‘Gold From the Stone’ was a powerful performance of poetry and personal musings, featuring Lemn Sissay, the Chancellor of the University of Manchester.
Sissay talked of his own experience in the care system and the problems with the institution, such as the issue of care workers saying “I’m in this job because I love children”, never I love you in first person, and which leads to confusion as to why children in care have attachment difficulties.
Sissay seemed to be overflowing with comments and thoughts to share with us. So much so, that he frequently interrupted his own poems to continue or finish a thought. Sissay’s interludes were just as entertaining as the poetry readings. He was able to command a bare stage with a microphone stand and music stand for his books of poetry.
The performance was informal in the nicest way. He chatted animatedly to us as he flicked through his multiple books to find the next poem. The whole performance was organic and casual, a chance to get to know this poet and performer and hear his thoughts.
The first poem he performed was ‘There Is A Rhythm’. Sissay’s ability to switch from comedically conversational to hair-raising performances was astonishing. At times Sissay’s voice would swell close to singing and at others, drop to a whisper or swap from spoken word style to ‘classic’ reading. ‘Invisible Kisses’ was a standout, a well-known poem that is often read at weddings. Sissay’s performance was beautiful, emotional, and genuine.
Sissay held focus throughout the show, whether with self-deprecating physicality playing air guitar or reaching towards the audience as he performed his poems (practically from memory).
I admired his ability to relax into his poetry readings and not focus on perfection in delivery. The Q & A portion of the evening proved illuminating, as Sissay elaborated on his experiences as a child in care, saying “I think adoption is the greatest thing a human being can do for another.”
This, along with his simple comment: “I believe in Camila Batmanghelidjh” alluding to the controversial demise of Kids Company, explained so clearly his stance on the care system, its failings and its importance.
Sissay was a singularly unique presence and hugely likeable. This performance was unapologetically personal, deeply moving, darkly humorous, and thoroughly enjoyed.