Ham&High Lit Fest: Sophie Herxheimer’s Velkom to Inklandt channels her late grandmother

Velkom to Inklandt: Poems in my Grandmother's Inklisch by Sophie Herxheimer

Velkom to Inklandt: Poems in my Grandmother's Inklisch by Sophie Herxheimer - Credit: Archant

Herxheimer will give a reading at the London Lit Live event on September 17 at the JW3

Artist Sophie Herxheimer is a self-proclaimed south Londoner. But her family has a special connection to Highgate, the place where they first settled after escaping Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II.

The 20th century objects and furniture they carried with them to England are the main themes of Herxheimer’s collection of thirty poems, Velkom to Inklandt. The artist will give a reading at the London Lit Live event on September 17, one of the events of the ninth Hampstead & Highgate Literary Festival at the JW3.

“The poems are written and read in my late grandmother’s voice. Even the title is a phonetic attempt at recreating her way of speaking,” she says.

She cherishes her relationship with what she calls “ghosts”.

“Every time somebody is an important part of us and they die, we incorporate them into our daily life. All those things they used to say, they still carry on saying them as they’re talking from inside your head.

“If I speak with a German accent, I’m embodying my granny, even though she died in 1980. That’s not supernatural, that’s my memory.”

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Herxheimer’s grandmother came to England as a refugee in 1938, bringing her family and an array of very strange objects and heavy furniture.

“I think they thought they were coming here and they’d have people over for tea so they had to have a posh tea set,” she said.

By reflecting upon those objects - some of which the artist has inherited today - the book conveys the idea of how ordinary can become extraordinary.

“A piece of dust is as special as a piece of furniture and a furniture is just an elaborate speck of dust. That’s what we all are,” she says.

Herxheimer will also showcase a series of black and white paper cuts she made to accompany her poems. The exhibition will be displayed in the lobby at JW3 during the whole festival.

“They’re black and white paper cuts of all sorts of objects: armchairs, lampshades, brandy glasses. I still live with some of my granny’s furniture.”

This lumbering legacy of material objects is nothing but a symbol of how much people could learn from their past, both as individuals and as member of a society

“What is important about the past is only how it reflects on the present,” Herxheimer says.

“It’s much more important in the way we look at it now as people who have a changing relationship with Europe because of Brexit, and an ongoing crisis with refugees and immigration.”

Past and present blend into Herxheimer’s unique way to create art and tell stories.

“I love stories and imagination as a place to go. I love all those little places you can go when you’re not caught up with your bank statement, Sainsbury’s and all that boring sh*t you have to deal day in and day out,” she says.

The power of imagination will be the crucial point of Herxheimer’s workshop at the JW3 on the September 13, just before the festival starts.

“I’m running a workshop on how to create a picture out of a poem you love in a sensory, instinctive way,” she says.

“You’d enter the poem with your eyes open and your senses alert. When you see the words on the page becoming objects, you’ll see them becoming images and maybe you could find a new way of creating that poem out of colour and texture.”

As a prolific artist, Herxheimer has been experimenting with several kinds of media, recently getting into baking crafty pies while on holiday with her children.

“I grew up in a very colourful, artistic house and it’s still all about playing for me,” she says.

“I like to play with voices, accents, paints, ink, pastry, it doesn’t matter as long as you get to play. I love my all-encompassing art.”

Sophie Herxheimer’s Velkom to Inklandt will be featured in the lounge throughout the festival, and her book of poems of the same name is published September 21 (Short Books, £12.99).

The Hampstead and Highgate Literary Festival runs from September 14 to 18 at JW3 on Finchley Road. A full programme can be found at: jw3.org.uk/litfest