Kate Tempest on Traps and Lessons

Kate Tempest
Kate Tempest at the Alhambra, Geneva, 2019.

At the Alhambra, Geneva, yesterday evening, Kate Tempest was greeted by a packed, enthusiastic crowd of which I was one. She whipped up a deluge of words and music breaking over us, wave after wave, constantly reminding us, bringing us back to a forgotten fundamental, that language is a union of sounds and sense. Out of the interplay, sounds rubbing against sounds, or clashing in unexpected dissonance, the whole underscored by music, meaning thrust out like leering faces surging from a crowd, unexpected, startling, only to be lost in the next wave of the storm.

Hurled so loud, the amplified beats replaced the racing heart in our chest. The words blurred in our ears such was the volume. Was the loudness a gain? Maybe. Force fused words till at moments all was but music. The sheer mass of words itself made music out of them. However does she remember so much? The blurring between words and music was reinforced as her voice slipped and slid between the two, bending the spoken word to a rythme that was not its, the stream of words, sometimes suspended, sometimes almost bursting into song, was like a jogger walking fast who breaks into a run only to slow to a walk again.

Was the excessive volume a loss? Surely! Much of the beauty of the play on words and sounds was drowned out. That it could be listened to otherwise was evidenced by her latest album, A Land of Traps and Lessons. Every word of grim reality and of heart-rending visions, every clash of sound and meaning can be heard and appreciated. Whatever. I don’t regret having been present.

As the initial applause died down at her entry, Kate Tempest walked to the edge of the stage and peered out through the spotlights, saying, “Let me see your faces. I like to see your faces.” It made her feel less strange doing what she was about to do she said. Her concert ended with People’s Faces, a heart-wrenching battle-cry, at least I imagine it did, I had to rush off to catch the last train. In that final track of her new album, she says, “There is so much peace to be found in people’s faces” and concludes, “… the current’s fast but the river moves slow and I can feel things changing, even when I’m weak and I’m breaking and I stand weeping at the train station ‘cause I can see your faces. I love people’s faces.”

Blinded by inspiration


I attended a workshop given by the poet Laura Kasischke (in the photo above) organised by the Geneva Writers Group. It was all about images, or rather metaphors … and the importance of the senses as the source of all perception of the world. There were many writing exercises amongst readings and the occasional discussion. Based on the juxtaposition that underlies metaphors, each exercise strung together a description anchored heavily in the senses and a question or judgement linked to a different context. Here are a few of my pieces sparked by this jostling of disparate worlds.

Derelict house

Rain ran over her bald head and dripped from the faded red dress which hung torn from her sagging form. Ivy had crept up her legs and over her body, its deep green leaves in stark contrast to the pale ivory of her skin and the prominent bluish veins. She sat in the ruins of an armchair, unleashed springs sprouting around her as she stared out over the abandoned garden. Despite the heavy makeup, cracks ran down the side of her face, threatening to reveal the bones that jutted out. Her chest heaved in one long drawn-out sigh and she turned the page of the book resting in her lap, slowly, ever so slowly. The ink on the page had long been washed into a grey-blue blur and the paper buckled in the rain. Curving her index finger, she dug the long nail into the soggy mass, and, tearing downwards, left a deep gouge in the body of the book that the rain hastened to fill.

The White Room

The double bed fills most of the room, its covers folded down with hospital precision. Slippers slink side by side, their toes peeking out from under the bed. On the dresser, each tube of lipstick, each bottle of perfume, even the paper hankies, are aligned in neat rows. The wicker wastepaper basket, mostly concealed beneath the worksurface, is empty. Not an odd angle, not a rough edge, nothing to get hold of. I round the bed, cross the plush carpet, feeling it’s softness ease between my toes, and pull at the wardrobe door. It resists. I pull harder and it flies open. Crying out, I jump back in alarm as a host of empty cardboard boxes tumbles out on top of me.


You step out from behind the lectern, smoothing the folds of your dress as you do. Smoothing your nerves too. So many people watching, listening, sizing you up, row upon row of them awaiting the impossible, drooling in expectation, on the look out for the slightest miss step. Your eyes are wide, your jaw set, your arms snake around your chest, clasping you tight, crushing the breath from your lungs. Whatever you do, don’t let it show. You know the routine. Throw up a rampart of words. Plough on. Let the words tumble over the waiting audience, hurry, out run them, knock the breath from them, eliminate them before they do you.


The Girl and the Lost Prince


During the recent poetry workshop with Carmen Bugan, organised by the Geneva Writers’ Group, I began a poem starting from the word girl. From those couple of lines came The Girl and the Lost Prince.

Sound the trumpets, ring the bells, cry out from the tower tops.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! A wonder just walked in the door.
Courtiers jostle, elbowing each other to catch a glimpse. (…)

Read on…