Union Songs

A poem by Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest - Cannibal Kids


A life of rhyme: Kate Tempest's poetry-music fusion, Megan Clarke in The Independent 01 March 2010

"Her bolshy, self-confident streak hasn't always served her well; at school she was often taken out of class for being disruptive. When she left at 16 with no A-levels, her future was uncertain, but a lack of qualifications didn't hold her back. She simply introduced herself to the course convener at Goldsmiths College in south London, who accepted her request to study English Literature immediately. The spoken word has always been the currency with which Tempest is most comfortable.

Her talent is not an academic one; it is raw, unabashed emotion, and as such, she felt stifled at Goldsmiths: "I was studying poetry but it was killing it for me, I hated the way they were ripping it apart. I felt so inferior the whole time; that my creative engagement just wasn't worth anything. It's all meant to be of the mind, but I'm kind of all about the guts when it comes to words."

Guts are certainly what spring to mind when you watch her perform, clutching at her stomach, as if she's in pain. You get the sense that she wants to create something tangible and real through language, that she's giving birth to her words. Her poetry, which deals with issues ranging from social exclusion and personal disenfranchisement, to the effects of capitalism and even Greek tragedy, is as much about words and syntax as it is about watching her physically agonise over the delivery of every syllable.

The key to writing great lyrics, she explains, is to drown out the worldly static and just "be open to receiving". These days, though, Tempest finds her natural ability only gets her so far. "That's where I'm at – the transition between it being a really natural thing and then all of a sudden it being my career. I'm trying to make peace with it not being this tap that you just turn on... I really want to develop my discipline, carve things out for the page."

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