Kate Tempest: Brand New Ancient
Photo: Kate Tempest, Facebook
If you ask the average teenager on the street, poetry is something best kept in the classroom. It is something read by old people, and droned out at school assemblies by only the most boring of teachers. It’s something not relevant to them. However, in my humble opinion, poetry is one of the most relevant things in the world, not just to students, but to everyone. Words are our greatest weapon. They can weave insanity, light a flame and build love. Poetry is a way of speaking to everyone about everything.
I don’t believe that an article consisting of myself raving on about poetry will change any minds. So instead, I’m going to direct you to someone who can and will. Kate Tempest: Londoner, musician, lesbian, and, most importantly (to the rest of the world at least) slam poet extraordinaire.
Kate Tempest was born in London in 1985. She began performing at age 16, taking part in open mic nights. She has since gone on to win the Ted Hughes Award and the Off West End Award, be nominated for the Mercury Award and has performed at Glastonbury, Latitude, The Big Chill and more.
Her first book of poetry to rise to the attention of her peers was Everything Speaks in It’s Own Way - the title is a piece in itself. If that sentence was given to me at random before my discovery of Kate, I would assume some extremely clever and deep thinking philosopher had made this statement years ago about some seemingly entirely unrelated events or things. And I guess I would be right except that it was made by a slam poet, today, and she’s talking about us.
Now, aged 29, she is blazing as brightly as ever, with her recent album, Everybody Down, being listened to by people of all ages and mind frames, much like her performance was the first time I saw her, with my middle aged aunt next to my teenage self, a nine year old girl in front of me and an incredibly old man on my other side. She made us forget our differences, and remember our similarities. I suppose if I heard that statement from anyone else, I, in all my teenage cynicism would dismiss it as ‘sweeping’ and ‘outrageous hyperbole.’ However, Kate Tempest is not just any artist. Reading her work is one thing. Listening is another. She becomes the piece. There is no shame, no fear. She moves and talks as pure emotion, pure feeling. She becomes something otherworldly and speaks in a way no language can. Not a single person living would be immune to this, no matter how old or cynical. She creates emotion on the stage and the audience cannot help but drink it in.
I discovered Kate Tempest when my aunt, an English teacher, invited me to one of her performances in Brighton. I must admit, I went with slight trepidation, for, even as a poetry fan, I feared a night of boredom was in store for me. However, when Kate Tempest walked on stage, casually dressed, casually speaking, she performed a miracle. For one hour and a half, she kept an audience from the ages of nine to ninety captive. Spellbound. Unable to look away, check our phones, whisper in our neighbour’s ear. How did she do this? Put simply, she read her piece ‘Brand New Ancients’ to us, a book-length poem. But to say that is to reduce her performance to a fraction of what it was. She burned so brightly that night that I feel I’m still recovering from the light. She created a world in front of us, made us part of it, understand it. She wove Greek myth and legend into the present day and reduced all of us to our similarities, the bare human we all are underneath. The story she told was a simple one: one of ordinary people living ordinary lives. And that was the magic. She reminded us all that ordinary is extraordinary - that even the most seemingly unimportant or irrelevant events can be made beautiful by the way we see them, describe them, live them.
Now I’m drawing to the end of this article, I’m almost certain you’ll have read this with the feeling that I may have written with at least a tint of hyperbole. All I can say to that is: listen. Find her, listen to her and then read this again. You’ll find I can hardly of done her justice through my own words. You’ll have to rely on hers for that.