An Evening with Lemn Sissay at Hopwood Hall College

Sometimes when we see a poet perform we might see some new views, gain some insights, find some inspiration or even to learn something about ourselves.

Last night in Middleton it would be fair to say that watching and listening to Lemn Sissay we were privileged to find all of the above in abundance along with real depth of emotion and not a few laughs. The newly appointed Chancellor of the University of Manchester was on brilliant form and shared much of his own story and experience along with a great selection of his poems.

Lemn Sissay Books b
No cameras allowed in the auditorium so here’s a picture of two of Lemn’s books – purchased and signed on the night

In his own words he tends to be “non-linear” and in what appeared to be unrehearsed asides he would drift from the introduction to one of his poems into a chat about something from his life and then back again to eventually read the poem. Both his poetry and his comments were absolutely crammed with terrific insight and a great understanding of life.

Having been brought up in care he has a great understanding of the effects that the care system can have on young people and his thoughts on the Red Box (the “Break Glass in case of Fire” boxes) ought to be compulsory reading for all working on the care system as well as anyone involved in teaching young people. He spoke a great deal about the need for affirmation which we all share and the validation that family, and the search for family, can sometimes offer.

Alongside stories about his ethnic origin, the meaning of his name and some of the many places where he has performed he did of course read plenty of his poems. There were poems about inequality, sad poems, happy poems, a short poem “My dad is a pilot” about his Nigerian father, a single love poem “Invisible kisses” and even a children’s poem.

Lemn Sissay’s face is elastic, his voice madly flexible and his hands expressive. This was truly inspiring performance from a man who seems to thoroughly enjoy sharing, who has a quick incisive mind and wit and delivers it all in such a natural manner with little sign of an ego.

If a poet, a child grown up in care, a man with a social conscience and a man who exudes belief and equality; if such a man can be a university chancellor then maybe we really can make the world a better place.

I’m seriously enjoying dipping into the books I just had to bring home with me.

The event was part of Rochdale’s Literature and Ideas Festival 2015.