Lemn Sissay: “Going Places”

Image: Pixabay

After my first poetry post, I have since read two new poems. One being, “The Salutation” by Thomas Traherne (1636-1674), and the other, “I am” by John Clare (1793-1864). Although I enjoyed both, it was the fourth one I read that I felt the need to share.

The Poem

Going Places

Another
cigarette ash
television serial filled
advert analysing
cupboard starving
front starving
front room filling
tea slurping
mind chewing
brain burping
carpet picking
pots watching
room gleaming
toilet flushing
night,
with nothing to do

I think I’ll paint roads
on my front room walls
to convince myself
that I’m going places.

Immediate thoughts

Wow. No, seriously. That’s exactly what I thought. It might not be comprehensive, or insightful, but nonetheless, that is what I thought.

In these few lines and words, Sissay manages to convey a feeling not too dissimilar to what I have been feeling at the moment. Daily life when you have nowhere to go, or no distinct direction can be draining. The routines of life can suck the hopes and dreams out of you if you’re not careful.

With a form mirroring breathlessness urgency; this poem manages to bring to light the vulnerability of being young and trying to make it for the first time. Being a recent graduate trying to find work and not giving up on my ‘hopes and dreams,’ this poem really resonated with me.

The sense of repetitiveness it creates with alluding to routine human actions, “tea slurping,” “cupboard starving” and, “toilet flushing” mirrors the sometimes emptiness of being alive. The simple language reinforces this lack of variety that having a busy schedule can bring. Days are counted by how much tea you’ve consumed, and how much food you can eat from your cupboards out of boredom, rather than countless office dramas.

For me, as I am struggling to get a job, I am taking note of the more mundane things. As a result, I can empathize with the, “mind chewing” Sissay so portrays. Your mind is constantly “chewing” over not being good enough, comparing yourself to others and trying to fill your empty days.

For me, this is a poem about losing hope among the relentless mundane aspects of everyday life. It is a poem that feels vulnerable, lonely and sad. The fact the protagonist feels they have to “paint roads” on their walls instead of having a set path or journey, is revealing. I feel like every young adult, struggling to try and make it for the first time, can relate to the vulnerability which seems to be expressed in this poem.

Lemn Sissay

Before reading, I hadn’t heard off Lemn Sissay. But upon a quick google search, I realized I have read his work before. I am slightly familiar with, “Love Poem,”

You remind me
define me
incline me.

If you died I’d.

however, I had never visited his work properly, or taken the time to find out more about him. His work is exactly the kind of vulnerable, honest poetry that I love to read (and attempt to write.) Sissay had a difficult start in life, he was put in foster care between the ages 12-17 and upon leaving, used his unemployment benefit to self publish his own poetry.

Local authorities placed him in the care of a deeply religious foster family in Lancashire, as his birth mother (who came to the UK from Ethiopia) tried to pursue her own education back home. Being subject to abuse in care assessment centers and racial slurs; Sissay has used his poetry as an outlet to portray life in care and the still ever present stigma’s that are attached to having this background. As care leavers; these individuals are naturally assumed to not have the drive that other young people do. It’s a stigma and generalization that still remains.

He became the official poet of the London Olympic games in 2012, and many of his words feature on public monuments.

Image: The Guardian

As well as being a successful poet, Sissay is also the Chancellor of Manchester University and is a major advocate for increasing care leaver access to higher education. As a care leaver myself, this is a cause very close to my heart.

Austerity continues to affect Britain in many ways, but particularly among care leavers. Cuts to local governments have meant that foster careers and children’s center’s have received less grants over the years, and the support given to care leavers has been slashed. Stepping out of foster care for the first time as young adults, many of these individuals have no idea where to start in life and do not have a family network to support them.

The ‘life’ skills so many of students learn whilst we are at university; are simply not something many care leavers will have as they start independent lives.

I think Lemn Sissay is a real credit to the poetry world and to championing the importance of widening care leaver access to higher education. I’m sad I hadn’t heard of him sooner, but will no doubt be seeking out more of his work.

Daily prompt: “vast”

In response to, Your Daily Word Prompt, January 17, “vast.”

Vast,

adjective, vast·er, vast·est.

“of very great area or extent; immense:the vast reaches of outer space.of very great size or proportions; huge; enormous:vast piles of rubble left in the wake of the war.very great in number, quantity, amount, etc.:vast sums of money.very great in degree, intensity, etc.:an artisan of vast skill.”

Image: Pixabay

Empty hours loom ahead, like dark foreboding clouds that gather in clusters for the storm. Minutes take hours to go by and hours feel like days. All that is before and ahead, is the emptiness of time. Time is all we have in our short existence, but in the present during empty days and nights, it feels like it could never not be abundant.

When I close my eyes to get a moment of peace, I like to think of a dense forest, somewhere in Scandinavia. Somewhere where the endless stretch of trees stand before you and all that remains is the green depths of above and beyond. As far as the eye can see is a pure, green, and unspoiled landscape, too immense for the human mind to comprehend. This vision satisfies me somewhat.

But then I turn back to the present and all I have is numbers before me. And then, all I have is empty years and plentiful fears to carry me backwards and forwards.

Sleepless nights. Filled with tosses and turns. This is the moment most of all, where time appears to be endless. Everything slows down in the frustrating depths of the night when everyone is asleep. It always stands still, for that one moment when you wish it could ceaselessly stride ahead.

Time is vast. And vast is empty time.

This prompt reminded me of one of my favourite quotes from The Great Gatsby,

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

https://onedailyprompt.wordpress.com/2020/01/17/your-daily-word-prompt-vast-january-17-2020/   

Daily prompt: ardent

In response to Your Daily Word Prompt, November 6th, “ardent.”

Image: Violet Daniels

She noticed today, that autumn takes a lot to fade,

as every day

hues of red, gold, and bold,

burst as they are on display,

and even as they brush the ground on which they lay.

Some leaves cling onto the last stages of their fragile life,

whilst the wrath of the winter wind moves them ardently on.

The heat of the sun inflames the remainder of summer’s golden hue on those that remain, tightly bound to their ship of safety.

Ardent masses of golden warmth which remind us of those endless summer days long lost;

days spent dipping in and out of the warmth of the ocean,

As we glide with each other, always set in sync and in motion.

In a few circuits of winter’s clock, even those that impassioned themselves to safety, will be long lost.

Turned over gradually, until they form the ground’s blanket of moss.

She plummeted her way through Winter’s destruction, marveling at autumn’s ardent display,

always putting up a fight,

a final show of the fading, haze filled light.

https://onedailyprompt.wordpress.com/2019/11/06/your-daily-word-prompt-ardent-november-6-2019/

morning light

we are;

tighty bounded kernels, hidden beneath shielded sheets.

Nothing could ever appease the heat.

The heat of us.

The warmth of you balloons and deflates

It evolves; rolls like roller skates as they smooth over the pavements of high rise cities

It spreads and prizes into me like honey,

Smooth and quaint

it absorbs between you and I;

we never loose the heat of us.

We toss and turn together in the pale ice of morning light

Your arms, like the branch to a heavy tree, cascade around my middle, nice and tight.

It always feels right.

The heat of us.

We play and intertwine until the abandonment of morning light.

Together we float, like twined kites in the iridescence of night.

Daily prompt: suggest

Image: Pixabay

[In response to Your Daily Word Prompt, November 2nd, “Suggest.”]

You suggest the promise of a greater world for Britain. A one that is not divided on political parameters, but united by the commonality of the greatness of our country. You suggest it is better to leave the rest of the world behind, in favour of only maintaining our own lands and wealth.

You suggested on the steps of downing street back in the summer that all would be completed by the eve of Halloween. Three years of dithering and delay were to be resolved at the end of October. You suggested, remember?

You suggested to us, the diligent public, that your government would solve the greatest political challenge of our times, which has created far more division and hatred than that of which it aimed to solve.

Within your campaign for election you suggest to the people that you are, in fact, similar to us all. You are a normal person, watching the sport on a Saturday evening. You are a regular person who in fact, is chauffered around central London in a Jaguar worth over £300,000.

You suggest with your confidence and eloquent use of language and letter, that you are a competent man and politician, one who is good for our country and will take us forward.

Suggest is a key word here. Imperatively, suggest is never used to infer anything that is definitive, but hints at something not quite secure and the possibility of a plethora of illusions.

You sir, you are merely an illusion for us all.

https://onedailyprompt.wordpress.com/2019/11/02/your-daily-word-prompt-suggest-november-2-2019/