This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Poems of War and Peace

 

“Let There Be Peace” is a giant landmark poem: a two-storey-high work, painted to a wall on the outside of the University of Huddersfield’s Creative Arts Building for passengers-by to see and read. Lemn Sissay about his poem:

„Today hunting packs of drones stalk the skies. Against a backdrop of World War One commemoration and present-day conflict around the world, my poem “Let There Be Peace” will be prominently displayed on the walls of one of Yorkshire’s most iconic university buildings forever. (…) It is already displayed in a small but growing number of locations. The space chosen for the poem at the University of Huddersfield is passed daily by thousands of students – including hundreds from overseas. “Let There Be Peace” broadcasts into the sky and to us. Language is crucial. I hear the words “air strike” but air does not strike. “Air Strike” does not describe the bombs that tear open human flesh.“

 
Lemn Sissay’s landmark poem archive

About Lemn Sissay
From a hard childhood in England in adoption and harsh fostering situations and a quest for his own Ethiopian roots, Lemn Sissay has gained national and international renown for his work. Born 1967 in Wigan, Lancashire, Britain, he was brought up in the British care system: From three months to the age of eighteen he said the British care system had been his “legal parent.” After a long family search, he managed to locate his birth mother and the rest of his extended birth family. In 2009, he made a Radio 4 documentary, Child of the State, about his search for the physical records of his childhood – most of which had disappeared, as though he’d never existed.

Sissay’s mother was Ethiopian. She came to study in Britain and decided to give up her baby into care for a short period of time until she would have have finished her studies. Her son was taken into a religious English family in Atherton who brought him up until he was twelve at which point they abandoned him, giving him back into public care. There is a television documentary (“Internal Flight“) and radio documentary (“Child of the State“) on his life story.

At 18, Lemn Sissay self-published his first poetry book, selling it door to door while running a gutter-cleaning business. “Everything I know about myself comes from Manchester,“ Lemn Sissay said about himself. He was awarded an MBE for his work with children in care and was appointed official poet to the 2012 Olympics in London. Today he is not only a international renowned poet, but also the chancellor of the university of Manchester. His landmark poems are installed in public spaces throughout Manchester and London, and in venues such as The Royal Festival Hall and The Olympic Park. Lemn Sissay writes regularly on Twitter. For more about him see his Website.

„Let There Be Peace“

Full text
Lemn Sissay performing „Let There Be Peace“ on campus.

„Let There Be Peace“: The Poem

The opening lines evoke the image of the albatros. Albatrosses have been flying over the oceans for millions of years, but walking the earth they lose all their gracefulness:

Let there be peace
So frowns fly away like albatross
And skeletons foxtrot from cupboards,
So war correspondants become travel show presenters

Metaphors from nature are present through the poem:

Let there be peace
So storms can go out to sea to be
Angry and return to me calm,
So the broken can rise up and dance in the hospitals.

His dreams for peace are envisioned in the image of an aged Ethiopian man in the grey London flats stretching ot his arms:

Let the aged Ethiopian man in the grey block of flats
Peer through his window and see Addis before him,
So his thrilled outstretched arms become frames
For his dreams.

The closing lines focus on the eyes of children:

Let harsh memories burst into fireworks that melt
In the dark pupils of a child’s eyes
And disappear like shoals of silver darting fish,
And let the waves reach the shore with a
Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

In Genesis 1:3-5 God said,“Let there be light; he willed it, and at once there was light.“

Is war vile and peace moral?… the first should be shunned and the latter pursued? Unfortunately, as practice shows, this isn’t that easy. If you look up anti-war quotes and peace quotes on the Internet, the full complexity of the war and peace question blows into your face. Here is a poem by Jonathon Arash (“Peace and Pieces“) which reduces the complexity – from his point of view – to a few undeniable facts. His poem begins with:

We want peace says another invading leader of another peoples‘ property

and addressing the invading leader:

You preach peace in front of the camera but behind the cameras you practice piecing off another piece of land

In the poem the speaker tries to engage the invader into a discussion: “These people need freedom …“. In the last lines he addresses those who are affected by the invasion in the name of peace:

There will be no peace on your piece of earth

While foreign contractors steal what is underneath your piece of earth

His conclusion:

The only hope of peace that exists is when your piece of earth is left in peace from this blood thirsty predators

More Poetry Performances
“Inspire and be Inspired“
“Invisible Kisses“
“Gold from the stone“

Lemn Sissay’s poetry is informed by many perspectives: Here are a few. There is his early life („Child of the State“). His reverence for Bob Marley is rooted in his own childhood in care, his feeling that both Marley and himself were born as outsiders. (My Muse). There is the African perspective. He wrote: „My name – I thought – was Norman Greenwood for the first 15 years of my life… I thought that finding my mother was all about my story, when really the truth is, it’s about her story.“ (African Perspective). He himself would add, I’m sure, many more.

On Twitter ”Positively Wyrde” (Real name: Bauke Kamstra) wrote:

… why write cruel poems to get
brief nods
from
brief readers

But perhaps there is a „brief reader“ or two who wouldn’t let the matter rest.

Acknowledgements

“Let There be Peace.” Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Glendinning, Amy. “Two-storey-high: peace poem by Lemn Sissay unveiled at Manchester University”. Manchester Evening News (Feb 2012)

Khaleeli, Homa. “Lemn Sissay, foster child, poet and university chancellor: Everything I know about myself comes from Manchester.“ The Guardian (June 26 2015).

Sissay, Lemn.“Child of State“ TED Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/lemn_sissay_a_child_of_the_state Transcript by Joseph Geni. June 2012. https://www.ted.com/talks/lemn_sissay_a_child_of_the_state

Sissay, Lemn. Website.

Sissay, Lemn. Rebel Without Applause. Bloodaxe Books, 1993; Gold from the Stone: New and Selected Poems (to be published in Aug 2016).

University of Huddersfield. “Lemn Sissay recites his poem “Let There Be Peace“ that will be permanently displayed on the outside of the University’s Creative Arts Building.“ Oct 03, 2014.

University of Manchester Magazine. “Inspire and Be Inspired.“

Walldorf, Melanie. “Inspirational poet Lemn Sissay growing up in care and his campaign to become Universität chancellor.“ The Bolton News.

“Lemn Sissay.“ Wikipedia

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