Anna Brizzolara is a student on the YSJ Creative Writing MA who has recently been focussing on Critical Approaches to Creative Writing. This is Anna’s review of Lemn Sissay’s recent poetry reading at Manchester Literature Festival. Sissay’s adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis is coming to York Theatre Royal 10th-14th October 2023.
I wanted tickets to see Zadie Smith.
That’s how I found Lemn Sissay.
He shared the programme for the Manchester Literature Festival alongside Zadie’s sold-out event.
Lemn hosted an evening at ‘Home’. Home, a theatre, gallery, independent film screen and all-round centre of creativity and culture that had a cosy, community feel. It opened in 2015 in the heart of Manchester; relaxed, no fancy wine list, plenty of craft beer and pots of pic ‘n’ mix. Volunteers in printed T-shirts smiled, ushered you along brushed concrete corridors and showed you to your multi-coloured upholstered seats.
I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Lemn was there to celebrate the launch of his new book, ‘Let the Light Pour In’. In typical writing-student-fashion, I had quickly acquired one of his books and attempted a deep dive before seeing him live. Lemn published his first poetry collection, ‘Perception of the Pen’ aged 17 which he sold to striking miners in Lancashire and I learned his words decorate streets and buildings across Manchester.
He took to the stage and immediately connected with a previous patron who was sat near the front row. The patron, it was revealed, had contributed to Lemn’s poem ‘Flags’ being engraved on the stones of Tib Street in a bid to draw people back to Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
Lemn’s conversational introduction and the reminder of his personal, established connection to Manchester set the scene for his reading. The audience settled under his spell and became accustomed to his Northern accented storytelling. He had various books on his lectern with sticky notes poking out. He flitted from his new work to his old pieces, and I cheered along as ‘Invisible Kisses’ was dedicated to those amongst us who had shared the poem at their wedding. ‘Mourning breaks’, I was hooked on the rhythm of his words and when he drop-kicked the final few lines I was on the edge of my seat. Amongst these tested favourites we learned how the new collection had come to be and the story behind it.
“I wanted to hear more poems,” I overheard someone say as the audience filed down the brushed concrete corridors. I could understand the sentiment but as a Creative Writing MA student I had been satisfied. Almost.
I left Home with a copy of ‘Let the Light Pour In’ and I devoured it on the train on the way home. I’ve since noticed Lemn Sissay and his work everywhere. I’ve also noticed that my exploration of his work is under the veil of my current Creative Writing MA Module, ‘Critical Approaches to Writing’.
Would I have thought before about why Lemn wrote to an audience of miners? Would I have attempted to write four-line poems with a rhyming second and last line like he does each morning? Would I have admired his power of language over the playground of his page? Would I be conscious of how I have discovered Lemn and how that has led me to find, read and write new work?
Probably not, but that’s the magical world of writing. One writer leads you to another.
Courtesy of York Theatre Royal I’ll be experiencing Lemn’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s ‘shocking tale of cruelty and kindness – Metamorphosis’ next week.
This time I’ve booked my ticket in plenty of time and Franz Kafka’s ‘Letters to Milena’ has already caught my eye. He’ll join the gang along with Zadie and Lemn and I’m looking forward to who comes next.