Author Archives: Lemn Sissay

The Uummannaq Children’s Home

Lemn Sissay in the Uummannaq Children's Home

It’s 11am, the ship travelled through night storms and in morning we arrive at Uummannaq, the home of our guide Ludvig. It’s spring in Uummannaq, in winter it’s dark for two whole months and there’s a high suicide rate. We visit a children’s home and dogs howl outside as the social worker greets us at the door. “If they don’t do what we command ” he says in a rich Danish accent “we kick them”. There’s a silence. “There’s high alcoholism in the Inuit people hence the relatively high numbers of children in care.” He is about six foot tall, a tower of a man. “Welcome” he smiled broadly.
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Polar Bear Beating

Lemn Sissay

It’s an iceberg. I’m telling you it is” said a normally sedate Marcus Brigstocke. “it is not!” frowned Sunand Prasad, head of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Sunand marched away back to the ship. “It is though” muttered Marcus.

A few miles away Vicky and Hannah of the Cape Farewell team have marked out a chessboard into the beach. They’re playing “indigenous chess” using seals in various poses as the chess pieces. “It is eco tourism “ whispers Hannah with an intense frown. “knight takes prawn”.
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Things Disappear

Listening to radio an interviewer ask their interviewee “describe the experience for the listener”. Description is all the listener needs, imagination does the rest. “well…” comes the reply “its just too beautiful for words”. The answer makes me want to rip out the interviewees tongue and slap them with it. The pursuit of description engages and overcomes the possibility of failure (to describe). If something is worth pursuing it means it matters. Ergo “it’s just too beautiful for words” causes things to disappear. You think I am taking this too far. Good. Then we are on the same page.
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The Iceberg Dawn

The Ship is in pitch darkness now. The engine is turning over gently. Many of the crew are in their quarters. The captain is upon the bridge and the anchor is far below, in the beneath world, holding us tightly onto this one.

The ship protected by cupped hands of light awaits morning. From the sky we are a firefly caught upon a spiders web wafting in wind. Snowflakes flocks of white butterfly spirits released from under the clouds land on my shoulders. And as the they melt the sun smears itself on the back of the clouds who in turn spread her light equally across the sky. Morning has come.

Night Storms

There’s forty six passengers, nineteen Russian crew, three international expedition staff and three international hotel and catering staff. It was stormy last night. The Gregory Mikheev, all two hundred and ten feet of her, tilted and bobbed like a jack- in-a-box. At twelve and an half knots she crashed through the night sky, a shadow cutting through a shadow, lighthouse spills midnight truths from the ragged coast. Morning breaks through and there’s no sea sickness, only wonder.


I am travelling through the sea at night and I am not sure which sea it is. I am in the Arctic, so it could be the Arctic sea.    I have travelled across the world to be here but I am not sure which countries I have passed.  I have no idea which hemisphere I am in. I think I am in the southern hemisphere but I am not sure. I can find out but at time of writing I am not sure.   I don’t know what time it is.

I am on a ship. I am not sure what it is called. I can find out. But what I know so far is that it is named after a famous Russian Oceanographer who has died; Gregory something-or-other.   I can’t remember his name.  But I can find out. One thing I am sure of. Gregory something-or-other  is dead.
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Greenland and the ship at last

You are not currently connected to any networks. My remote wireless connection won’t work because I am somewhere too remote. A backbone of water  slithers behind the ship as it bows  out of the fjord from Greenland. To each side  great warriors made of rock,  protectors of landmass,  line the coast and watch us go quietly.  The ship hums,  gallantly rises up and down as  waves dive to each side of stern.


Shit. I am in Iceland,  with photographers, painters, composers, lyricists, musicians and scientists. We are all  travelling en route to the Arctic to experience Climate Change.   Fifty percent of us know exactly why they are here. They have projects to work on and numbers to crunch. And the other fifty percent? Guess which one I am in? But am I missing something, it’s climate and it’s changing.  Don’t we experience climate change wherever we are:  Paris, New York  or London.  Nature is by virtue, everywhere, so why the Arctic and why artists?

David Buckland explains it much better than I. It has something to do with Cultural Change. “Artists are a on the front-line of cultural change” he says “Think the 1960’s and  the influence of the artists”. I think of the Andy Warhol exhibition at The Hayward Gallery. The Arctic exemplifies the effects of Climate Change as  the edge of a  shadow exemplifies the sharpness of  light.

We slept overnight in a hotel in Iceland and flew another three hours to Greenland where the ship awaits off the coast. Zodiac dinghy boats speed towards us skidding off the top of the waves:  We’re off.