The Listening Forest is a publication of poems, prints and paper cuts by Sophie Herxheimer, made during her 2014-2015 residency in Rockingham Forest.
Sophie had been collecting stories on the concept of home at Barnwell Country Park the previous year as part of Habitat. Fermynwoods invited Sophie to trade her normal London scenery for the forest for a longer residency – this time collecting and drawing people’s stories about nature in front of their eyes.
Sophie describes her process as “a jaunty collision between therapy, sideshow, and performance”. With her brush loaded with ink, a conversation ensued. You don’t have a story about the woods? I’m sure you do. And soon tales of naked cyclists, bee stings in unfortunate places and barefoot running with deer materialised on the page. “What I choose to draw from their story, and what I choose to write down, is perhaps only 10% of what they’ve told me, so I have to choose the right bit, and that is poetry.” At the end of the conversation, the storyteller was handed a copy of the image they inspired and the original made its way into The Listening Forest.
The 110-page finished books were beautifully produced by The Henningham Family Press, alongside a 30-metre concertina incarnation featuring full-sized drawings. Taking their structure from the forest, paper cuts divide the books into appropriate section headings: noticings and changes of direction in path; strange sightings and confessions in undergrowth; the ordinary and everyday in shrub layer; revelations and insights in clearing; lofty thoughts in canopy; base material in floor.
When she finally escaped from the forest, Sophie described her residency as “a privileged timeless time”, collecting stories from Fermyn Woods Country Park’s Skylark Café, the transport gala at East Carlton Countryside Park and the coppicing volunteers’ log cabin in Corby’s Thoroughsale Wood, joining the Woodland Friends groups on litter picks and going for very long solitary walks.
In the evenings at the isolated Sudborough Green Lodge Sophie “made weird tasty dinners that no one else would like, got the wood burner going, then spent hours drawing, painting, doing nothing and the washing up.”
Coinciding with her Dad’s 90th birthday, the resulting Listening Forest was launched in 2015 at The Poetry Society‘s Covent Garden home, the Ralph Steadman Byron-scribed lampshades replaced with excerpts from Sophie’s forest poems.
“It’s a supportive network, so that when things get eroded, when there isn’t anybody to help you, if you have told me a story and that story gets out somewhere else, it still warms you with its distant fire; somebody heard you. It’s an indirect approach to creating community. It creates connections and empathy, and avoids the big spotlight on one’s own emotional journey which can be a sticky place for poetry. There’s an out-poetry and an in-poetry, and an out-art and in-art, and what I hope for with The Listening Forest, and this kind of work, is that it makes space for both.”
A limited number of the books are still available to buy from our store for just £15 each, including postage and packaging.
Catch up with our Fermynwoods Friday posts each week looking back on some of our favourite projects over the past 20 years of Fermynwoods Contemporary Art.