the back, a wheel with a worn-out tread,
shabby mattress, musty fold-up chair,
padlocked metal box that rattled
and a plastic baby doll with one eye open.

Impossible that the shed still stands
but I think of it there shifting with time,
battered by rain and wind, a child tugging
at its splintered door, peering inside.

Karen’s poems have been published in South, Orbis, The New Writer, Ink Sweat and Tears, South Bank Poetry, Artemis (poem commended in Second Light poetry competition 2013 and judged by Moniza Alvi), What the Dickens? Magazine, The Interpreter’s House and in four anthologies: poetrywivenhoe 2011, Heart Shoots, From the City to the Saltings and so too have the doves gone. Karen won the Indigo Dreams Collection Competition in 2011 and her first collection Counting Rain was published in February 2012. Karen is editor and publisher of the pamphlet Book of Sand.


Poet-in-residence – is this for you?

I’m currently Poet-in-Residence for the National Trust at Scotney Castle. I decided to do this after my last collection as a way of exploring something new and also to shift the direction of my writing. I’ve spent a lot of time there, either on my own or with friends – it’s a good way of getting extra ideas, especially from friends who ask a lot of (difficult) questions. I’ve chatted to volunteers, employees and pounced on visitors. My work focuses on the ruins, the moat in particular. I recently read about Jacques Benveniste and his theory about water (which later became known as the “memory of water”).

It’s known as the “memory of water”.
When you add a substance to water and then dilute
the water to the point where there are no more
molecules of the added substance left in the
water, you can still measure effects of the water
as if the originally diluted substance were still present.

Jacques Benveniste

As part of the residency I am collaborating with poet and artist, Karen Dennison who is working on photographs based on my poems. We’ll be exhibiting both in the ruins this summer. Oh yes and then there’s the pamphlet which I am currently working on and today I’m thinking about readings by the moat on hot summer evenings (yes, they will come), a glass of wine, the gentle breeze in the trees … A residency can be what you make it.


Alyson Hallett has just taken up the post at The Charles Causley Trust and Zaffar Kunial has been announced as The Wordsworth Trust’s new resident poet. Caroline Carver has been poet-in-residence with the Marine Institute, Plymouth University, since early 2013, and the University will shortly be publishing her fifth collection, Fish Eaters. Jo Bell has had commissions and residencies with the Canal and River Trust and the National Trust. Heidi Williamson did a residency at the London Science Museum’s Dana Centre for a couple of years and is currently poet-in-residence for John Jarrold Printing Museum. I asked her how she got these opportunities and she told me that she simply wrote and asked! That’s one way. Alternatively keep an eye out for opportunities like these (there are lots more around):

Wordsworth Trust
Gladstone’s Library
Jane Austen’s House Museum
The Charles Causley Trust
Ilkley Literature Festival
New Diorama Theatre
Black Country Living Museum


 poetryschool @poetryschool

Interesting thoughts from @AbegailMorley about poetry residencies, including the advice ’just write and ask’: http://abegailmorley.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/poet-in-residence-is-this-for-you/ 



Book of Sand


An alternating sequence of poetry and visual art, where poems inspire art and art inspires poetry. This pamphlet showcases the work of six poets and five artists and is designed, edited and published by Karen Dennison.

Poems by Emer Gillespie, Anna Kisby, Sharon Black, Valerie Morton, Abegail Morley and E.E. Nobbs. Artwork by Chris Ruston, Michaela Ridgway, Gwen Simpson, Sam Smith and Karen Dennison.

The pamphlet takes its name from, and begins with a poem written in response to, the short story The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges. The poem was given to an artist to respond to with any form of visual art and that artwork was in turn given to a poet to respond to and so on, resulting in a sequential chain of responses. The chain is ongoing and so there will be at least one more edition – to find out more about being involved please contact Karen.

“A unique meeting of visionary poets and artists, who enter into a dialogue that at once informs and heightens their individual works. This small collection is a joy, and once again confirms that we need both the visual and the verbal to understand the world as a whole.” — Tamar Yoseloff

The Clearing

Why did I walk naked into the forest
that June morning? Did the sun sweep
its flashlight across my heart
to reveal a sudden herd of longings?

The petals of the flag iris tremble and arch
until they darken with moisture.
A mountain can be a vantage point,
a ledge.

In the patterns of a birch bark I thought I saw
the back of a wolf ’s head. Yes –
half-revealed by the dew
a wolf rising, rising towards the leaves.

Sharon Black

6 Gwen Simpson

Gwen Simpson – Through the Mist; Hand-cut coloured 70lb Canford card; 15cm x 10.7cm. Photographs of this book are in the Book of Sand along with illustrations and paintings from the other artists.

To buy click here


December poems part 5: Karen Dennison, Tina Cole, Rebecca Gethin


Artwork: Archie Dunbar McKintosh


Clumps hoodwink the bushes;
a drudgery clings to the tree, muffling
its limbs. She moves unseen.

Her hands and fingerprints crumble
to powdery snow. A windfall fills
her footprints. She uncouples

from all she knows, freezes over.
People look through her –
she’s becoming a ghost. She sleeps

under a crumpled duvet of snow,
clumps shovelled up at the roadside
in the morning. Her voice shatters,

flurries wordlessly through air, separate
and together, like flocks of white birds.
Mute, invisible, she haunts the streets

as if immortal. She remembers the edge
of something, a childhood drawing
that flutters around the blind spot of vision.

She blows her name and the name
of her brother across her palm
into whirlwinds of snow.

She passes the roadside cross
for a fallen mother, the ragged rotten
sodden flowers encrusted in snow.

Tears are glittering snowflakes
that surprise her cheeks. There is stifled music;
a father and daughter whistle an Adagio of snow.

A child’s face glows like a full moon
from a car window, wanting, not wanting, to go. Snow
slips down the pane, slurs the street lamps’ halos.

Karen Dennison

Published in poetrywivenhoe 2011 and Counting Rain.

Karen’s first collection Counting Rain was published by Indigo Dreams in February 2012.  Her poem Wayfaring was recently commended in the Second Light Poetry Competition 2013.


Artwork: Sophie Harding



Late November
…….days beaten from brass,
…….the grass long covered
…….by a litter of birch and beech,
Come with me, step away from the rush
…….into the forest hush where holly spikes
…….defy the winter song, bright berries
…….young as folly.
There is no one to hear as the year
…….fades away, each day drawn out, oh so slow,
……. – a slowing pace.
A metal sky flecked with old rose –
…….let us close the gate on it, the long tongue
…….of the lock shifts its’ weight
…….and licks it final click into place.
Days pass, celebrate, as snow patterns
…….on glass and the clock with its’ ghostly
…….click, click, clicking; snow deepens
…….like a sauce thickening.
Church bells peel the New Year,
…….the edge of hope unwinds in long looping coils,
…….like midges dancing a soporific reel.


Tina Cole’s publications include: Aesthetica Review- Issue 9, Ragged Raven Poetry, Losing the Edge: Blinking Eye – Blood Line. Magazine publications in Mslexia,  Aesthetica, Red Ink, Decanto and David Morley’s Poetry Workshop as published in The Guardian. She belongs to a small group of writers called The Border Poets and is involved in a number of local readings and poetry festivals.


Artwork: NancyvandenBoom

Winter nights

Outside the house with its fire-lit room,
curtains closed, light leaking from slits,
this quadrant of the universe is layered with meanings,

as though The Plough were stored above the little stone barn
and, to take aim with his bow,  Orion with his belt
had to kneel in my vegetable garden. A gibbous moon

frosts the ground,  its gaze searching
through the library of stars – their  narratives
hidden when rain dawns.

Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin lives on Dartmoor. She is a creative writing tutor, a gardener and runs a market stall. Her poems have been published over the years in a variety of magazines and just recently in anthologies: Exeter Poetry Stanza’s Making History, Moor Poets  vol 3, Lines under Water, The Broadsheet.  Her poetry collections are: River is the Plural of Rain (Oversteps Books, 2009);  A Handful of Water (Cinnamon Press, 2013). Her second novel, What the horses heard, is to be published by Cinnamon in the spring of 2014. Click here for her website.