Kate Tempest at Wise Words Festival
InQuirer Alice Bryant gives an eloquent review of award winning poet Kate Tempest’s performance at Canterbury’s Wise Words Festival.
Ushered into the cushions and blankets of the garden tent, the crowd awaited anxiously for Kate Tempest to come onstage. She does. The crowd whoops and hollers and claps furiously; made up of poets, artists, musicians and fans — this crowd has come alive for poetry.
She seems anxious at first; chuckling into ‘fuck me i’m nervous’ admissions, caressing the microphone — steps forward, steps back, wonders aloud ‘I don’t know what you’ll think of this if you know my previous work‘ — we laugh and clap ourselves into a silence.
The first poem that she reads tells the story of Tiresias, a mythological character that Tempest recalls to have been fascinated by as a young adult. Far from being a hackneyed re-invention of the same story, the narrative is told through the eyes of a teenage boy living in modern day London with ‘half of last night’s joint’ tucked into his lips. ‘Picture this’, she begins — and, with the guidance of her words, we are soon absorbed into the world created before us. These aren’t just words, but a person telling a story.
Her set was made up of ‘Childhood’, ‘Womanhood’, ‘Manhood’ and ‘Blind Profit’, linking the story of Tiresias to the narrative of her own life. A great deal of her poetry was directly confessional, telling the story of her tattoo, her adolescence, and the cultivation of her outlook on life. Empathy was a focus. Love was a theme that pulsed through nearly every poem. Self-deprecating at times, the Ted Hughes award-winning poet felt human and raw, and we sighed and laughed along with her. She built a connection — combined with the intimate setting of the garden tent, donned with soft fairy lights, wooden chairs, and red walls, an atmosphere of the ancient storytellers was formed. It was as if we were clustered together for warmth, watching a fire burn.