Lemn Sissay On His Radical Poem Born Of Heartbreak

Lemn Sissay MBE was born in Billinge. At 21, he was in love with and proposed to his then-girlfriend – a fellow student and New Yorker. When the engagement was called off, the poet travelled to her family home to make sense of what had happened and soon felt the weight of his situation compounded by the realisation that he had no family to turn to.

In the sixth episode of The Guardian podcast,  The Start, hear how the multifaceted emotional message of his poem Invisible Kisses helped Sissay shake off preconceptions about being a ‘radical’ black poet in the 1980s.

written by Lemn Sissay

If there was ever one
Whom when you were sleeping
Would wipe your tears
When in dreams you were weeping;
Who would offer you time
When others demand;
Whose love lay more infinite
Than grains of sand.

If there was ever one
To whom you could cry;
Who would gather each tear
And blow it dry;
Who would offer help
On the mountains of time;
Who would stop to let each sunset
Soothe the jaded mind.

If there was ever one
To whom when you run
Will push back the clouds
So you are bathed in sun;
Who would open arms
If you would fall;
Who would show you everything
If you lost it all.

If there was ever one
Who when you achieve
Was there before the dream
And even then believed;
Who would clear the air
When it’s full of loss;
Who would count love
Before the cost.

If there was ever one
Who when you are cold
Will summon warm air
For your hands to hold;
Who would make peace
In pouring pain,
Make laughter fall
In falling rain.

If there was ever one
Who can offer you this and more;
Who in keyless rooms
Can open doors;
Who in open doors
Can see open fields
And in open fields
See harvests yield.

Then see only my face
In reflection of these tides
Through the clear water
Beyond the river side.
All I can send is love
In all that this is
A poem and a necklace
Of invisible kisses.

In June 2015, Sissay was elected as Chancellor of the University of Manchester for a seven-year term by university staff, registered alumni and members of the General Assembly.

Sissay said: “Reach for the top of the tree and you may get to the first branch but reach for the stars and you’ll get to the top of the tree. My primary aim is to inspire and be inspired. I am proud to be Chancellor of this fantastic university and extremely grateful to everyone who voted for me.”



Main Photo: Lemn Sissay, photographed by Christian Sinibaldi for the Guardian


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