Feature: Poet and rapper Kate Tempest talks to Run Riot about her new show Brand New Ancients and modern day heroism
Kate Tempest talks to Run Riot about who her heros are, what heroism means to her, inspiration, truth, her new book, who would be at her dream poetry night (living and dead!) and her show at BAC: Brand New Ancients
Who are the heroes of your day-to-day life?
My wife India. She is always optimistic, sees the best in everyone, listens so carefully and cares so completely for me and all her friends. She loves people more than anyone I've ever met before, and it's very inspiring. She also works so hard to get what she wants out of life and pushes herself to her limits to know what it is that she needs. My Dad is a hero of mine, and my Mum, and my Grandmother. Also my friends, my oldest and dearest friend Kwake has heroically faced every day and made it into what he needed it to be. He's always been heroic and as he grows older and more into himself he just gets more and more inspiring, he's following his path and making his dreams come true, he's a musician, and he has been since the day i met him, and he's never stopped going for it, not for one day. Also, my dog Murphy is my hero, 'cos he's so honest, he just needs what he needs and doesn't bother hiding his feelings. He's amazing. And then, there are the heroes that I have found through music and poetry and books, I've never met them and I never will, but I feel very close to them and their example through engaging with their work, and they give me the strength to face the things I find difficult and pursue the things I need to.
What character trait most qualifies someone a hero?
Heroism is relative, but for me, to be a hero means to be strong. Strength these days is different to the strength of ancient warriors, and is not so easy to see. To be strong in these times could mean not giving in to cycles of depression and addiction, or it could mean making the decision to have a baby and then caring for it in the best way you can and changing your life to make the baby's life better. Or sticking at a relationship, or working hard at an ambition, or caring for a sick family member. A hero for me is someone who lives in an admirable way, and lives for something more than themselves, and puts the people they love first, even before themselves; but thats not to say, it's about squashing your own dreams to make someone else's life easier, its not about passively allowing your life to be sucked out of you because you're afraid you might upset your partner by speaking the truth about what you want, thats not heroism, thats weakness. A hero decides what they need to do to be happy, in love, in work, in life, and will not accept misery until they've challenged it as hard as they can. In Brand New Ancients, every character is a hero, or has a heroic moment, as in life every person is a hero or has the potential for a heroic moment.
Is the best inspiration for you 'honesty and truth'?
Honesty is not necessarily an inspiration, it's more an aim. Honesty and truth as words mean nothing really. These are concepts that shift and change and can be used by anyone to denote anything, but honesty and truth as feelings are incredibly powerful. If your work is from an honest place, that expresses a truth that is present in you, then it will sing. And it will speak to the honesty in someone else. Truth is a ridiculous concept, and the idea of one truth being more true than another has led to some of the most atrocious events in our human history, the idea of all truth being essentially the same truth though is one that I agree with, or at least, all truth being equal and from the same place. Truth is not to be harnessed, or used or peddled or flashed around like 'look what i have, i know the truth', truthfulness for me, in my work and in my life, is accepting the stuff that's really hard to accept and moving through life with your guts first. Feeling everything, and knowing the reasons behind what you do.
Do you have a creative 'ritual' to get you into 'the zone'?
Not really, I sit at my desk and give it a go. Sometimes smoking helps. Sometimes it doesn't. I write on busses and trains and walking down the street if it feels like the right time. Sometimes the writing is much better when it comes without me expecting it, rather than when I sit down and try and do it cold. When I don't write, I feel uncomfortable, all moldy and slow and I argue with my friends and I don't know what to do with myself and then I get drunk, and then I realise it's coz I haven't been writing, and thats what's wrong. Sometimes i write for weeks without getting anywhere near the zone, sometimes I'm in the zone before i've even realised its time to pick up a pen. There is no formula to it, but I do try very hard. Its not something that just happens anymore like it used to be, like a tap, now, i work very hard at maintaining my passion and pushing myself to do more, do better, work harder, and although it's a natural, instinctive thing for me to write, I've worked non stop at this for the past ten years, and all of those years are present when I sit down to write. There's no ritual but it's all there.
What are your demons, and how do you battle them?
My demons are my demons, it doesn't seem an appropriate place to list them. But I battle them in the same way that everybody does. Usually by running from them until they are bigger than me, and then facing them, and then fighting them, and then getting tired and running again.
If you could pitch the dead against the living, who would you select to be in the greatest poetry slam of all time - for the tournament of Kate's Dead Poets Society vs Kate's Living Poets Society?
Rather than a slam, I would prefer to have a night of poetry without the competitive edge. The idea of inviting a dead hero of mine back to earth for a poetry slam makes me shudder a bit, but if death were no barrier, the poets who would read at my ideal poetry night would be William Blake, Charles Bukowski, Christopher Logue, P.B Shelley, W.B Yeats, fuck it why not, lets get Aesop down, and Sophocles and Sappho, just coz I'd love to meet her, and Beckett if he'd be up for reading a bit of Murphy, and Rumi, and Frank O Hara and Allen Ginsberg. Pretty knock out lineup there, and then from the living, it would have to be Polarbear, David J, Hollie Mcnish, Ross Sutherland, Salena Godden, Angry Sam Berkson, John Osborne, John Berkavitch, Chester P, El Crises, Kat Francois, Saul Williams, Scroobius Pip and John Cooper Clarke. Mental, that gig would last about 3 days.
Your first book Everything Speaks in its Own Way is now out - are you intentionally making a statement of independence by not selling via anyone else?
We decided to publish on our own imprint because we believed whole heartedly in what we wanted to do, and at the time, no one else did. I had a couple of conversations with publishers but it didn't feel like they were as on fire about the idea of me having a book out as I was, and it's always been in my nature to work hard for what I want, so instead of waiting around for someone else to go for it, we went for it on our own. We got some money up and we made a book. Luke Eastop (the co founder of Zingaro, and the designer behind the book) and I have always seemed to have had a way of getting things done. We'd love to get someone on board that can help with pushing the company forwards and helping us with the business side of things but for now we're managing ok and the book is being well received. I would love to say that it was a statement of independence, but really, it was just that I knew there was people who wanted to read my words, and so we made a book for them because no proper publisher gave a shit at the time.
The launch at the Old Vic was amazing. The feeling in that theatre was unlike any feeling I've had in a theatre before. It felt like the whole audience was getting behind not just me, but all the poets on that stage, and all the poets whose words have ever been spoken in that theatre and saying, yes, this is what we want. Honesty, and hard graft. it was magical. I got this standing ovation that completely floored me. I forgot how to be charming and comfortable, and just stood still feeling like I could have cried. It was a pretty immense moment and a suitably precocious way for a brand new publishing company to launch its first book.
What do you hope audiences will walk away with after seeing Brand New Ancients?
I hope they will feel inspired to look again at where they're from and how they're living, and remember that they are powerful and inspiring beings in there own right. I hope they walk away feeling like they've seen something that was for them. Rather than for someone else.
4th - 22nd September 2012, 8pm
£12, £8 concs, £8 previews
Kate is our guest editor for a week from 29th August - catch her top event picks on the RR homepage
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