Published October 9 2014 by Picador
Author: Kate Tempest
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Picture the scene:
A boy of fifteen.
With all the usual dreams
And the usual routine.”
Kate Tempest, winner of the Ted Hughes Prize for Brand New Ancients and widely regarded as the UK’s leading spoken word poet, has produced a new poem-sequence of electrifying power. Based on the myth of the blind prophet Tiresias, Hold Your Own is a riveting tale of youth and experience, sex and love, wealth and poverty, community and alienation. Walking in the forest one morning, a young man disturbs two copulating snakes – and is punished by the goddess Hera, who turns him into a woman. This is only the beginning of his journey . . . Weaving elements of classical myth, autobiography and social commentary, Tempest uses the story of the gender-switching, clairvoyant Tiresias to create four sequences of poems: ‘childhood’, ‘manhood’, ‘womanhood’ and ‘blind profit’. The result is a rhythmically hypnotic tour de force – and a hugely ambitious leap forward for one of the UK’s most talented and compelling young writers.
Recently I’ve been getting back into writing poetry, and this means I want to read more poetry too and broaden my knowledge of poets and styles of poetry. I had seen this collection a few times on Instagram, so picked it up as soon as I saw it in my local Fopp (one of my favourite places for books).
I wouldn’t usually go for a collection of poetry that is based on myth, because most of the time I’m not familiar with the story of the myth, or the significance of the characters in it. But this one is based on the myth of the bling prophet Tiresias, a male character who was turned into a woman as punishment.
When I studied T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land we touched briefly on this myth, so I had a bit of knowledge. Also, one of my friends once told me about Tiresias’ answer when asked who enjoys sex more, men or women. This is referenced in this book and made me smile, and if you don’t know the answer…then I won’t spoil it for you!
What I loved most about this collection is that it explores different stages in life, but it also explored gender and sexuality. I learnt never to assume the gender or sexual preference of the person narrating the poems, and I found that the more I read, the more natural it became to simply accept the fluidity of the words and what they mean.
From a poet’s perspective, Kate Tempest has a wonderful style. She rhymes words in the exact way I like, and her poems read in the kind of rhythm that I aim for in my own work.
But she doesn’t always stick to the same form or style with each poem, and this adds a variety that is great to see in a collection that explores something specific (the myth). She isn’t afraid to go even further.
My favourite poem of the collection is ‘These things I know’. It is not so much a poem as a series of statements of things the author (or narrator) has learnt during life. For example:
“The world is a terrible place for sensitive people
but the closer we come to losing our minds, the harder we’ll work to keep them.”
This resonated with me on a level that the other poems in this book didn’t. The bit I have quoted is relevant to how I feel about my recent mental health, and the style of this poem in general is the same style that I want to adopt for my second book – which will be statements such as the one above, all about my anxious thoughts.
Reading this book has given me the confidence and the determination to pursue my writing career and to keep exploring my mind through words and poetry.
If you haven’t read this collection, please do find a copy! And if you’re wondering if you need any prior knowledge of the myth of Tiresias, the answer is no you don’t. The author does a brilliant job of filling you in.
Link to the book on Goodreads: Hold Your Own