“Hold Your Own” is a multi-voiced collection of poetry by Kate Tempest, based around the Greek myth of Tiresias a blind prophet of Apollo in Thebe. On Mount Cyllene Tiresias came upon a pair of copulating snakes, shocked by this he picked up a branch and proceeded to hit them, the goddess Hera was angry by this and transformed Tiresias into a woman as punishment. Tiresias spent seven years as a women, became a priestess to the goddess, married and had children. After this period Tiresias once again came upon two entwined snakes &, depending on which version of the myth you read, she either trampled them, or left them well alone, and Tiresias was released from the enchantment and once more became a man.
But before I go any further into this collection of verse, I’d like to back up a bit. I first became aware of Kate tempest, via 6Musics festival and a song she did with Eliza Carthy, which I thought was beautiful, I particularly loved the words that Kate Tempest half sang/half spoke. I had to find out more so started to search out who this individual was (I already was aware of Eliza), and in doing so found out about this wonderful new poet and that the words she sung was a poem from this collection.
For My Niece.
I hold you in my arms
your age is told in months.
There’s things I hope you’ll learn.
Things I'm sure that I learned once.
But there’s nothing I can teach you.
You’ll find all that you need.
No flower bends its head to offer
teaching to a seed
The seed will grow and blossom
once the flower’s ground to dust.
But even so, if nothing else,
one thing I’ll entrust:
Doing what you please
is not the same
as doing what you must.
What I also learned is that apart from being a fantastic performance poet, who commands a huge and dedicated following on the performance and rap circuit, she is also a playwright, whose spoken word piece Brand New Ancients was performed in 2012 to critical acclaim at the Battersea Arts Centre, winning her the 2013 Off West End Award ("The Offies") - It also won the Ted Hughes Award (youngest ever winner) for New Work in Poetry and a Herald Angel Award at Edinburgh Festival. On top of all this her album Everybody Down, was nominated for a Mercury Prize (2014) and given the inaugural "Soundcheck Award" for the best album of 2014 by Radioeins and Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin. She was also selected as one of the 2014 Next Generation Poets by the Poetry Society.
Kate Tempest sited her influences as Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, W B Yeats, William Blake, W H Auden and Wu-Tang Clan.
Back to the book: “Hold Your Own” is divided into four sections, Childhood, Womanhood, Manhood and Blind Profit. Although it starts with a poem entitled “Tiresias”, which over its twenty-four pages resets the myth in present day London
Picture the scene:
A boy of fifteen.
With the usual dream
And the usual routine.
Heading to school with a dullness inside
Borne of desires left unsatisfied.
Going on to describe this fifteen year old lad, awkward of gait, soft of skin, not yet able to grow bum fluff on his chin, head down, headphones on – Wu Tang Clan blaring out. We then follow from the chance meeting with the snakes, through the gender change & the new birth as a woman. Tiresias now a women has to learn the ways of this new flesh, has to learn, live and love from this new perspective, before with the way of myths there’s another meeting with the snakes and he becomes a man. But as is also the way of myths, the gods glance his way and involve him in their petty squabbles: Zeus and Hera have been arguing about who has greater pleasure from sex and Tiresias having been both male and female, could answer their question – the answer he gives dissatisfies Hera, who strikes him blind, Zeus could do nothing to stop her or reverse her curse, but in recompense he gave Tiresias the gift of foresight and a lifespan of seven lives.
As stated above, this is merely the introduction to this collection, as through the next four parts we follow this tale through the transformations of child, man, woman and onto the blind prophet, unseen un-listened to in this world where worth is judged on what you've got now.
See him, the old man, blind as our greed,
Alone in the caff with his meat and his gravy.
Witness to every great nation that rose up in hope
And fell prey to itself. This is slavery.
Is that what he says to himself? Was it maybe
A mumble that meant something else? Was it baby
I miss you? He gets up slow from the table.
Gripping his cane so he’s able.
Shuffling, lonesome, sipping black lager,
Park-drunk. Spouting maniacal laughter.
Hard up. Head down. Scarf, gloves, parka.
Every other bastard with a half-arsed grasp on the last judgement is sitting
In his bathtub
clasping his palms. Each night got his guard up so far that he can’t dance
till he’s half-cut.
No damn charm, all they want is to be martyrs.
He spits brown phlegm at the oncoming darkness.
He ridicules grandeur
He understands squalor.
Cake for breakfast.
He can do what he likes.
If these are the last days
They’re no more fast-paced
Than all of the other
Last days and nights.
Buzzwords everywhere. Progress. Freedom.
He picks his teeth with a dirty needle
And kicks his feet to the latest jingles.
Ain't got no time to be dating singles.
Far too busy trying to make things simple.
This old tribe ain't nothing special
All my life I’ve watched men wrestle,
Stealing land to fly their flags.
He keeps his eyes in a plastic bag.
He keeps his eyes in a plastic bag.
I started out trying to learn more about a performer I had heard on my favourite radio station and ended up learning about someone who is in her own way setting the world alight, someone who has the ability to transcend labels and genres. I thought I had discovered a new favourite musician, but I found a chameleon, someone capable of moving between whatever fields she so chooses and moving with a confidence and style that is beguiling, for example she is currently working on a new collection of poems, a novel and a new record with music producer Dan Carey and I will definitely follow with interest.
Kate Tempest grew up in south-east London, where she still lives. Starting out as a rapper, she toured the spoken word circuit for a number of years, and now works as a poet and playwright. Her work includes Balance, her first album with her band Sound of Rum; Everything Speaks in its Own Way, a collection of poems with CD and DVD of live performance; GlassHouse, a forum theatre play for homeless theatre company Cardboard Citizens; and the plays Wasted and Hopelessly Devoted for Paines Plough.