Kate Tempest introduced by Tishani Doshi
By Sitamsini Cherukumalli, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival
Today, on the final day of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, Kate Tempest performed her album of poetry, Let Them Eat Chaos to a spellbound crowd. At the end, she received a standing ovation: only the second speaker out of thousands in the festival’s history to have done so. Tempest is a poet, playwright, rapper, novelist and musician, and she proved she was highly adept at blending all these forms into a single performance. Introduced by the poet Tishani Doshi as a ‘bolt of sound, of energy…most importantly, a bolt of intent,’ Tempest indeed embodied all of aspects during her hour-long performance.
Every spoken word performance is a deliberate act of vulnerability, and watching Tempest pace around the stage, shiver, shake, scream, wail, rap and spit reminded us of the very power of vulnerability. Let Them Eat Chaos is set at 4:18 am, in the flats of seven strangers who live on the same London street. The album starts with the poem Picture of Vacuum, a cosmogony that lays out the poet’s theory of the origins of the Universe. Through the eyes of Tempest, we see this origin as a speck of light that ‘roars into fullness and fire, the whole frame blazing a fire you can’t bear the majesty of.’
Tempest, who won the Ted Hughes Award for her book Brand New Ancients, has a masterful understanding of how history bleeds into the present: both personal history and the history of societies and culture. In Ketamine for Breakfast, Gemma’s past speaks to her, telling her what she must do to change her present:
Tried to change it but I know
If you’re good to me I will let you go
Tried to fight it but I’m sure
If you’re bad to me I will like you more
Tempest’s poetry considers the beauty and pain of everyday lives with grace, and weaves it into the epic scope of our existence. In Don’t Fall In, Tempest treats capitalism – the great anxiety of contemporary lives and societies – with understanding, but also immense anger, at the way it does not create space to accommodate us all:
Come to remind you you’re not an island
Life is much broader than borders
But who can afford to think over the walls of this fortress?
Tempest’s poetry tries to reconcile the needs of people with how larger systems have all but forced people into lives they do not want. She looks at the way this manufactures loneliness and self-hatred, turning us to easier, but nevertheless painful, ways of release. Addictions and emotionally and physically abusive relationships cannot be separated from a fabric of capitalism, economic instability, gentrification and war. Small personal violence is cut from the same cloth as the larger violence of our world.
Throughout her work, there is a very visible tension between wanting to dream a larger dream – to ‘keep the dream in reach,’ and wanting to wake up, and face the realities of our cruel world. After her performance, Tempest spoke of her admiration for the work of poet William Blake, and observed that there is a space in us that is always ‘bound to something timeless,’ which people try to fill with poetry, music, the newest products in the market, sex, drugs. She insists that we can only ‘fill that space with truth,’ which is exactly what her extraordinary performance did.
Photo Credit: Rajendra Kapoor