In an attempt to convey a slight sense of what yesterday’s lunchtime poetry performance with Lemn Sissay was like, I have decided to compare him to a steam train (bear with me on this!)
He began with a loud welcome whistle, at times chugged calmly along, at other times, blew off a little steam (as all good engines inevitably will). He rattled along the tracks at speed, slowed for a few unexpected bends and deftly followed forks as and when they appeared en route. All in all, Lemn Sissay (‘Sis-say’) took us all on a rapturous, rambunctious and most enjoyable journey in the Verbal Arts Centre’s Blue Coat Room – a performance to remember.
For anyone not aware of his story, everything you need to know is here, including some recordings, for I think this is a poet you really have to see in action. Everyone reads poetry differently but in no way was I expecting to hear poems read as they were yesterday, which, for me, only goes to show that there’s nothing better than experiencing a performance poet’s work direct from the source.
I can’t remember every single poem read but we began with a lively, energetic performance of a poem about rhythms, which sparked the session off like an exploding firework. There was also a love poem, I think entitled ‘Invisible Kisses’ (‘everything that happens during a poetry performance is part of that performance – for example, I read a poem about love and three people walk out’), a poem about hanging on to what you believe about yourself when all others are trying to make you let go (then you realise you were actually growing wings the whole time and can let go anyway and still be yourself), children’s poems, a poem on war and myriad others. It’s just a snapshot of the sheer variety of work produced by this great poet.
But then, do we actually believe we’re all that great if we have no-one to be great against…? As he said himself, Lemn has appeared A LOT in the national press and yet, even when adorning the front page and labeled a magnificent success, it didn’t necessarily mean what one might have expected it to mean to him, given his history of living in care.
Throughout yesterday’s performance, there were many fluctuations between the poems, including snippets of Lemn’s personal story, anecdotes and asides, but, although he said it was a little more disjointed than his usual sessions, in my opinion it made the event no less enjoyable and heartfelt. One particular thing I liked was when a student asked him at the end who his favourite writer was. He did give an answer after some thought but then said that in actual fact, despite reading many writers, he can just never seem to pluck a name from his head when posed the question. I loved this, as I’m exactly the same – I can read books until they come out of my ears but, asked to pick a favourite story or author and my mind goes completely blank! And then there’s the literary snobbery that often goes with this loaded question… are you reading the ‘right’ authors – the best books for this circle of people to admire…?
Anyway, I would seriously recommend looking this guy up – you might just be inspired.
And by the way – angry people are people looking for love and children in care are super-heroes.
If words and ‘why’ were clouds and sky
and letters fell like rain
I’d scoop them up (in my favourite cup)
I’d take a gleeful, gulping sup
and saturate my brain.
For writers rightly ravish rain refreshingly resplendent
with dark, descriptive diamonds dripped deliciously dependent.
If this indeed did happen
people wouldn’t sneeze and sniff,
Instead they’d watch and wonder
they’d think and ask and ponder
and look both here and yonder
and ask – perchance, what if…?