The event gets curiouser and curiouser. “How would you like to be introduced”
asked the MC and organiser while I was signing the award certificates on stage five
minutes before the event was to begin. I was tempted to say “How about, Lemn is partial to the odd spot of animal buggery but on weekends he likes to make book covers out of hard core pornographic magazines which he sells on his stall at the school Fayre
and farmers markets”.
I’ve been invited to judge and present the awards for The Leeds Peace Poetry Competition
for adults and children. And this is the grand prize giving. I’ve been in email contact with this man and his wife over the past month. This afternoon they gave me a lift from Kendal their new home to here The Civic Centre in Millenium Square in Leeds.I learned in the car that they have been involved with the Leeds Peace Poetry Competition since its inception. But they are in the process of “devolving”.
Unlike earlier in the car he is now wearing a dog collar which signifies that he is a priest or vicar or something. In answering the question I suggest a couple of sentences that might both help reflect my suitability for the event and would be easy for the priest to remember
A few years ago I signed a book for a young person at an event “That’s not a signature cause I can’t read it” she wept. So I’m sure that the signature on the awards certificates is clearly legible. Two hundred parents children local dignitaries, teachers etc had taken their seats. Finally we begun and after introducing the event it was his time to introduce me. Iw as introduced thus….
“ Our Judge Mr Lemn Sissay has asked me to tell ou that he is writer in residence at The South Bank. But he says that it sounds better for you if I says ‘Writer in residence at The Royal Festival Hall’. He wants us to know that the Queen is the patron”.
It was a peevish isolating little introduction and considering. I had just spent two hours in a car with this man and his wife. This was The Leeds Peace Poetry Competition. Like church the pomp and ceremony seemed to overide the central reason for being their in the first place – Peace and Poetry. The audience included the deputy Lord Mayor, the head of education for Leeds an ex archbishop hundreds of children with their doting parents, poets and many more formed an appreciative warm and listening audience.
At the pinnacle of the evening in front of the two hundred people he announced with a smile (or a grimace) “and now the awards”. He passed me the pieces of paper with the names. It was illegible. I turned to him, shocked at being given such an impossible task. I couldn’t for the life of me understand the inky scratch marks on the paper. “What does this say” I whispered trying to hide the frustration in my voice. “I don’t know” he replied,
like a petulant schoolboy. Personally I think he didn’t want to put on his glasses!
Flabbergasted I looked at him then back at the audience whom I assume had heard the entire exchange. I turned to him again “who wrote this” pointing at the illegible handwriting . “I did” he replied, in a bizarre get on with it tone.
The correct saying of a childs name is of primary importance. Many of the children had Polish names or names from countries such as Pakistan and Kashmir. I was left out to hang and dry. This little moment signified so much. What was I doing here with this little priest and his little wife in their little empire of untruth and repression.
The event ended and as there was noone to look after me I stayed until everyone had gone
home. I was the last person leaving the Civic Hall, assisting the priest his wife and two other people, in dismantling the art displays and carrying them downstairs only to wait for a taxi.
Earlier in the evening I informed both The priest and his wife that I would be getting up
tomorrow at 4.30am to be on the 5.30 train to London. Cheers I thought. Cheers. Never again.