We all go to the cinema, listen to music, occasionally admire paintings and visit the theatre, but when was the last time you picked up a book of poetry? In most cases, it’s only the most literary of people who would choose to read a poem, and I think this is a sad fact.
Poetry can be calming, or passionate, or powerful, or complete rubbish. It’s tempting to read a few lines of a poem and then toss it aside, “It doesn’t rhyme so what’s the point?” Before I started writing creatively I thought the same, but if you take the time to read a half-decent poem and try to delve into and think up a meaning for it, it can become quite a personal little package of emotion.
Now that does sound OTT but think of the songs we listen to all the time; one could argue they are simply poetry set to a tune. We tend to like songs in which we can relate to the lyrics, and it’s the same with poetry.
Kate Tempest is arguably one of the most talented writers of the modern era. Open a book of hers at any page and you’ll be instantly bombarded with a feast of imagery to prove the point. First and foremost a poet, her descriptions of people and feelings and landscapes are fantastically accurate; she puts words to emotions you couldn’t previously identify.
She places poetry in the 21st century and gives the average person a reason to appreciate the art form, and she does this in three ways: firstly, by embracing modern themes, such as the disillusionment present in cities, the modern rat race and its ever-evading search for happiness etc. Nothing horrifically clichéd or sickly romantic, none of the old, impossibly-difficult-to-understand tomes in sight. Secondly, she turns it into an engaging performance, and she does this by memorising her poetry and passionately regurgitating it to an audience. Whilst this may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, her recital is genuinely awe-inspiring, and far more exciting than attempting to read the written form by yourself. Thirdly, she puts her poems to a soundtrack. Adding DJ beats draws in a whole new audience of young people, and she has since toured the U.S. with her hip-hop album Everybody Down.
Tempest appeared at the Edinburgh Book Festival a few days ago, and the audience was one of the most age-diverse I have seen at an event. Usually the audience is a silvery sea of bespectacled multi-generians, but this one was also punctuated with keen teens, twenty-something year olds and every generation inbetween.
The poet told of how she had developed a cult following of American church reading groups owing to her book Brand New Ancients, and at one of her hip-hop gigs a line of old ladies had set up their chairs in the front row of the audience, causing the young people there to question whether they were at the right gig. Initially she was unsure about their presence, as it was hardly an average poetry reading she was about to give, but after chatting to them came to realise they were all perfectly happy to be there. She appreciates the beauty of an art form which can bring several generations of people together.
One of the reasons her work resonates so deeply is because Tempest finds beauty and pain everywhere in daily life. She received a clap from the audience at one point for upholding passionately pacifist views and condemning aggression, coming across as much as a philosopher as she is a poet, the two being inevitably intertwined. In the act of speaking aloud her work Tempest describes her joy in creating “a connection” with the audience, and it is this engagement which renders the form all the more personal than simple written word.
Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club have adapted a script from one of Tempest’s works to present as a play at the Edinburgh Fringe, entitled Wasted. The play focuses on her familiar theme of youth frustration and the inability to realise dreams, and makes for a powerful piece of student theatre. This production not only provides a peek into the world of Tempest’s work but also highlights the versatility of spoken word in being incorporated into conventional theatre, often creating a larger and more lasting impact upon the audience.
Tempest’s work really is unique, and it is accessible to everyone. Rather than relegate poetry as a pretentious pastime for literary pricks, pick up her book or listen to an album, and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Kate Tempest is on tour throughout the UK with her new album Let Them Eat Chaos. Wasted is running until 27th August (except 21st) at Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236), Edinburgh.
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