tue 27/02/2024

Lemn Sissay, Brighton Festival review - a mesmerising sermon of performance poetry | reviews, news & interviews

Lemn Sissay, Brighton Festival review - a mesmerising sermon of performance poetry

Lemn Sissay, Brighton Festival review - a mesmerising sermon of performance poetry

An ambient vision of personal politics, delivered with wit and warmth

I first heard – or rather saw on paper – the work of Lemn Sissay in an English literature lecture hall in the late '90s. As a fresh faced first year uni student, coming firmly from the school of Pablo Neruda, it was quite a departure from my norm.

It soon became clear that this was poetry to be heard, not read. It’s taken me 20 years, but my path has finally bought me here, to Sissay’s set at the Brighton Festival.

Opening with Morning Breaks, a moving, rousing poem about learning to fly when you didn’t even know that’s what was happening, he jokes about the kinds of characters in the audience – the ones napping; the ones trying to categorise his work into little boxes; the ones craving structure and the ones asking for more poetry. I’m not entirely sure which one I belong to, but the jokes, the playfulness between pieces puts you at ease, makes you feel like you don’t have to be of superior intellect, or from a certain background to understand.

We hear Invisible Kisses, There Is A Rhythm, Suitcases and Muddy Parks, Gold From The Stone, Dysfunctional and a very sweary poem to his old social worker. Sissay's charisma, delivery and honesty bring you right into the present moment. Arms outstretched or madly gallivanting around the stage, he keeps everyone entranced. He sings lines, makes sounds like a heartbeat pounding and slo-mos words. He plays with syntax. His eyes sparkle. Between poems he goes off on one about being single but not being able to go on Tinder, the politics of funding and his own story, about surviving the UK social system as a child.

What’s so incredible is that Sissay’s fight for survival is fundamentally different from mine and probably quite a lot of people around me, and yet we all felt what he was saying, applying his words, vigour, venom, vitriol and vision to our own lives. His words, and the delivery of them – at times hilarious, at times worrying, at times angry – unearthed laughter and tears from people who understood the fundamental truths he tells about family and society.

Poetry has always been my art. It has always been my religion. And now, I’ve finally found my preacher.

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