Sun Beats 1: Eco Poetry Night

Christopher Sharp


As students from both Falmouth and Exeter University settled after January deadlines so to did another small crowd to an evening of poetry from four established poets, Nancy Campbell, Causely resident Isabel Galleymore, , Sophie Herxheimer (Founder of The Poetry School in London) and Nathan Thompson. Organised by Sarah Cave and Anna Cathenka this would very much be an evening of two dynamics, audience on poets professional and audience on poets novice with an small open-mic night planned after the main event. The theme of the evening was Ecology, fitting for a county and indeed campus that strives for green initiatives.

Treated as we were to poetry both varied and elusive it was Nancy Campbell, winner of the Birgit Skiöld Award in 2013 who got us off to a fleetingly eloquent start as silence fell on the Performance Centre Café. We were taken to the Arctic Circle in her work as she used the people to talk about the icy world they inhabited. Among her work a personal favourite was The Believers while The Seal People took the crowd and held its attention with Campbell’s cool delivery enhancing the frozen subject matter. Overall, a well-balanced, well-delivered performance showing off a mind fully imbued with the topic at hand.

From the frozen wastelands of the Arctic to the forests of the midlands and further South to London suburbia were we taken by Sophie Herxheimer; artist, founder of The Poetry School in London and creator of a three-hundred metre tablecloth art installation in 2010. Alongside an assortment of ecologically minded poetry Herxheimer was accompanied with a 30 metre long book, a result of her time spent in a forest with each poem resulting from stories she had gathered of the forest from the general public. Disturbing Mother and the three stage, The Remote Hut they put me in, like Campbell’s work, took the everyday and extrapolated it to degrees that warmed the room and rose to the ceiling a giggle of inspiratory mirth. To the streets of Herxheimer’s past were we taken with a couple of poems based on the life of her mother (a German Jewish Refugee) and done in voice, that evoked movingly the thoughts of a refugee in 1940s Waterloo. Such is Herxheimer’s style several snippets followed and the ecology flitted from Venice to Waterloo until we rested on a washing machine and the ecological life of a skirt in the wash. Decent Skirt was indeed a decent work, a break from the theme of the evening but which created an even whole. Herxheimer, like Campbell, will return again when Sun Beats reconvenes.

Isabel Galleymore was the youngest amongst the evening’s poets but with the success of her book Dazzle Ship, that cross references our world to the natural world, she is onto great things. As it was we returned to the forest with a poem that examined the unfortunate habit of young sloths who, when climbing a tree, mistake their own arms for a branch. A short, witty poem that exhibited a brief fall from grace settled the audience into their seats after the fifteen minute intermission for a cordial cake and coffee. Galleymore’s favoured ecological location was the ocean floor The Limpets and the drill tongued Wilk and Sea Horse exemplified this preferred location. Galleymore’s poems are short and sharp, quality over quantity. This shines through; each line is carefully thought out yet each syllable punches above its displacement.

Climate change, a theme that ran through Campbell’s work also ran through Galleymore’s as an evervesent presence. Both artists it seemed were trying to approach the problem of climate change but from different angles. Campbell concentrated on the experience itself, the death, the unpredictable tragedy while Galleymore took a romantically abstract opinion in that climate change varies depending on how we approach it mentally as opposed to how we simply think about it.

After Campbell’s icy wilderness, Herxheimer’s suburban T.A.R.D.I.S and Galleymore’s trip to into the unknown depths came Nathan Thompson who started off the final quatrain of the evening with three poems from his collection The Day Maybe Died. The poem metaphorically opened out before us as the lines, “I’m haunted by the sun setting lower. The material retains further information” were delivered in Thompson’s monastically experienced vocal tone. In keeping with the ecological theme Bringing back the outdoor life and Pastoral followed in quick succession before Thompsons’ most recent and longest sonnet sequence. Composed last year, A short trip to emptiness quoted Sandra Reeve and Phil Smith and brought us through a philosophical ecology of suburban situations until the end when we were left with a harrowing sense of nostalgia emanating from the verses that echoed throughout pillars of the Performance Centre.

A worthy end to a wonderful evening and, alongside Campbell, Herxheimer and Galleymore worthy of repetition when Sun Beats 2 convenes again in March.