Kate Tempest slams conventional poets’ disdain for performance

 from The Guardian.

Kate Tempest has hit out at “intellectual snobbery” among poets, saying she is fed up with conflict between performance and written poetry.

Speaking at the Edinburgh international books festival on Tuesday, the The Mercury prize-nominated poet-performer also hinted that she was keen to collaborate with Björk. Asked if there were any artists she’d like to work with, she prefaced her answer: “Yes, but when I get asked that question, I think about the work artists make, how they’re so amazing and I love what they do, and that’s enough. I don’t necessarily think I need to go an get involved in what they do. I saw Björk recently when I was in New York and I was absolutely profoundly moved by what she does. But yeah, there’s lots of people I like.”

The south Londoner’s love of words has launched her into the mainstream in a whirlwind two years, culminating in a Glastonbury performance this summer. Now she’s working on a novel and a play.

Under the guidance of Picador editor and fellow poet Don Paterson, who chaired her event, Tempest said she is discovering differences between writing for the stage and the page. “Don taught me to not just see the limitation of the page. I used to just sing. You can’t perform a semicolon but the page really can. The page has a job. I’ve accepted that people understand how to read form. It’s like a secret language between the reader and the poem which I didn’t really know about before.”

Part of the lesson was that “a poem on a page isn’t finished until somebody reads it. It’s just some words on a page. But in a performance, the poem happens the minute it reaches the audience.”

Tempest insisted that in either field, poetry should be more about the audience than the performer. “That’s an opinion that ruffles a lot of feathers because poets have got quite high opinions of themselves in certain circles,” she said.

“Intellectual snobbery is rife in lots of artforms. What’s exciting about performance is it takes it back to an ancient time when it wasn’t about how clever, important or educated you were. It was about how well you could communicate.”

Tempest’s passion and anger have lit up her work, ranging from her spoken word theatre hit Brand New Ancients to her her hip-hop album Everybody Down. So what else annoys her? In a nutshell: politicians, inequality and perfume. Yes, perfume.

“There’s something that’s happened recently where it’s become about the artist or musician or performer being somehow above the people they’re talking to. And it’s so that we can sell you exciting perfumes and things like that. It’s absolute nonsense.

“There are different pressures on female performers. What is expected of you when you walk on stage is different. I don’t give a shit because I’ve had to put myself in situations where I’ve refused to be judged on my appearance. I want people to stop looking and start listening. I’ve got myself in a position where I can walk on stage and hopefully renegotiate the rules.

“You get laughed at if you feel it. If it’s just emotional then it’s seen as female. It’s like, ‘aw, you feel. Where’s your brain?’ That is a thing that we have to carry as women. It’s something you get laughed at for. For me, it’s more important that it kicks your face in. You either care about what you love or you don’t.”

Tempest is performing at the Edinburgh international book festival on Wednesday 19 August at 8.15pm.

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