Actually, it’s cold, I’m alone and Trump (that’ll be the use his that word today) is “leader” of the “free” world.
My flatmate’s narcissism, however, has become a surprising comfort. Braced for a day of FML political conversations, her incessant talk of girlfriend troubles, her snotty nose and other banalities are a comforting reminder that this whole fucking charade is way beyond me anyway.
That’s no reason to get despondent though, it’s just time to work out what’s going to give us the best returns on our love investments and, right now, that doesn’t involve contemplating a deeply depressing American shit show. Eventually it will. Maybe tomorrow. My best friend who I like to sleep with in the wake of upsetting elections isn’t here though, so recovery may take longer.
One candle in this dark is Kate Tempest. She performed her epic poem in its entirety last night at Sala Apolo. There is nothing that woman cannot make me feel. I went alone because I’m that guy now and haven’t felt that connected to a performer’s words since I was a teenager.
Before she took the stage, I met a retired lady who knew Paul Muldoon and her chirpy Uruguayan husband with a tremendous chuckle, a good omen for any poetry night. That’s the dream: get my Spanish good enough to attend a poetry night and understand half of what’s being said. Gotta start with TV first.
When she did arrive, Kate was everything we needed: unassuming, proud, angry, humble and loving. In a typically endearing opener, she asked the crowd to share the night without trying to capture it on a shitty mobile phone photo we’ll never look at anyway. “I believe in nights like this. In passionately, sharing stories.” It wasn’t contrived. It wasn’t wanky. It was hopeful, honest performance that refused to be casual because it was being performed in a nightclub.
The number of iPhones blocking my view dropped. I’d like to think it was Spanish misunderstanding that kept a few aloft but that could be optimistic. When you’re in the same room as Kate, a generous poetic mood takes hold which makes even these annoyances more tragically contextual than fucking irritating and the urge to reach for the judgemental tut a fraction less overwhelming.
Then the tempest began. Kate was every bit an artist that has honed her craft, this poem was a more complete and versatile piece than her last album. Produced by the same guy, he was playing the keys last night too, it showed a clear growth. The two of them have made something more encapsulating than before and a powerful spectacle in real life.
She concluded the encore with a jam and one last poem for us all. There was a reluctance about her before she delivered it. “I had to acknowledge what you gave me,” she told us in her softer, non-performing tone, as she returned to stage one final time, “but I hope it doesn’t affect what you heard before.”
I understood her concern. An epic poem delivered from beginning to end isn’t really tailored for the pressures of the conventional encore. She didn’t want to hamper the seeds that had already begun filling our heads with growing thoughts. Her genuine concern for our reflection only added trust for the ideas to germinate. And so she gave us Brand New Ancients, her ode to stories and sharing them, and thank goodness.
We need stories. And we needed to be reminded of their importance.
It’s easy to feel like a pointless observer as a journalist, as a person in fact. It’s a sentiment that’s bandied around at almost every conversation on the state of society I find myself in. As an able-bodied, mostly straight, white man, albeit with less fake tan than some, it’s easy to feel like powerless before society’s problems as well as their biggest cause.
But good art doesn’t allow such crude excuses for apathy. Kate’s craft is vital fuel for us to work on ourselves and our capacity to be effective by whatever means we find. I’m not talking Gandhi-ing it and being “the change you want to see.” I don’t think you can be necessarily. You can work out how to weave and receive rich and potent poetries to work towards that change however and lift each other up.
She pitches well-worn aphorisms like “find what you love and do it as best you can” with enough conviction to persuade you that it’s actually worth doing and enough vulnerability to feel that she’s struggling through the same anxieties too.
Toni Morrison, civil rights activist and all-round superstar, felt a similar maudlin pain when George Bush was voted in. When a friend rang on the day after the election, her version of my today, and asked how she was, she blurted out the truth:
“Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….”
She wasn’t permitted to carry on. An artist too he lambasted her:
“No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”
And it is. Respect it as a duty, not an indulgence.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.
We have more justification than ever to feel morally and socially disenfranchised, regardless of yesterday’s result, but shows like Kate’s and words like Toni’s are warm encouragement and ferocious love for all of us to keep focus and grow flowers from the shit; a reminder to love art and love through it.
Now to make our own.