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SATURDAY LIVE: Meet the Poet
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Lemn Sissay

Lemn SissayLemn Sissay is a writer and poet born and raised in the Manchester area. Now based in London – he moved for love not for money - Lemn is writer in residence at The South Bank in London. He is presently commissioned, (amongst various commissions), to write a poem that will be inlaid in sculpture in the heart of Europe’s richest financial district, The City. He has four previous poetry collections and is currently finishing his latest book of poetry “Listener”.  In terms of recording, Lemn wrote and recorded a poem on the award winning Leftfield album Leftism. He also presents documentaries on Radio 4, the last being a documentary on WH Auden’s Night Mail. He travels the world reading his poetry.

 Lemn's Official Website
Flashback At The Petrol Pump

No victory parade no ticker tape
Another insurgent to incarcerate
No anniversary of the victory day
No street parties to simply say
You went somewhere son, and won
You did what had to be done

Left right, turn around, about face
Left the world in one united state
It’s not like the 1st world war nor the second
It’s not like that his granddad reckoned
Not quite sure if he’s been had
So what did you do in the war dad

He’s seen cities blown up black hawks down
Black water surf boarding through ghost towns
His eyes well up in the forecourt, in his throat a lump
I can’t get petrol from the pump he whispered.
I can’t get petrol from the pump.

The Prince Who has no family (A Childrens' poem)

The prince who ahs no family watches all the others
Sisters with brothers and fathers with mothers
And he watches how they touch and how they shout
And he watches them stay still and fall out
Catching buses and trains and taxis and planes
The Prince who has no family stands in the rain

The prince who has no family watches the others
Sisters with brothers and fathers with mothers
He watches them laugh and sometimes cry
He watches them grow and sometimes die
He watches them coo and watches them call
He watches them doing things and no things at all

The prince who has no family watches the others
Sisters with brothers and fathers with mothers
He watches old hands holding young hands
And sees their footsteps pepper the sand
He watches them argue and he wishes it were true
That he had someone to argue with too.

Obama the farmer

You may be as popular as the Dhala Lama
You might be redressing a nations bad Karma,
The American star of it’s most popular drama
The election hero of the day in Teflon armour
But you don’t put down the farmer Obama
You don’t put down the farmer.

What you don’t do is smack round the head
The goose while it’s laying it’s golden egg
It’s small town people that make the big city glue
Why get stuck un-sticking all that stuff you do
It’s a directorial note for your electorial Karma
You don’t put down the farmer Obama
You don’t put down the farmer.

Active Measures of Disorientation: Extraodinary Rendition Training

Blindfold the insurgent, bring him to the helicopter, then take flight.
The shock shock shock shock shudder of wings corrugates his skin.
Tell the insurgent you will throw him out. Stand him at the edge
Hold his shoulders. Pretend to push him out. “Tell your mother save your life”
Is he crying? Ask him “are you crying” You’ve got to shout
Because because the helicopter blades are so loud see.”
Ask push him again “tell your mother save your life” but this time
Just as he thinks your pulling him back whisper in his ear “Nahhh..
And let him go, let him fall blindfolded into the sky.
Then bring the helicopter down to earth Down down to earth
land and walk up to his crumpled body.
Pick him up cause the helicopter’s only two feet off the ground!
Scares the life out of ‘em that does. Scares the life out of ‘em.

Don’t even mention the Geneva convention
Cause it’s, we believe an invention in narrative prevention
The phsycological warfare unit’s back in the frontline
War is all in the mind. War is all in the mind.
Gloves are off as we climb right in
Somewhere beneath the thought and the skin
You wouldn’t believe where we’ve been.
You’re mother neverloved you and you know it
And if your happy and you know it clap your hands

-Radio Silence-

What was I saying. Oh yeah that’s it
What’s your name. Tell me your name.

This poem, Fi, It’ll be about war and more of loss
It’ll be about counting love before cost
Or it’ll be about architecture, about the crumbling
About Ideas brought to their knees stumbling
Into streets: and the dust and a shocked childs face
This poem, It’ll be about Vibikas search or the Race
This poem, It’ll be about Buildings about the writing on the walls
It’ll be of white tears of water falls that ought to fall
In pools of “never again” a thought to all
It’ll build, this poem, it’l rise and fall
Like wings. It’ll edit itself into a carrions call

Cryptic I clipped it I contained it and shipped it

It’ll be about finding and fighting this poem
Whole cities burn alight in this poem
About bombs that explode into pink doves
It’ll be about love this poem about love
About kitchens appearing and sons building
It’ll be about the architecture of hearts filled in
It’ll be about bombs that explode into pink doves
It’ll be about love this poem: about love.

This poem: it’ll be about charachter assassination
Against nation against nation against nation
It’ll be about war this poem and lest we forget
It’ll be about something I remember an old old soldier said
In the arcitechture of his voice a barely audible crack
The heroes never came back, Lemn he said,
The heroes never came back.


It’s a pitter day a patter day
A little ray of Saturday

Has it been a bitter week
Little flaming bitter week
A great week a good week
A whole lot of love week
A weak week a tired week
A wake up and get fired week

It ends on the weekend end
On that you can depend
It’s a flatter day not a shatter day
A Throw it up and splatter day
A what the hey does it matter day
A lovely day an ugly day
Another day a lovers day
It’s a lost day a found day
A kids running round day
A splutter day a shutter day
A coast to coast utter day
Of toast and butter day
A hoping day a coping day
A stay in bed a joking day
A dark day a bright day
An I’m alright day
It’s a pitter day a patter day
A little ray of Saturday
A pitter day a patter day
A little ray of Saturday.

Elephant in the room

It isn’t what’s said, it’s what’s not said what says it all.
She Said.

The day you brought it home
I’ll never forget.
It was only seven foot tall then.
An elephant! I said.
Put it in the back yard.
Fine you said fine!
And disgruntled
Tied it to the washing line.

When you slept I’d pull back the curtains
Stand by the window and watch it.
A dark shadow. An iceberg. A hump filled the backyard.
Rising and falling with each deep gentle snore

Breakfasts were never the same again.
The elephant took up all the space
And had no table manners whatsoever
Although it was useful for the washing up.
Whevenever I broached the subject
You’d rant and rave and fume
Said I was going crazy, “There was no elephant n the room”.

But the saddest thing is not the crockery it smashed
Nor the walls it demolished of our past.
It wasn’’t its footsteps stamped all over our home
The cracked floorboards or its want to roam.
It was the lie established when I said it was there
For years you looked at me and said where dear.. where.

It isn’t what’s said it’s what’s not said what says it all.
She Said
Saturday Live
Al Gore's prize has been recalled and a recount commissioned.
To overhall the process of the original decision
Aparently the Noble judges fell out and fisticuffs ensued
The papers score system were slightly confused
There’ll be no contestation, it’s undeniable, the weekend's arrived
On the chit’s an uncontestonable tick, next to Saturday Live

“Now come on everybody smile,
come on smile” Click
Our lives are punctuated by this
Thousands of children in orphanages
Asked take my picture take my picture
And the response, negative.

Now one of them
as an adult looks back into her past
and there are none, no pictures
Neither photographers, nor time, nor place.
And when she turns to say “do you remember?”
There’s no one to..
If there is no proof she existed then
Did she.
And so she learned to incorporate
Her own invisibility in her adult life.
Persona non grata to her own past
An entire gallery of untaken photograph

Out in the world of families she grew to know
The click wind click wind click wind
Of every body else's every day life
All family is, she thought,
is a group of people taking pictures
Of each other over a life time.

And each person has a different angle
On the interpretation of each picture
And there are opinions and arguments
and great big nuclear fall outs about this.
And people think that that is what family is
They are fighting over the negatives
And someone won’t talk to someone else
Because someone else sees the picture
Entirely, differently. How easy families pixelate

But she knows that families that the nature of family
Is that it forgets that it was never about the interpretation
It’s about the fact that the picture was taken in the first place
And so after 45 years when she saw him, there
What developed, what focussed, as he looked at her
Was the decisive moment. Click.
Now smile . Come on you two . Smile.
Leaning Still
(first draft - construction is by no means finished but as it was on Saturday Live Sept 15th 07)

It’s a cylindrical pinnacle a layer cake
A fifty storey miracle of great
A symbol of a country a reflection of the hour
Man. He loves to build them . It’s a tower.
Look. It’s a tower, that what we look up to
We can walk inside to the top and its good to
When man is dying in his final hour
Build me a tower, he says, build me a tower.

When he has achieved and his day is done
Or fought the bloody war and the war won
He’ll rest weary hands, look upon the horizon
And identify a particular spot his eye’s on
He’ll say all I have done is good and for the good of man
I love my country and I cherish our blood can
You, before I leave this world in my final hour
Build me a tower.

And so towers are built and a dream solidifies
And its shadow reflects in the futures eyes
And like a sundial it encapsulates the time
And all the nation who see it say this is mine
A landmark’s only a landmark when claimed
And the public remember the place and name
But who’d have thought the central meaning
Was not the tower at all, but it’s leaning.

You’re a slow motion arm of semaphore
You’re not like you were before
You’re an entire countries metaphor
You’re beautiful with your sinking floor
And in slow motion gradation
The leaning love of a nation
Holds its breath as it’s symbol shifts
As taught reins lift and lift and lift
The builders words catch a nations love
Back a bit. Back a bittttttttt. Woah!!
that’s enough.
That’s enough.

Frequent Sea
Birthdays, like Airwaves lap upon the beach, see
It’s the frequent sea of Frequency
As the moon cross fades with the sun
And the static sound of the sea done
Four casts fortified forcasts
It’s broad net spins its broadcasts
Up the anchor raise the mast.
There’s many in the sea air, but the good ones last.

Dei Miracole
(This is a first draft and by no means a finished piece specifically for Professor John Burland Sept 15th 2007)

                     The spirit of structure, can’t be forseen,
For somewhere between
       The architecture and the dream 
                         More than the sum of its parts
                              Somehow, somewhere, the heart.

Airwaves transmit vocals translate
Emotions in transit transmigrate
Story transmutes and what transpires
Are transfinite transonic Choirs
The soldier, the teacher, the lover the storm
Don’t translocate, transform.

Red Sky In The Morning
Do the children inside pregnant women sleep?
And if they do, then do they dream?
And if they do then what?
This was not a night for dreams.

And tide and time wait for no woman.
She’ll know the storm. It is the birth
And if this is so then pregnancy is the calm before.
And it’s the most terrifying thing, this calm.

She can feel the rising tide from  inside
And hears the shhhhhhhhhh of oncoming  rain.
She even smells the sodden earth carried in air
Her breathing has changed. It’s the wind.
Her breath has become the wind.
And her skin has changed. It’s the earth.
And she swears that if she put her hand on the ground
moss might grow on her wrists, crows would nest in her hair
And if she screams the world may shake and men will cry.

The storm is here The storm is here
Smashing the window sills and locking the doors.
She passes children through broken glass
Into the sky, into tomorrow and she’s filling with water
- can barely breath the room swims around her.
She sees father and mother and her grandmother all
The wall clock spin away on frantic waves

she prays her children will hold on till tomorrow comes...

But her daughter, swims through that window,
Never to return.

and as she saw this she knew what it was to be a woman
To lose something and gain something in the same word
To be the centre of all things and on the perimeter
To be all powerful and all vulnerable
And in that moment the mourning the red sky dawn
Through the wreath, Good grief…A child’s born.

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