Aye Write Festival
14 April 2016
Think back to a decade ago. London always wanted social narrators who can spin a good yarn – Lily Allen, Kate Nash, Mike Skinner (Birmingham – Sssshhh), and perhaps the less said about N-Dubz contribution to popular music, the better. And then it all went a bit quiet. In terms of contemporary poet-musicians, the case remains very much in the ether as to who represents this category best.
In the fourth centenary year of William Shakespeare’s death, one name has been grabbing a fair share of the public’s imagination and it is perhaps fitting that the final play which Shakespeare wrote was titled ‘The Tempest’. 31-year old Kate Tempest may be a new name in terms of tabloid recognition but the South-London rapper and poet has written plays, collections of poetry, playwrights, and was nominated for a Mercury Award in 2014 for her debut solo album ‘Everybody Down’. Perhaps it wasn’t so unexpected that tonight’s heroine received the prestigious title of being named as a Next Generation poet by the Poetry Book Society. It’s difficult to peg Tempest down to a solitary label and herein lies the beauty about her achievements thus far – one fantastic melting pot of artistry and ingenuity. Tonight’s agenda at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library was for the publication of her debut novel ‘The Bricks that Built the Houses’, published by Bloomsbury Publishing.
In front of a largely young and female audience, Tempest was introduced by another of the shining lights on the UK spoken word scene, Hollie McNish. Friends off the stage, it was an inspired choice of host as the two poets bartered comfortably between themselves, at times almost neglecting to remember that a couple hundred pairs of ears were tuned into their mic’d up conversation. Opening with the tongue planted firmly in her cheek, McNish questioned her colleague what the meaning of life was. This was answered by Tempest’s introduction to characters in her novel, and what their purpose was.
The new book regards a young trio who emerged from the Everybody Down record, Becky, Harry and Leon, who depart the city in possession of a suitcase full of stolen money. It is an exploration of contemporary urban life, which is kernel to Tempest’s writing, evaluating the communities we live in and the ethics by which we live. It is clearly a high priority on the poet’s plan for life as she reflected on the primary functions of communities, the support which is sorely lacking, and the need to break down barriers – using her characters need to delve into their past, their roots, and that sense of knowing one another’s families. It was a heartfelt introduction and one which, accidentally, made you fall a little in love with her – and her ideology.
Reading an excerpt from the book, Tempest opted to quote William Blake at the start – her favourite poet – before setting the scene of the society her characters were living in. Describing “the pain of watching someone turn into a shadow”, hand dancing along with each word, Tempest’s enthusiasm and energy was infectious. It was an important observation by Hollie McNish about reading the entire book out loud, ‘mimicking Kate’s voice to the point of beginning to sound like a dickhead’, that spurred the author on to divulge her belief that the reader was as important as the writer to make the text come alive; without which, the book will either gather dust or be read passively, without the feeling which was intended to strike into you. It became apparent why Public Enemy’s Chuck D is simply quoted as saying “Wow” on Tempest’s website – this was both enlightening and educational stuff.
On a lighter note, both poets discussed their shared editor, Scots poet Don Paterson, and the need to remove ego when edits are being enforced (“Pfft” and “Hmph” were both disclosed as examples of Paterson’s margin-notes). Other insecurities were touched upon in a friendly manner, including the shyness of discussing sex in the new novel, recovering from a marriage which never worked to plan, and the anxiety which haunts every writer’s mind – ‘waiting to be found out as a fraud’.
During the Q+A, members of the audience grabbed the opportunity to ask about writing processes, juggling various projects, influences and aspirations. Tempest used this opening to express her fascination with humanity, and dogma of ‘more empathy, less greed’ towards our fellow man and woman. This would have sounded remarkably corny had it not been expressed in such a sincere and tender manner, with the need for connecting to continue from poetry into her life.
On a final note discussing the writing process, our feature for the night entreated that “the finished product will never be as good as the idea in the head – deal with the agony”. It was, as the whole night had been, a highly amusing piece of advice which seemed entirely accurate. Something tells me that if this truly is the case, then some of the ideas inside Kate Tempest’s head must be truly formidable. Shakespeare was right all along; a storm is brewing.
Reviewer : Stephen Watt