KARACHI, Dec 9: War, creativity, multiculturalism, immigration, racism and family were only some of the topics discussed when UK-based poet Lemn Sissay ‘performed’ some of his work at The Second Floor here on Saturday evening.
Lemn Sissay was in Karachi courtesy of the British Council and had previously conducted a workshop on writing and performance poetry at the Karachi University.
He will be conducting a workshop in Rawalpindi as well. Pakistani author, Bina Shah, moderated the event.
“The great stories of our life are transported through literature,” he said giving examples of various religious scriptures followed by millions of people all over the world.
Talking about having a ‘voice at the back of his head’ telling him what to write and being perceptive about your environment, he said: “People need to learn to shut up and listen. They need to employ the skills of listening and feeling.”
His approach to performing poetry caught most people in the audience unaware and his quirky yet insightful comments and responses drew a lot of appreciative laughter during the course of the evening.
He performed several poems, one of which was Remember how we forget, an anti-war poem targeting media and state propaganda that tries to justify to its viewers and citizens the reasons for going to war.
He spoke about the fear of the foreigner, racism and paranoia propagated in pro-war media hype. His poem asked to remember some of the wars that had recently been fought. It concluded with a line that stated: “You are totally stoned on war.”
Immigration RSVP was also a poem that he presented. Lemn Sissay said he had originally performed this poem at an event for the British National Party. Immigration RSVP talks about how every aspect of a British person’s life, from the cars they drive to the shoes they wear, comes from a foreign country.
Talking about immigrants, a line in the poem says: “You say you are afraid they will overrun you. But I’m afraid they already have!” At this point he looked at the audience and exclaimed: “You can come with me to England and we’ll all be multicultural together!”
Talking about creativity and performing a poem (as opposed to reading it) Lemn Sissay said: “We have a biased idea of what a performance is. We’re locked in the idea of binary opposites — either you have it or you don’t. That is the opposite of creativity — you can use it in your life without knowing it. I believe you can have your cake and eat it too!”
He also performed a love poem called Invisible kisses and a poem on demand by a member of the audience called Black is.
A short clip from a documentary by the BBC titled Internal flight was screened. It showed Lemn Sissay’s personal journey towards finding his birth mother. It showed his years in foster care with a couple that were strict, devout Christians to being sent to a state-sponsored children’s home at the age of 12. Of the conditions at the facility, he narrated a couplet: “We might have been all children, but this was not a children’s home.”
Finding his biological family was important for him, he said, as it helped in “proving the existence of my childhood and shaping the existence of my future.”
“The base of a family,” he said, “is to prove that the other person exists. Something he usually found very hard to explain to someone who has always had a family.