Friday, 20 March 2015

Lemn Sissay at Lawnswood

                    Photos: Richard Wilcocks
Richard Wilcocks writes:
Pinned and Blu-tacked on walls everywhere in Lawnswood School were elaborate posters anticipating the arrival of Lemn Sissay. He might not be your actual Messiah - he would find a loud laugh in that - but the idea could have flitted through your mind if you had seen the faces or heard the excitement of the lucky fifty from all years who were able to fill the drama studio, which had been carefully prepared for the visit of the international poetry maestro. He did not disappoint. Understatements are a good way to curb excessive, repetitive praising or too much gush, but believe me it is difficult to use any whilst reviewing this performance, and I am backed up on this by the comments of the audience.

With Head of English Amanda Stevenson
 "I don't know how this gig got past my agent," he joked. "I don't do many schools." If that is true, it's a pity, because schools need people like him, desperately, afflicted as they are by the policies of those in power who regard the Arts as optional extras in the educational establishments used by the majority of our young people. Private schools appear to think otherwise. "The Arts" (a singular entity for him, with a capital A) "is central to who we are. It's not something crazy or just messing about."

 "We artists think non-linearly... consider all the great scriptures of the world, the Bible, the Quran, Buddhist texts, the stories, the pictures, the sculptures... the use of the Arts as communication." He called attention to a fact that should be obvious but isn't to some - that the Arts can form the basis of a career, stimulate the economy, in other words it is essential to society.

Then his proselytising beam was turned on to poetry, "the voice at the back of the mind... that's where the real conversation of me is... it's where I really am... I've always written poetry, even when I was inside my mother's womb." He elaborated on this last claim at length, to the audience's delight. Humour gets it across most times, as every good teacher knows. He used it frequently: "I'm an MBE...  Mancunian Black Ethnic... poetry is all around us, like on gravestones, but some of it could be edited... I once took a chisel into a graveyard and improved on some of what I found... when I was a child I was thought to be the Devil's spawn... I didn't know another black person until I was eighteen." He briefly snarled and foamed like a possessed character in a horror film. He apologised for possibly hitting some of the front row with spittle. He jumped about like a strange creature from a cartoon. He came back to his childhood, his formative years.

From Lancashire, but also from Ethiopia and Eritrea, he was adopted by strict (white) Baptists, after his mother, who thought she was putting him up for temporary fostering, was misled by a social worker. He was named Norman. A tiny tremor of disgust passed through him as he told us this. "They had to give me the documents when I was eighteen. I found my true name. Lemn means 'Why' in Ethiopian. It's unusual. I was twenty-one when I found my mum...  and I soon found all my other relatives and of course they're all over the place and some of them don't speak to each other. In other words I've now got a family just like everyone else's. Disfunctional!" We were reminded of all the fictional characters who were fostered, like Harry Potter.

He moved to racism and stereotyping, about the people he meets who think he's an expert on rhinos because he's African, or who want to touch his hair, or who ask him if he's got any Rizlas. He mentioned that the earliest human bones were dug up in Ethiopia not that long ago. "She is known as Lucy. This means that we are all immigrants!"

"You've got to be present inside your poem," he said, and gave us two of his own, every syllable treated as valuable - Suitcases in Muddy Parks and Invisible Kisses. "I have performed Invisible Kisses around the world at weddings. It's a poem to tattoo on the head of your loved one, on the forehead, when they're asleep. Backwards, so it can be read in the mirror when they wake up."

Lemn is currently writing a new comedy for BBC TV.

Listen to Adventure Flight, his poem commissioned by the Football Association.

Audience comments:

I really enjoyed this and he made me think about all the things we often aren't allowed or given time to think about. Thankyou.

Really interesting. The poetry readings were maybe the best or just the comedic side.

His energy and stage presence!

I thoroughly enjoyed the full event and the reading of Invisible Kisses was beautiful. I'm very glad to have had this opportunity.

His energy on stage was great. His life story was enjoyable and his inspirational wisdom.

Hearing his views on how art is such an important part of our lives was the best thing - and that whatever you do as a career you can still be a poet or an artist.

I enjoyed it. I most enjoyed the poetry reading.

He was entertaining. Very funny.

He was very funny and had great presence on stage.

The best part was about his life and how he read, and how he accepted any questions.

Was amazing (emoticon) - truly inspiring. Thankyou so much!

I enjoyed the event. Very educational.

His poems were exhilarating and inspiring!

I enjoyed the 'open' feel of it. It wasn't scripted or scheduled.

I love how he was so himself whilst he was performing and everything he said captivated me.

I really enjoyed it, it was better than I expected. He was funny and captivating and I have definitely learnt a lot.

It was inspirational the way he loves what he does. I just wish there was more time. It was amazing.

Entertaining, engaging, inspiring. Each and every student will take away some of these wise words and remember them forever. (Teacher)

I enjoyed the way it seemed he was directly speaking his thoughts as they came. The side-tracking made it feel unrehearsed and showed his passion for what he was saying.

Art/The Arts is the most powerful thing within us.

Lemn was a very original speaker, inspiring us all to write poems from our hearts.

I enjoyed hearing about his past life and about the experiences he has gone through. Made him seem like a real person. (emoticon)

Inspirational and honest work.

His life story was inspirational.

The whole experience was incredible. Lemn really encouraged me to follow my dream of a career in the arts.

I found the emotional things about his childhood the best. I felt the emotion from my past and childhood. It was touching.

I really enjoyed it and I think he was really good.

I found that this was quite intriguing.

I really liked this event because Lemn's speech was very moving and inspirational. It made me feel like I could take my career interests seriously. He was also very funny and entertaining. I liked his poetry because it was very meaningful and provided wonderful imagery.

1 comment:

  1. More than a review of some grand performance at the Royal Albert Hall this review lifts me. Thankyou.