Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos
“It’s 4:18AM. At this very moment, on this very street, seven different people in seven different flats are wide awake. They can’t sleep. Now, of all these people in all these houses only these seven are awake. And they shiver in the middle of the night, counting their sheepish mistakes.”
John Betjeman described a poet’s function as taking poetry to those who wouldn’t usually consume it, presenting: simply, shortly, rhythmically and memorably. Meeting the former Poet Laureate’s approval, London’s Kate Tempest returns with Let Them Eat Chaos, her story of doing one’s best to get by in the madness of the big city, using an efficient vocabulary with a chip-chop rhythm in a warm, candid tone that emphasises the spoken over the written word.
‘Perfect Coffee’ jabs the hardest, gentrification forcing the protagonist from all she knows: “This don’t feel like home no more as I don’t speak the lingo”: social frustration between classes here, between cultures elsewhere. There’s talk of moving on but there’s nowhere to move to, Tempest herself has lived her life in one small area of her city. People voted to move to an imagined place in this year’s European Union referendum, a situation discussed more literally in ‘Europe is Lost’: “‘England’, ‘England’, patriotism, And you wonder why your kids want to die for religion” is a self-satisfying tweet, the easy reassurance of self-ascribed liberalism, permitting judgment of those who’ve lived their lives in one small area of their city. The world contains too much to take in, too much noise, too much information so people ignore, select and specialise; non-judgemental Tempest reminds all to fight against this protectionist narrow field of vision.
Comparisons are The Streets’ anecdotes of city life, Linton Kwesi Johnson who tackled 1970s and 80s urban unrest with a dialect over beats, and The Delines’ Nashville-soul album ‘Colfax’ of below the fold nocturnal America, a reminder genres are only useful for grouping records in shops, and stories not plots matter. This story concludes with our seven until now separated narrators assembling during a revelatory storm, there’s a sense of holding hands singing Kumbaya as ‘Tunnel Vision’s lyrics zip through a Billy Joel ‘We Didn't Start the Fire’ manifesto to keep the terror of the world’s future at bay. A wandering, menacing David Thewlis in Mike Leigh’s ‘Naked’ introduced the morning, will Tempest’s infectious enthusiasm positively contextualising the individual, society and nature offer redemption? They'll soon find out, it’s not long until this time tomorrow.
Tempest’s voice is more important than ever as her characters are representative but she is not, Bridget Minamore describing in The Guardian despite women and people of colour dominating poetry slams, white men get most of the paying gigs. Philip Larkin was described as the voice of the man next door, Kate Tempest is the voice of the woman next door, documenting the daily, the ordinary, the domestic in a language that comes out of the bus stop and the newspaper to be transformed by her poetic prowess. When you have movements and collectives, one person often stands out.