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Lemn Sissay’s Origin Stories: The poet discusses orphans in popular culture

ByElizabeth Greenberg

Oct 18, 2016

What do Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter all have in common? Besides a plethora of characteristics, they all were orphans or foster kids.

Orphans are all too common in popular culture, whether princesses or heroes, their foster parents can be hated or revered. But hardly any of the popular stories of today’s world focus on the foster care system. Oliver Twist was turned into a musical, and whatever happened to all the other orphan girls Annie lived with?

In this radio show, poet Lemn Sissay discusses these fictional origin stories and how they relate to his own. While Sissay keeps the mood generally light, his poignant words bring up dark truths; the general public’s perception of foster care children negatively influences everyone involved later in life. Sissay was raised by foster parents and lived in children’s homes, and uses his experience to shed light on the realities of foster care in a comedic light.

“Other than say, snogging Piers Morgan, fostering and adopting is one of the greatest tests of the human character. But unlike kissing Piers Morgan, when it comes to fostering, someone’s gotta do it.”

Coupling comedy with intense honesty, Sissay leaves his studio audience laughing and then in silence. He compares himself to Harry Potter, highlighting the shame they both felt at not having parents and a ‘normal’ family. But he overcomes this guilt, just like Harry. Sissay proves in an ingenious way that the stigma of foster care lives on, no matter how magical Harry Potter is or how grown up the child is.

Sissay fabricates an interview with the Vernon and Petunia Dursley to supplement his poetry and commentary, creating a well-rounded oral essay.

Sissay makes you laugh, he makes you think. He connects to the listener on so many levels, and what he has to say will always be important. Give it a listen. It can change you. “Put simply, the origin story is proof that a foster child is pretty incredible and feels pain in search of love.”

Image: FF16 @ Pixabay

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