There's four and a half million people in Norway. It's a small place rich in oil and high in suicide due to the days of darkness or nights of full light. I arrived to perform at the Afrikan History Week at Park Teatret. A theatre in central Oslo. “we've never had something like this Brother Sissay” says Brother Buntu. At six foot tall he cuts a figure in his golden west african clothes. To think an Afrikan history festival is a new thing to the audience is quite incredible.
So last night I performed on stage with five other poets including Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets. Though I hadn't met Umar his interview was part of a documentary I made about The Last Poets for BBC Radio 4. It was made five years ago and he hasn't heard of it “Lemn you gots to send it to me” he said. And I will.
The reading was top notch, bang on the money. I really enjoyed it and he was excellent as I knew he would be. The thing is about a good reading is that it is electric. Some magic happens. These are only poems after all. But whether the reading is with freida Hughes or Umar Bin Hassan when magic happens it happens! Remember that wherever I read and whenever I read and whatever title the event – I read for my poems. I owe them that.
I returned to England today but this afternoon I called Umar and we hung out at a wild sculptor park in the middle of Oslo, walking and talking. “fifty percent of the time poets are crazy and the other fifty percent of the time they trying to get paid” he said summarising the poets life.
You know what jacks my chain? It's those people who go around talking about how this poetry is for the stage but not the page and vice versa. It's exactly what they said to the liverpool poets (mcgough patten and henri) in the sixties. It was said to Ginsberg and Ferlingheti and Gil Scot Heron and all. It was said about Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zephania. But for any poets it's worth remembering that there's a history to this misappropriation of critique.
Poetry is of the page and the stage. A great performance does not rely on any pyrotechnics and smoke and mirrors, it depends on a good poem, read well. And by read well, I mean read from the place it was written, the unending source of creativity and its truth – this applies whether it is comedy romantic for adults or children. Go figure.