“…a remarkable performance…”

Eve reviews ‘Open Sky and Harp’ performed by Joe Carrick-Varty and Olivia Jageurs

On Saturday 29th of June 2024, the Ledbury Poetry Festival welcomed poet Joe Carrick-Varty and harpist Olivia Jageurs to perform a unique, hour long piece fusing music and poetry curated by Stephanie Sy-Quia. This piece was based on Carrick- Varty’s poetic sequence sky doc from his 2023 debut poetry collection More Sky. The collection was shortlisted for the 2023 T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize and awarded The Irish Times Book of the Year. Sky doc is a long sequence of over 60 interrelated poems which explores themes of suicide, fatherhood, trauma and inheritance.

Held at Burgage Hall, the event was well-attended with around forty attendees, both seasoned festival goers and newcomers. As the start of the performance neared, there was a shared excitement and intrigue amongst the audience. The historic architecture and high ceilings of Burgage Hall combined with the onstage presence of the harp contributed to the confessional quality of Carrick-Varty’s poetry as he addressed an absent, deceased father figure.

After a short introduction from Carrick-Varty explaining the structure of the performance, a continuous reading without breaks in-between poems, Jageurs started playing her solo composition which ebbed and flowed with the rhythm of the poems. The soft melodies of the harp immersed the audience into the piece, heightening the emotional, haunting nature of Carrick-Varty’s words. Carrick-Varty’s delivery was measured and understated yet confident and powerful, guiding the audience through sporadic episodes drawn from the speaker’s lived experiences as he navigates the psychological impact of a dysfunctional, fraught upbringing compounded by suicide.

The simple, recurring tune of Jageurs’s harp complemented Carrick-Varty’s main refrain which opens each poem ‘Once upon a time when suicide was…’. Suicide seeps into every aspect of the speaker’s life, underlining his inescapable, pervasive trauma and his fear of emulating his father’s behaviour. Recurring motifs like the sun, the sky, blue whales, lavender and shoes connect poems which move between different focuses, chronologies and characters. Together, they construct a story which shows the journey of a son comprehending his abusive, alcoholic father’s suicide. The poems alternate between more abstract and metaphorical explorations of the speaker’s interiority, “suicide promises/ to smuggle me home a piece of sun” and raw, unflinchingly honest and straightforward statements such as “The first person / to punch me in the face was my dad”. These vivid images work together to reflect the difficulty of reconciling innate, filial love and the impact of lived experiences.

Throughout the duration of the performance, the audience were taken into a contemplative, thoughtful state of mind. At the end of the performance, Carrick-Varty and Jageurs were met with a long, appreciative round of applause, leaving audience members moved and reflective. ‘More Sky and Harp’ was an emotional and impactful experience, often hard-hitting and confrontational dealing with difficult, stigmatised issues. The careful, beautiful combination of music and poetry created a remarkable performance which was powerfully executed with emotional charge and nuance. Joe Carrick-Varty is already gaining recognition with his debut collection and is an exciting, innovative figure to track as he continues to build his reputation in the contemporary poetry scene. The overwhelmingly warm audience response to this performance sparks hope for more partnerships between poets and musicians to produce new, inventive, and stirring pieces.


Eve Hutchinson is an English and Creative Writing student progressing into her final year at the University of Birmingham. She is a prose and poetry writer with a developing passion for screenwriting and interested in creating character-led pieces examining contemporary social issues. Eve is a seasoned member of the ‘Writer’s Bloc’ university society, regularly attending the Grizzly Pear Open Mic night in Selly Oak and is a writer for the Redbrick newspaper. During her spare time, Eve can be found reading a new book and likes to attend local theatre performances.

Previous Post
Next Post
Queer Latinx Poetry