Monday, December 11, 2017

Portrait of the artist / Lemn Sissay / 'An artist doesn't need to suffer to create'

Portrait of the artist

Lemn Sissay


'An artist doesn't need to suffer to create. But if he doesn't create, he will suffer'

Interview by Natalie Hanman
Tuesday 27 February 2007 09.58 GMT

What got you started?
TS Eliot's Macavity: The Mystery Cat.
What was your big breakthrough?
"Big breakthrough" in poetry is an oxymoron. But, at a push, I would say it was a book called Tender Fingers in a Clenched Fist, published in 1988.
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
If I was born an artist, as we all are, where is the sacrifice? The question could be, "What art has been sacrificed for us?"
Is your work fashionable?
Depends who you ask. I ask no one, not even myself. Fashion comes and goes; the work stands alone, as it should.
If someone read one of your poems in 1,000 years' time, what would it tell them about the year 2006?
That art is the most futuristic expression of all.
What's your favourite film and why?
The City of Lost Children, because it's unexplainable. I grew up in institutional homes for children and saw things I could never explain - it was this city of lost children.
Does an artist need to suffer to create?
No. But if he doesn't create, he will suffer.

 'My work is closer to me than family' ... Lemn Sissay.
Photograph by David Sillitoe for the Guardian

What's your favourite museum and why?
Robben Island in South Africa. It is known as a "living museum" - the power of the exhibits causes tears.
What cultural form leaves you cold or confused?
More often than not, television.
What cultural tip would you give to a tourist about Britain's arts scene?
Contact Theatre in Manchester.
What's the greatest threat to art today?
Advertising. It's also, possibly, art's greatest gift.
Would you rather be in the audience or on the stage?
I once saw this graffiti: "If all the world's a stage, where does the audience sit?" The answer is simple: the audience is part of the set.
What advice would you give a young writer just starting out?
Do not think that you cannot be a lawyer and a poet, a doctor and a poet, a builder and a poet. Stay at school, finish university; go out and experience life to the fullest, and write poems to the fullest.
Who would you most like to work with?
The Wailers, Nitin Sawhney or Sal Ferreras. A composer talented enough to allow instinct and anarchy, and embrace form.
Do you enjoy working alone?
I never work alone. My work is closer to me than family.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

A Polish television producer at the Workers Film Association in Manchester once said as a goodbye: "Take it easy, but take it all." It sounds like two simple requests.

In short
Born: Wigan, 1967.
Career: Sissay is the author of four poetry collections, including Rebel Without Applause and The Emperor's Watchmaker. He is writer-in-residence for 2007 at the South Bank in London, and is currently a judge for the John Llewellyn Rhys prize.
High point: "I'm not even there. The journey is all, and I love it."
Low point: "A jazz series I did on TV. I was invincible until then."

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