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Rediscovering Poetry 1: Kae Tempest

Poetry trembles alone, only picked up to be taken apart.


I picked up ‘Hold Your Own’ at my local book store and skimmed through their works until I couldn’t stop rereading a short great piece:

Fuck The Poem

I haven’t written in ages

Cause I’d rather stare at you than stare at pages.

But what would be great is

Making a poem that could be half as courageous

As you when you’re naked

I try for a minute –

Your love is my metal, your kisses my rivets,

You are like the ocean beneath the slick of a spillage.

Fuck The Poem.

There’s a bed here

And you want me in it.

How ironic that the guy who made me discover Kae’s works is the one who shattered the fantasy that this poem exemplifies. It’s not sex, sex is only a part of it. It’s being in a situation in which you’re able to forget one of your strongest passions for a little while because suddenly, there is someone who outshines all of it and, just equally important, BEING NEEDED just as much from the other person as you need them. The poem is beautiful and funny and makes me smile but it also makes me melancholic. What’s the opposite of nostalgia? The sentimental longing for a possible period in the future. Or in this case, rather the fear that this said period, this moment, will never become real. This played an incredible role in me connecting with the poem and in the process of being sucked into Kae’s world of lyrical wonders and relatable experiences – and hope. The imagery is painted on me and sticks and smells like written in permanent markers.

She feels all the grief/ Of the world./ Lay a wreath/ For the girls./ She will march/ Till she feels the tarmac respond./ She will die for our wrongs./ We won’t notice.

 Comparing a young girl’s experience in dealing with ignorant men and abuse and finding her own voice in a world that knows no mercy with Jesus dying for his sins. It’s epic and touching in a masterful way which I always notice when I read it out loud. Please read poetry out loud, it is meant to be voiced to unfold its essence which the sound is an important part of.

Your Own is inspired by the Greek myth of Tiresias who (due to a punishment) experienced life as a man and as woman. He was turned blind but he got the ability to make prophecies later on and he was blessed with seven lives. Kae lets the lyrical speaker talk through him in different stages of his life while dealing with themes like questioning gender roles, social conformity, finding identity in times where it’s common to consume artificial versions of people through social media, love, sex and suffering as an artist. I love way too many texts in the collection but just to name a few favorites – ‘The Boy Tiresias’, ‘Hold Your Own’ and ‘Ballad of a Hero’ are all really emotional, layered and skillfully crafted texts and hearing them performed in the writer’s voice is incredibly powerful, especially because they are a great performer and lets the words live and dance and crush. Lately, I’ve been reading the book a lot and I’ve realized that Kae quickly became one of my favorite poets. It’s a combination of the themes they deal with and the way they write: gripping, aesthetic and rhythmic. Naturally, a lot of the texts are great song material and as Kae is a musician (rapper) as well, they have turned some of those poems into songs and into a mixture of spoken word performances supported by musical pieces.

I usually prefer to focus on the essence of their words but I like how ‘Europe is Lost’ turned out to be. Speaking of which, societal criticism especially concerning capitalist structures and war politics are other themes they manage to portray really captivatingly. I love how most of their texts have a really universal appeal while they still include heavily personal narratives, like the story of the boy and his father in ‘Ballad of Heroes’.

Another aspect I and probably a lot of other writers and creative people in general relate to is the way how you can see the traces of amazing writers in Kae’s thoughts and stlye. In ‘The old dogs who fought so well’ they directly quote Bukowski and talk about his poem ‘How to be A Great writer’ (read it if you haven’t yet!). Loneliness, the feeling of being lost and the connection  to all of the great writers who have been in similar desperate situations are all things they deal with engagingly. It’s a beautiful sign of passion when self-expression becomes something you hold on to in tough times but we may not forget that there’s more. Self-expression can be a lot of greath things, including an amazing, enriching tool to process life and relationships and interactions and your journey but in order to express, experiences have to be made.

Do not love the idea of life more than you love life itself.

And while making those great and strange and painful and valuable experiences, remember: Sometimes…

It’s ok to feel alone.

Usually you are.

That’s what poetry’s for.

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