Apr 5, 2019

Poet Lemn is ‘inspiring speaker’

If ever there was writer who used poetry to help him overcome the real difficulties of his life, it is Lemn Sissay, one of the UK’s best known poets. And he believes that poems play a bigger part in everyday life than most people realise.

‘Poetry is a bridge between the spiritual and the physical,’ he said during his recent interview on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, ‘That’s why it’s in the Bible, it’s in the Koran and the Buddhist faith uses it.’

Poetry may not be at the forefront of people’s thinking, but often at weddings, funerals or at gatherings to celebrate the birth of a new child – even when someone is leaving a place of work after many years – someone will step forward with a poem. 

Those who go to see Lemn at St James on Saturday 4 May at 1 pm will see that he is not just an acclaimed poet, he is a moving and inspirational speaker, about his work and his traumatic early life.

His mother, who was a student from Ethiopia, came to Britain and when she found she was pregnant, she had her baby, Lemn, and gave him up for fostering. She wouldn’t sign the adoption papers because she knew that she wanted him back but when she tried to get him back a year later she was denied.

Lemn was long-term fostered from a baby until the age of 12 by a Lancashire family. He regarded them as his family and was happy. Until one day, when he was 12, the family decided that he was getting too difficult and he was suddenly taken into care, a children’s home.

Not only that, but the foster family told him that from that day they wouldn’t write to him or be in contact in any way.

Lemn survived his time in care, with all its problems and cruelty, and by the time he was 13 he was writing poetry to help make sense of his predicament.

 It wasn’t until he was 17 that he was shown two bits of paper, a birth certificate which showed him for the first time that his real name was Lemn Sissay, and a letter to the social services from his birth mother pleading to have him back – dated the year after she gave him away.

In the same year, Lemn self-published and sold his first collection of poems, Perceptions of the Pen , selling it to, among others, striking miners.

These days, Lemn Sissay MBE is renowned for his strong, lyrical poems on social and family themes. He was official poet of the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 FA Cup and is Chancellor of the University of Manchester.

His appearance on Desert Island Discs, speaking about his experiences of emotional and racial abuse in the UK care system and his search for his Ethiopian birth mother, is one of the most moving in the programme’s history.
He described himself as a ‘sparky intelligent child – I was dying to soak in everything’, but admitted that the creative pulse of many people is not realised because their opportunities are limited. ‘They are not well served by society.’

The Guernsey talk will centre on Lemn’s most recent publication, Gold from the Stone: New and Selected Poems. He will also speak with passion about his early life and how the care system could be improved.



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