My heart throws its head against my ribs, / it's denting every bone it's venting something it has known since I arrived and felt it beat.
Kate Tempest, winner of the Ted Hughes Award for Brand New Ancients and widely regarded as the UK's leading spoken word poet, has produced a new poem-sequence of electrifying power. Based on the myth of the blind prophet Tiresias, Hold Your Own is a riveting tale of youth and experience, sex and love, wealth and poverty, community and alienation. Walking in the forest one morning, a young man disturbs two copulating snakes--and is punished by the goddess Hera, who turns him into a woman. This is only the beginning of his journey . . . Weaving elements of classical myth, autobiography and social commentary, Tempest uses the story of the gender-switching, clairvoyant Tiresias to create four sequences of poems, addressing childhood, manhood, womanhood, and late life. The result is a rhythmically hypnotic tour de force--and a hugely ambitious leap forward for one of the most broadly talented and compelling young writers today.
In Britain, Tempest is a front-page phenomenon: the rapper, performance poet, and playwright has picked up attention and honors such as a Mercury Award nomination and a commission from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Her debut poetry collection reveals an earnest writer of strong declarations, clear anecdotes, and inspiring slogans, but also some clich s. Much of the book revolves around a modern Tiresias, a mythic figure who grows up a boy, becomes a woman, and then becomes a man, experiencing and commenting on our highly gendered lives along the way: "Because the boy will grow up/ makes him no less innocent." In a love poem, she writes, "I feel you feeling me move... I lay in the dark and listened to the rain./ Drank the night in breathless mouthfuls." Tiresias, in the opening poem, decides that "True love takes its toll/ On souls/ Who are not used to feeling whole." Tempest often writes about, and for, teenagers; she could get a lot of attention here through her appeal to young readers, or through the power of her live delivery. Though some British performers translate beautifully and almost completely to the printed page, the evidence here is that Tempest may not be one of them.