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.