Brockley-born rapper, MC, and spoken-word poet, Kate Tempest, has received a Mercury prize nomination, and been named one of the Next Generation Poets: a once in a decade list released by the Poetry Book Society.
Last year she was also the first person under the age of 40 to be awarded the Ted Hughes Poetry Prize (for Brand New Ancients).
Tempest grew up in south London, working in record shops, living in squats, studying music at the Brit School in Croydon and then poetry at Goldsmiths. She still lives in south London and earlier this year took to the stage at community arts hub, The Albany, in Deptford.
“It has been quite a week,” she said in an interview with Radio 4 on Saturday. “It’s obviously an incredible honour to be on that list with those poets. It’s kind of an intimidating list to be a part of.”
“It’s a massive, massive dream. And with the Mercury prize, just the nomination’s the dream.”
Her talent has earned her the respect of fellow artists – Billy Bragg was so struck by her talent that he invited her to appear on his stage at Glastonbury and to support him on tour and she has also been a guest-lecturer at Yale . But through all of the media hubbub she maintains a rather quiet, almost childlike, air – until she opens her mouth that is.
“I’m not naïve enough to think that this kind of thing will happen forever,” she said. “It’s happening now and that’s really exciting, but I’m fully aware that any minute now…you know, there’s peaks and troughs.
“Before when no one was listening I was making my work, and after when everyone’s stopped listening I’ll still be making my work, so I’m just enjoying this moment where people are listening.”
Tempest has spent plenty of time trying to get people to listen, and her gender, sexuality and appearance initially made it harder for her to gain acceptance, especially in the rap world: Tempest is a gay woman, with an exceptionally child-like appearance. But she is adamant her difference is not what’s important and doesn’t want it to define her or her art: “I don’t want that to go first, I just want the work to be the thing.”
“I come from a culture and an area where if you have a thing that you’re doing you just do it, it’s in my family. I feel very, very passionate about my work. At the expense of everything else in my life, this is the thing that I live and breathe for.”
It is also something that she thinks about all the time. Speaking about her main subject matter – people – she said: “I think that people are infinitely fascinating. I think maybe because of the way we tell stories we’re conditioned to think that people are understandable in the most simplistic of terms, but it’s not true. I am passionately a believer in people and the whole person.
“I can’t get on the Tube because there are so many people and I want to know everything about them. I’m obsessed! This stuff is instinct-led, it’s not a literary device. I’m following the work.”
Tempest’s latest opus, a volume of poetry names Hold Your Own, is her own modern take on the mythical story of Tiresias, giving shape and three dimensional depth to the people of that story: a Greek tale of gender-hopping, prostitutes, blindings and prophets.
It is released on October 9, and just weeks later the Mercury Music Prize will announce its winner. October is set to be a big month for Kate from Brockley. For more about her read this interview with EastLondonLines from 2010.
Listen to the full interview on Radio 4’s Loose Ends here.