3 links (poem-artwork-poem) from an exphrasis chain – excerpts from “free-fall” editor Karen Dennison

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on this blog. Over the winter, I’ve done more reading of various sorts … but I’m  behind on writing of all sorts — posts, poems … emails to friends etc etc

CLICK to make MUCH bigger!!

To get the my spring-time writing wheels turning again [ … but/and I am HAPPY to report that the weather has finally warmed up enough this week for me to be riding my bicycle to and fro work though still keeping my ears well covered…], I  have been wanting for a few months now to say something about free-fall — an exquisite book  produced (and edited) last year by my friend Karen Dennison. This pamphlet is small in size (only 20 pages)

— but big in every other way — big in concept, big in production quality, big in collaboration, big in creativity, big in skill,  big in enjoyment!


Here is how Karen describes free-fall  in the book’s afterword:


I like Karen’s important reminder that exphrasis can be all sorts of combinations. It does NOT have to be a written response (usually poetic) to visual art (which has been the most common definition).  It can be the reverse. Or it can be music responding to a poem or artwork, or artwork responding to music, etc etc etc 

And using the alternating chain approach, she shows us how magic can happen when artists & writers collaborate.

Free-fall has 7 authors and 7 artists. Of these,  only Karen provided both a poem, and an artwork — but she did NOT respond to her own work in either case. I asked Karen — Since you are the only person in free-fall who experienced both roles, what are your thoughts on these two ways of responding?

Karen replied: … Thanks for the question Elly. It was interesting to take on both roles. I think the key for both is finding a hook, a way to focus in on something concrete and to make a personal connection. With the painting that I responded to, because it was an image of a single tree I found it a great way to focus not just on the image itself and its singular visual qualities but also on what this particular tree might mean to me if it were real. With the poem I responded to I liked that it used a mixture of concrete and abstract terms. This gave me a lot of freedom in my response to try to evoke an abstract feeling whilst picking on the concrete image of the autumn leaves as a focal point. I initially tried to incorporate more than one image but felt that focusing on one meant for a stronger piece.

It’s fascinating how effectively the chain thing works. Themes, settings and characters keep transforming — reminding me of the stories of Ovid’s Metamorphosis . Because each artist or author  has only the previous work to respond to, the progressions feel like life itself, in some aspects … in the ways that each of us are limited in what we know and limited in what we can control (or indeed how much free will, if any we have),  but nevertheless we keep making decisions,  moment to moment. 

And in our lives, things keep happening, one thing leads to another …  but what happens and why, is the result of  innumerable variables. And as I enjoy and interpret the works in free-fall, I also think about how we humans yearn for some sense of coherence and patterns and meaning … and how these things can emerge in our communal stories and art.  

Free-fall offers these things. I have kept it handy for months, and often revisit it. There’s something very appealing about the alternating poems and images. I asked Karen if I could share here 3 “links” of the chain to give an example of the alternating responses.  And she agreed. Here are pages 10 (a poem by Rosie Sandler) & 11 (artwork by Sam Smith in response to the poem on page 10) from the middle of the book.

poem then image -CLICK to enlarge!

And below is the poem (by Alex Toms) on page 12 in response to the artwork on page 11:

poem after image – CLICK to enlarge!


IMHO, free-fall serves as an excellent example of — and inspiration for — others looking for creative ways to collaborate.

And starting in December, 2017 — for any new orders of free-fall, Karen will donate £4 to a charity for the homeless.

More information is here at Karen’s website – including the names of all the poets and artists and how to order. Be sure to explore the rest of Karen’s site and blog too. Lots to see.















  1. Interesting post, Elly 🙂
    I like the idea of this chain of responses.
    I see you’ve tabs for what you’ve been reading; I’ll be taking a look-see x


    • Thanks, Jayne. It’s the third book (each beginning with the last “link” of the previous) which Karen has edited and published, and they are wonderful! I had a poem in the first book of the series (which was exciting for me), and have all three books in my library. So I have been following the project with great interest. AND thanks for noticing my Reading Lists. This is my second year doing this and I find that it is motivating me to read more books!!! (Which amongst other things is good for my concentration & curiosity & copacetic-ness ) 🙂 x


  2. Paintings and photographs usually inspire me to write—my imagination wants to get inside of the images and recreate them somehow. What an interesting project for a book, especially the chain of artworks. Thanks for sharing! Hope you are enjoying springtime! Bike rides to work sound invigorating…


    • Thanks so much for your comments, Christine. And I enjoy keeping in touch a bit via Twitter with you. Yes, Karen has done a great job with this project (free-fall is the third book in the series, and with each book, the first line responds to the last link in the previous book). And what you said is also reminding me that artwork may be the way to help me get in gear again writing poems after the winter doldrums. And yes, the bike helps too… I call it my Purple Pony. I am NOT a long distance biker but it’s a great way to get around the city bit faster than my short legs can take me … and bike baskets are great inventions … 🙂


    • Thanks, Pam. Just now, this evening, I re-read your poem – “The night the reindeer left” and so have been spending a few minutes in the midst of its magic. I love how you take the powerful old man image in Hannah Willow’s pencil on paper artwork titled “The Lost God of the Hills” and how you create a wonderful and ongoing surrealistic tale. LOTS of energy. Love the ending. Love how you combine the imagery of antlers and trees. And lots of humour. And love how you get a child’s POV. It’s like a wonderful bedtime story!! And then Tara Pandey responds to your poem with a mixed media artwork – plaster of Paris, sand, pva, collage, acryllic and gold leaf “Bell Tree” which picks up on a couple of key elements in your poem but does not try to copy the story. Really exciting & satisfying. See I love having the excuse to keep revisiting the book 🙂 x


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