Taking its title from James Joyce’s ‘Araby’, one of the most beguiling stories in Dubliners, Kate Tempest’s latest collection is the poetic equivalent of a heartbreak album (think Blood on the Tracks, Back to Black, In the Wee Small Hours, Songs of Love & Hate, Rid of Me etc).
If you’ve never read (or heard or listened to) Kate Tempest before (who is a musician and a novelist as well as a poet), you might be surprised by just how vibrant her poetry is. If you’ve ever been heartbroken yourself (if you’ve ever read Samuel Beckett’s ‘Cascando’ and absolutely got the “terrified again / of not loving / of loving and not you / of being loved and not by you / of knowing not knowing pretending”), you will get an almighty kick out of what Tempest is doing.
As you’d expect from a heartbreak album, this begins at the end. “Everything was Argument / And everywhere was Rage.” The titles of these poems alone hit home and hit home hard: ‘Things I do in our house since you left’ (I’m looking for you / but you have gone missing”), ‘I was a nightmare the whole time I know it’, ‘Keeping busy’, ‘Seeing other people’, ‘Headfuck’. Pared back by hurt, truth comes easy:
“With enough time it will be like it never happened
With enough distance our bodies will forget”
In ‘A place that meant something to me’, she returns to a place she first encountered as a child, a place she then shared with her former lover, a place she now visits “to remember myself / I’m looking for who used to live in my bones / Before they existed to hope for your kisses.”
“But London has changed
Even my derelict, secret, wild London
All brown mud and stones,
Has been built over, cleaned up.”
The middle follows the end, of course, that time in which life is tasted afresh, albeit imbued with loss. “A dream of a time,” she writes. Other people (“The new woman”) arrive on the scene but
“We struggled to take
We couldn’t quite catch”.
This is a world in which you have to be “Careful with the radio” (because “All songs might be the straw”). This is the “Reluctant Spring of my love” (“I keep you warm in my jacket”). And yet. It’s all very one step forward, two steps back.
“It’s you again as usual
It was you before we met
And it’s still you, despite the fact
That you have long since left.”
You read this and you think: so true. Her words are so true they are burning hot to the touch. And again, the titles of the poems, ladies and gentlemen: ‘I don’t want to go backwards with her anymore, I want to go forward with you’; ‘But let’s not get stale and resentful just because we live together’; ‘Falling asleep, feeling you falling asleep’.
It’s quality, is what it is. The rawness of the earlier poems give way to grace, and Tempest’s sense of humour returns like an appetite assuaged. Here she is in a poem called ‘Hormonising’:
“One thing about being two women together is that every single
month we get at least a week when we are both pre-menstrual and
neither of us know what the fuck is going on.”
After a row, “our relapse into tenderness / is furious.” The love Tempest makes is infectious. The very last line in the book will have you looking at the person you love the most saying YES like Molly Bloom and there’s no better recommendation of the power of this book:
“You know, it used to keep me up at night
The lack of you”
Any Cop?: Ah we loved it. We don’t read a huge amount of poetry these days but from here on in we’ll make time for everything Tempest does.