Title: Hold Your Own
Author: Kate Tempest
Genre: Prose poetry
Where I got the book: I purchased this collection through Book Depository.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: Structured around the Greek myth of the blind prophet Tiresias, this modern interpretation presents a collection of poems on gender, love, childhood, age, and sexuality.
“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.”
– “These things I know” in Hold Your Own, Kate Tempest
I have to admit I have very little general knowledge about Greek mythology, it’s just one of those things I’ve never really been interested in looking further into. As for the myth of Tiresias I didn’t know anything at all about it before reading this. In fact, I didn’t even know this poetry collection was structured around it (I got this purely because it was recommended to me), so when I found out I decided to just dive in with an open mind and see how much I could get out of it.
Tempest’s “Hold Your Own” is divided into four parts: “Childhood”, “Womanhood”, “Manhood”, and “Blind Profit”. The very first poem, “Tiresias”, is a retelling of the Greek myth and works as an introduction to these four parts. In short it tells the story of how Tiresias, after striking a pair of mating snakes with a stick, is punished by Hera and turned into a woman. He remains a woman for seven years until he again comes across a pair of mating snakes but this time he leaves them alone, thus regaining his masculinity. I found this retelling so wonderfully written and well-structured that I’m pretty sure you’ll easily grasp its meaning whether you are familiar with the myth or not. Tiresias binds the four parts of the collection together, using the myth as a basis, while we are presented poems on themes such as sexuality, gender, education, and love – just to mention a few.
I really loved this collection. In such a short book, Tempest manages to cover all of the mentioned themes and more, and I was impressed at how much of an impact her writing had. Tempest is a spoken-word artist and this is evident in her poetry; there’s a wonderful drive and energy behind her words, the language is erratic and bold, it contains a lot of rhyme and rhythm, and it just keeps going, it pushes you forward. That said, there is a certain variety to the way she writes, and while a large part of the language is gritty, it is also beautiful and powerful. There are some great passages in here that are purely witty and sarcastic, others are truly shocking in their relevancy and accuracy, while others again are quite heartbreaking, either because of the openness and intimacy that is displayed through them or in the degree you relate to them. My favorite poems were those on the fluidity of gender and sexuality, and maybe especially the passages concerning the expression of womanhood. A lot of emotion has been packed into these pages.
The myth of Tiresias is, as mentioned, what binds this collection together, and sometimes the link between myth and poem isn’t as strong as you might expect. There’s nothing wrong with that, but some poems did seem to stray more from the concept than others. Not all the poems are equally strong, whether that be due to the topic or the structure. That said, the book as a whole is emotionally engaging and I have no doubt there’s something in here for everyone to relate to. Personally I really enjoyed reading this but I think this style of poetry probably works even better when performed.
I am definitely going to pick up more of Tempest’s poetry in the near future, and since I also found this writing very accessible I think this collection is a great place to start if you’re unfamiliar with the genre.