This is the most extraorinary interview on the subject of love I have ever been a part of. It’s from a winning project called Conversations On Love spearheaded by the beautiful mind of  Natasha Lunn. Natasha has given me permission to share an excerpt of our interview.  I urge yo to subscribe  to her extraordinary newsletter to read the full piece..
“When Lemn Sissay wrote the poem Invisible Kisses, it was originally about a broken heart (his) and a betrayal (of his then-girlfriend who broke off their engagement in his early twenties). Only years later did he realise that the words he’d written had come to mean something different to him – it became a love poem, not about romantic love, but about familial love.

In so many of Lemn’s poems the greatest stories of love and heartbreak are rooted in family and how that primary love – or a lack of it – can break or shape us. Family is also something he had to grow up without; Lemn spent his teen years in care homes, after his foster parents cast him out without explanation and returned him to social services when he was 12 years old. After winning redress from Wigan council for his mistreatment as a child, more recently he has been reading his social services files in order to piece together his life story for a memoir, My Name is Why, out later this year. (I would recommend reading more about his story here.)

We use so many words and so much headspace obsessing over romantic love, so this week I wanted to ask Lemn how the absence of familial love has changed his understanding of love in general. Our conversation reminded me of something upcoming COL guest Sharon Salzberg once wrote: ‘To say I am grateful for the things I went through in childhood is a bridge too far for me. But I know those experiences are what allow me to connect to people, heart to heart.’ I hope you enjoy it.

Photo credit: Hamish Brown

NL: A lot of writers I’ve interviewed have talked about writing as an act of love – a way of being seen and of forming connection. In that way, do you see writing poetry as an act of love?

LS: Poetry is an act of love, but I wouldn’t depend on it to love me back and therefore it has a limit. For me, the ultimate act of love…it’s that Nat King Cole line: ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn / Is just to love and be loved in return.’ I think that’s some of the artist’s predicament actually; you can engage so much with the emotional landscape, but it can’t give love back to you.
NL: But you have said that at one point poetry was your closest friend? 

LS: Poetry has been my closest friend and my family. It holds me in mind, it is a flag in mountainside of my journey and it’s something that I’m relative to. I can look back at poems I wrote when I was 18 and they will tell me where I was, what I was feeling, what I was going through and who I was. In lieu of family that’s as close to a loving gesture as I can get, because I think being held in mind is a strong part of what love is.

NL: I’ve been thinking about when you said ‘anger was an expression in the search of love.’ What did you mean by that?

LS: I was talking about when I was in care. For me the act of anger is – and was – an expression in the desperate search for love. I think I was trying to have compassion for my own anger. I’m not excusing some of the behaviours that happen because of anger, in fact I’m not excusing anger at all, but I was always told that it was wrong to be angry, when actually that’s not true. Anger is an expression in the search for love and I think most people who are angry can’t grasp an idea of love for themselves, never mind for the person they’re angry with. Or perhaps the person they’re angry with is stopping them from being able to love themselves and the world around them……..

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21 thoughts on “An Excerpt from CONVERSATIONS ON LOVE

      • I guess so…you’re only human! You make so much sense (on a wise day) . There’s a quote from Jon Allen when speaking of mother-baby psychology as ‘She has his mind in mind. He discovers his mind in her mind’. When you said love is keeping someone in mind it explained that sentiment exactly. Thanks for replying.

  1. Dear Lemn,
    Thanks for liking Terry’s 80th.

    Love your thoughts above. Anger and loss and love and grief, all the human passions expressed beautifully…. when in the end we all long for exactly one thing….. the tender touch

    Hope for you all that ….. you give and also that you get

  2. Invisible kisses. When I first read Your heart wrenching Masterpiece of poetry. It made me weep, life changes betrayal etc. Now as I grow older I read this poem and it has shown me a deeper constant love, the continuity of my relationship with myself and faith in God’s actions and promises in my life. Thank you for allowing this poem to change and grow with me as if a faithful friend.

  3. Hi Mr Sissay,
    When I read your poem, Invisible Kisses, I sobbed. Your words spoke straight into my heart. Thank you. I heard you for the first time on Five Live, then I searched online for you. What an incredible man.
    Thank you for being you.

  4. I’m desperately trying to subscribe but it will only allow me to type one number on my D.O.B. the cursor in the box will not move? Any help would be very grateful.

  5. Emotional response after discovering the writings of Lemn Sissay.

    Funny how when one discovers a new Poet / writer and in their words you find a freedom that you have long suffered for. Words that you’ve prayed to God for, betrayed yourself for, played with insanity for.
    And reading their words you feel held in loving arms, the arms you’ve remained in long silences for, thinking that if they existed they would have found you by now.
    Words that make everything bearable once again, words you almost died waiting for, words that confirm your sanity, your true essence. Words that make you remember that shining star at 3am just before Dawn lit another sleepless night.
    And you cry now for finally having heard and seen your own worth in another.
    And you thank God for knowing when enough was enough with you.
    And you love him more for being all those words deep and meaningful and you go running to him once again like a child to its father. RB

  6. Love that Nat King Cole line. Just finished listening to your book. As a child Social Services never found me when perhaps they should have… you and I are the same age, so no knowing what you experienced I am torn between being glad they didnt, but still angry that I wasn’t safe with the family I was born into. You are so right to identify being held in mind as the key to love, they say “Friends are the Family we choose for ourselves”, and for me that is so true. I am blessed to be loved and held in mind by a few close friends. Take care xxx

  7. Your gig in black box was amazing last night Lemn . I’ve read your book twice it is so well written my heart breaks for the horrible way you have been treated
    You have so much compassion in your beautiful heart to forgive your foster mother for been cruel / cold and hateful ,I’m not sure I agree the situation with her twin sister caused her to act the way she did ??
    I hope your heart is free of pain and rejection ,you really are such a beautiful human being ,be happy ☺

  8. It seems that God has given you the ‘Moses’ responsibility of reaching out to others using words, but once you have captured a heart with your words what happens next?
    I have just sent you a very long email asking you to please read me…..but now I think….too many words for you to read…..but I am still asking if you could please read me.

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