Life Writing

Reflection: Running Upon the Wires by Kate Tempest

I have been fascinated by Kate Tempest since the first time I saw her. I think it was on some Australian morning show. I remember being surprised that they had a poet on (I don’t watch daytime television for the most part) And there was this Raphealite cherub in jeans and an oversized shirt, And instead of pearls and jubilations she spoke gritty prescience. She was some Cassandra, some some soothsayer, some unforgiving truth speaker. I was a ready made acolyte.

I devoured her written work, Let The Eat Chaos, The Brand New Ancients, Hold Your Own, The Bricks that Built the Houses, and Everything Speaks in Its Own Way. I listened to them where I could find them. I even made the Wayward Girls read them (we did Brand New Ancients just last month). Then this month, Running Upon the Wires was released. I ordered copies (both the book and the CD) from the UK (for reasons I don’t have to justify to you).

Running Upon the Wires differs from her previous writing: while she has always examined the intricacies of the human condition, and characters like Tommy (BNA) read as some fractured Hamlet to Gloria’s glorious and righteous Ophelia Who Lives, Tempest veers away from social commentary in this latest collection. The collection is richly intertextual, as all her work is, and she prefaces the collection with a reference to Jame’s Joyce’s The Dubliners, which also gives the collection its name. It is a raw, often myopic examination of love, its living and its dying. I want to explain my use of the term myopic: it’s often understood as an insult, but to anyone who lives with the condition (hi) there is a beauty to it. The world blurs, it decentres, which means that clarity requires closeness. When you take off your glasses and want to see your lover, you need to hold them close, and this proximity hinges vision with scent, with texture. Simultaneously, you learn the familiarity of gait, of movement, for that moment when someone is far away. The exactness of a person shifts from their features to their embodiment. Tempest uses these often broad or disjointed moments to create a sense of familiarity for the reader. Though the experiences she describes read as intensely personal, there is still this vagueness to them. Like a well written horoscope, they could speak to anyone.

Particular favourites of mine included “A place that meant something to me” and “Not now but soon”. In particular, “Not now” is structured to be read a number of different ways, and I love when a text opens itself to a reader like this, when it makes us reconsider ways of making meaning and knowledge. Tempest’s freeform lends itself to spoken reading: her use of assonance to create flow (a method common to hip hop poets) means that the pace, the rhythm of a poem only really takes over your body when you read it aloud. It’s like a hidden gem, a realisation that pace and breath are not always where they look like they should be.

Although this new work is not as prophetic in tone as her previous work has been, it nonetheless speaks to the frailties of the human condition. It invites us to look at our love, at the ways we in which we live it, and to consider whether we are living it as an urgency, or as a comfort. More than that, it reminds readers that, even in their broad strokes, in their vagueness or their samenesses, each love is specific to its time, to its place and to the people who enact it:

“You are not her,

This is not then” (Tempest, 2018, 55).

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