Introducing…Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay is an author of a series of books of poetry alongside articles, records, broadcasts, public art, commissions and plays. You may have come across Lemn’s landmark poem ‘Spark Catchers’ within the Olympic site, as he was the first poet commissioned to write for the London Olympics. Through his performances Lemn explores themes of identity, belonging and the resilience of young people.

From an interview in The Guardian:

Today, he lives in Dalston, east London. “I moved for love, not money,” he laughs and you can tell it is a line he has used before as he adds, subdued, that he is now separated. Once, he likened poetry to family – his way to make himself heard. He has no children – is that a regret?

“No – I mean… inshallah. I always said I wouldn’t have children unless I’d found my family. I was trying to protect a future child from my not having resolved my story.”

And is his story resolved?

He is not about to swank. Healing is slow. Therapy has been crucial. “There are people who have left me, who have told me: ‘Your story will kill you unless you find a greater story.’

“I’d go into meltdown in relationships,” he explains. “I couldn’t allow myself to be close to people or to my work. I’d be apologising or looking for rejection.” He has suffered self-pity and anger (“Some poems are like lions that roar out of you”). He hangs on to the belief that “creativity is the heart of what it is to be human”.


What makes your heart sing? 

What makes my heart sing. Love makes my heart sing. Falling into it.  The smell of summer.  A track called “Says” by Nils Frahm.  My life makes my heart sing. It could sing like Tom Waits or The Polish Symphony Orchestra, Like Bob Marley or John Legend.   

What makes your heart sink? 

Selfishness. Hatred of others. Miscommunication. And when you drop your iPhone down the toilet and instinctively throw your had into it. I mean THAT is a heart sinking moment.  

This year’s festival theme is Love, so what does love mean to you? 

Daft question. Love is everything. Anger is an expression in search of the stuff. Love makes the world go round and up and down and in and out and spiral like dolphins.  If my life has taught me one thing it’s that  love is the fuel to get everything running. It is so obvious when someone hasn’t got it. We go a little crazy. We are basically love machines! Oooer.   

Is love the answer to the world’s problems? Or does it cause them? 

Love is the answer to the worlds problems.  If you think love is the cause of the worlds problems I think you should re-evaluate what love is. Emotions do not arrive with borders. We decide the borders and we can unlock them too. An adopting parent can have an equally loving relationship with her child than a birth mother. Love is powerful stuff.

Is love simply constructed by society to make us feel like there is some point to all this? Or is it a bedrock of the human soul?

Love comes in many degrees. I may “love” a conversation with the woman in the newspaper shop. I may “love” my football team.  I may “love ” my mother. I may “love” my friends.  There are degrees of love. It’s as deep and as shallow as the ocean.  But it is vast and touches all borders.

A Poem by Lemn Sissay


If there was ever one
Whom when you were sleeping
Would wipe your tears
When in dreams you were weeping;
Who would offer you time
When others demand;
Whose love lay more infinite
Than grains of sand.

If there was ever one
To whom you could cry;
Who would gather each tear
And blow it dry;
Who would offer help
On the mountains of time;
Who would stop to let each sunset
Soothe the jaded mind.

If there was ever one
To whom when you run
Will push back the clouds
So you are bathed in sun;
Who would open arms
If you would fall;
Who would show you everything
If you lost it all.

If there was ever one
Who when you achieve
Was there before the dream
And even then believed;
Who would clear the air
When it’s full of loss;
Who would count love
Before the cost.

If there was ever one
Who when you are cold
Will summon warm air
For your hands to hold;
Who would make peace
In pouring pain,
Make laughter fall
In falling rain.

If there was ever one
Who can offer you this and more;
Who in keyless rooms
Can open doors;
Who in open doors
Can see open fields
And in open fields
See harvests yield.

Then see only my face
In the reflection of these tides
Trough the clear water
Beyond the river side.
All I can send is love
In all that this is
A poem and a necklace
Of invisible kisses.

Lemn Sissay on Love