(Nicholas Wroe’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/3.)
The two primary voices that emerge from Kate Tempest's new collection of poetry, Hold Your Own, belong to Tempest herself and to Tiresias, the mysterious prophet of Greek myth, a figure who was both blind and sighted, a man and a woman, and who straddled the divide between this world and the underworld. "I read Sophocles in my mid-to-late teens and Tiresias got dragged on at the end to tell people stuff they didn't really want to hear," explains Tempest. "He was never really explained. He just sort of occurred as this blind prophet being led on by a child, and he's been on my mind ever since. When I was thinking about this collection I realised it could hold all the things I wanted to write about, but at the same time it could tell the story of this man who has lived all these different lives, and had to deal with them in order to be the person he becomes – which is how everyone has to live, right?"
Tempest, 28, does indeed cross boundaries as a rapper, poet, musician, social activist, dramatist and novelist. The many worlds in which she operates became clear last month when she was nominated for the 2014 Mercury music prize alongside the likes of Damon Albarn for her album Everybody Down, and was then named a Next Generation poet, following in the footsteps of Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. "The press room at the Mercury awards was like an intricately constructed satire as to what it might be like to be in the press room at the Mercury awards," she laughs, a few days after the event. "As a music fan since I was pretty young I knew all about it. But I knew very little about the Next Generation poets until I was told I was on the list. In hindsight I can say that, at some level, it was a dream I couldn't quite bear to acknowledge. But it was not something I had consciously aspired to, and, until I got the call from Don, I didn't imagine I would ever be published as a poet."