Karen Dennison’s Book of Sand: art from poetry – poetry from art

Using a short story by Jorge Luis Borges as a starting point for her project, my friend Karen Dennison has produced something quite wonderful — and I want to help spread the word about her  pamphlet  “Book of Sand”. 

designed, edited & published by Karen Dennison


Here’s a description, from Karen’s own website:

… 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.


The Links in the Chain: 

Poems by Emer Gillespie, Anna KisbySharon BlackValerie Morton, Abegail Morley and E.E. Nobbs. Artwork by Chris RustonMichaela RidgwayGwen 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

To buy click HERE


One of the artworks (from page 7) in Book of Sand:

Journey into the Woods #2 by Michaela Ridgway (click on image to enlarge) charcoal on white A2 cartridge paper




One of the poems (from page 6) in Book of Sand:

Into the Woods  by Anna Kisby

She was such a city girl
that when he wrote bring boots
she packed her calf-skin knee-highs
and thanks to the heel she flew

when she tripped on a root, rose
with a pigeon’s grace, upflipped and caught
the chipped startle of his face
before landing fallen-angel on moss.

Of course he thought her bird-brained
as she bare-foot stones, flapping for balance
across the foil of a stream, and when he bade her
drink she tasted blood.

When night fell she gagged on the leather
of the trees, so he named the stars seren,
tipped back her neck until her thoughts poured out
like tea from a pot and she could only mouth dipity.

She would never go back. She dare not
return to find the place ordinary –
but kept his invitation in her wallet
split along the fold of please come and bring

its torn edge under her finger, a feather.


And I Ask Karen Two Questions:

ELLY: One of the things I enjoy about your Book of Sand is the overall exphrastic design
you’ve chosen – with poets and artists responding to each others works. It seems to me that deliberately creating and showing this chain of responses mirrors  the importance of art, storytelling & literature to humans in general . And that the creating of one thing based on what’s gone on before is a necessity, an antidote, a life-line, a way forward… It’s a way to deal with the existential angst& un-mooring, nightmares & isolation of the human condition of Borges’ story where the one character muses about the huge conundrum we are faced with when faced with infinity: “If space is infinite, we are in no particular point in space. If time is infinite, we are in no particular point in time.”

Exphrasis is commonly used in terms of poets responding to visual art but it makes sense to me that exphrasis, more broadly, could be  any creative response to one art form by another art form. For example the first poem in Book of Sand is a poem by Emer Gillespie which responds to the Borges short story. In future editions of your series, might you consider different sorts of chains?
KAREN: That’s a really interesting question and I love what you said above about the Borges’ story and infinity. I liked the idea of starting with something that was neither poem nor artwork – a story is a really rich resource to mine for triggers and the Book of Sand title also appealed to me because it reflects the idea of one thing morphing into another, like the chain of responses contained within it. But you’ve got me thinking now that some of the responses  in the chain could be written reflections, flash fiction, short stories or even a piece of music or a short film. Multi-media is an area I’d like to learn more about in terms of embedding audio-visual material into digital magazines so that’s definitely an idea to explore. I’m also wondering about, for example, giving the same piece of art to more than one poet; I remember on the Poetry School’s Poetry and the Visual Course (tutored by Tamar Yoseloff) it was fascinating to see the different responses to the same image. I could also ask some of the poets to respond to a poem. If I did that I could also throw in some ‘rules’, such as to use the last line of the poem you’re responding to as your starting point.
ELLY:  I am thrilled to have participated in the project and to have a poem in the first book. My poem was in response to your artwork, and I enjoyed the challenge very much — it was exhilarating (and a bit surprising to me) how clearly your images gave me a starting point.  
How do you feel about what you’ve accomplished?
KARENI’m very happy with it and with the feedback from those whose work appears in it and from other people who have bought it. It’s a rewarding feeling to bring together creative work from different sources and to facilitate the creation of new poems and artworks. I enjoyed sending the artists/poets the responses to their work and the positive reactions. I also found being part of a collaborative project less nerve-wracking than being the sole author. The pamphlet is quite slim but the creative process takes time, particularly because of the linear nature of the chain and I also think that being small has its advantages – each piece hopefully gets the reader attention it deserves which is sometimes difficult (for me anyway) when I get a magazine that I intend to return to but somehow never do…

ELLY: Thanks Karen.

And the story will continue…  People who are interested in getting involved in future editions can click HERE for more information.  


Karen Dennison
Karen Dennison

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