the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

Kate Tempest book launch, The Old Vic 23rd August 2012

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What a pleasure it was to sit in the Old Vic and watch ‘performance poetry’! Kate Tempest, who makes the words ‘cunt’ and ‘fucking’ an endeering verbal tic, lovely in the extreme and inspiring as always, except this time in the grandest of settings so that when she looked up to take our imaginations with her to see the moon and sun of her poem, the roof of the regency theatre was so far above her that she actually seemed the mystic high priestess of the movement calling on the power of astral bodies.

And it was really ‘performance poets’ of the UK-hiphop-poetry generation. Zia Ahmed, Hollie McNish, Chester P, Jam Baxter, David J, John Berkavitch, Polar Bear and Kate. You know the ones who perform under monikers? None of those who from previous eras have already made it into print (with their real names) and certain respectability. And yet, without enlisting the great John Cooper Clarke, LKJ, Zepahniah etc, we could still fill the place with our generation. And of course music was there too provided by Kwake Bass and Raven Bush of Speakers Corner Quartet

Lots of heads down from around the scene. And no bitterness or bitchiness. People just happy to watch some dedicated and talented performers, all unsigned, self-published and bringing a bit of pre-Victorian rowdiness dressed up in its new merrie-England hip-hop clothing.

Defining moment in the scene? Perhaps. In 1965, the performance poets of the jazz-poetry generation convened around Alan Ginsberg for the ‘International Poetry Incarnation’. A group of poets steeped in Blake and acid-mysticism. It was a nice link that Kate read the brilliant intro from New Numbers, by a man who was part of that Albert Hall ‘happening’ and who more than most of his better known contemporaries transcends his era towards being timeless: Christopher Logue. For whom Kate and I will be part of a South Bank tribute at the end of 2012, a year after his death.

For now, I don’t see why things won’t grow more. I don’t think this is high-tide yet. There’s books, CDs and videos coming out all over the scene and a whole generation of youngsters who have actually been exposed to live poetry. Who have grown up with rap as a mainstream, worldwide culture – not just an underground niche thing with a bad reputation. More will happen before poetry passes into prime time TV nonsense. By then it might be too late to contain it entirely – whatever limited thing it is that live poetry can do.

Kate increasingly the Ginsberg of this generation. Hard-working, wide-reading, committed to the public and the social, to the need to uplift and create a world of possibility that takes us all in with her, right or left wing, radical or reformist, not really read much about politics, she convinces with her empahasis on love, morality and balance. An atheist, spiritual ethics and a speaker of truth. And it is, explicitly, truth that she is aiming for. It seems appropriate to leave it with a quote from Blake (another link between the 60s poets and us now), from whom Kate never had time to read from last night:

“Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth”

P.S. Hammer & Tongue slam final on Tuesday 4th September (cheeky plug… but you know, we got to keep this scene moving forward, right?)

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  1. […] her massively successful book launch in the massive Old Vic, now Kate Tempest has a play out too. Written across a year at Battersea […]

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