An Interview with Kate Tempest

An Interview with Kate Tempest

I was a writer/actor/co-producer on a play that went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, in August of 2013 and was able to witness some of the best theater I’ve ever seen during my month long stay there. One night, Sooze, a young woman my cast and I shared a flat with, came home raving about “Brand New Ancients,” a new spoken-word based show by the UK performance poet & rapper Kate Tempest. She begged me to go see it but it’s only showtimes were at the same time as our play and so I was never able to go. I have however followed Kate Tempest and the things she’s done since. She has continually made decisions that challenge the format and delivery method of spoken word traditions and I’ve become quite the fan of her thought leadership in our field. This is an interesting interview with her from her time touring in Australia promoting her show. Enjoy.



Kate Tempest performs at Camp Bestival in Dorset

Rod McKuen | In Memoriam

Rod McKuen | In Memoriam

His life story reads like the Forest Gump of counter-culture, he was one of the best-selling poets in American history, he performed on the Tonight’s Show and was nominated for two Oscars and still I bet most young people have never heard of him. Rod McKuen, American poet and singer/songwriter, passed away yesterday.

Rod McKuen was born in Oakland, California in 1933. He never knew his father and had run away from his mother and abusive step-father for good by age 11. In his teens and early 20’s he was a ranch hand, a disc jockey, a railroad worker, and rodeo cowboy. He began keeping a journal, which led to his first poems, and took jobs as a newspaper columnist and a propaganda script writer during the Korean War. He settled in San Francisco and in the early 50’s began reading his poetry in coffee shops alongside Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Soon after he started to sing covers and occasionally originals, performing at the famed Beat-era club The Purple Onion. Before the end of the decade, he’d released several pop albums on Decca Records and was briefly signed as a contract player at a major Hollywood studio, appearing in a few films.

In the early 60’s McKuen moved to France where he met and became lifelong friends with Belgian singer Jacques Brel. McKuen would translate Brel’s songs to English, some like “If You Go Away” and “Seasons In The Sun” became hits. The two continued to work together until Brel’s death in 1978. In the late ’60’s McKuen started publishing books of poetry which became hugely popular with the younger generation. In 1968, he won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording and his books sold over a million copies.

McKuen is said to have written over 1,500 songs, released 200 albums and 30 books of poetry. He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, won a Golden Globe, and was twice nominated for an Oscar. His songs have been covered by everyone from Barbara Streisand to Waylon Jennings to the Kingston Trio. In 1969, Frank Sinatra released an album of McKuen covers called “A Man Alone.” But even with the great popularity, critical success eluded him and his work was called “schmaltzy” and “superficial” and earned him the nickname “The King of Kitsch.”

Rod McKuen passed away yesterday in Beverly Hills. He was 81.

It’s amazing to me that someone with such a fascinating story could be so quickly forgotten. His career begs some obvious questions about popularity vs critical acclaim, writing for the history books and writing for a hungry audience. But strangely his resume reads like someone greatly revered. Check out this recording of his poem “My Friend By The Sea.”




Lucille Clifton | The Killing of the Trees

Lucille Clifton | The Killing of the Trees

I remember when I first got into performance poetry I knew very quickly that I wanted to be a storyteller. There were a lot of poets around me that had found a strong voice very quickly, and the foundation of the Charlotte poetry scene sits squarely on those folks. I have never stuck to any sound that I know of, close friends would tell me it’s because I’m a Pisces, I don’t know what it is exactly. But in pursuing the telling of stories I always thought that storytelling was inherently different from poetry mostly because the poets I considered to be good or great could do things with words I could only unpack later much less create on my own.

It wasn’t until I’d been in the poetry and slam communities for years, after I’d already won two NPS titles that I was sitting in a workshop with Patricia Smith (hallelujah!) and she said that every poem was a story. I’d had this inclination to think that before but I’m from the South and I’m from a poetry community that just writes poems and performs them, we never came up in workshops or learning the mechanics of literature or grammar. So when Patricia Smith made the argument that all poetry was a story of one kind or other, I had a breakthrough (what Oprah would call an “Aha Moment”). Since then I have seen poetry, especially page poetry as having a hidden structure that all narrative works have.

Lucille Clifton was an incredible storyteller. Eternal Graffiti’s new Artistic Consultant Mahogany Browne put me on to her work a few years ago and I’ve come back to it slowly but consistently since then. What I love most about digging into her work is that there are a few videos of her online where you get to see her personality outside of her writing and I swear she would have been the best conversationalist ever. The way she takes the audience through her thought process in this clip showcases something that very few performers have, that way of turning the complicated into the simple. Her story before the poem is terrific, but it’s the story within the poem as she conducts these wild story lines together to create this concerto that is really impressive. Anyway, I’m going to keep digging into Mrs. Clifton’s work to bring y’all all that good good. Enjoy this here.





Zora Neale Hurston | Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston | Their Eyes Were Watching God

Years ago a performance poet friend of mine introduced me to Zora Neale Hurston’s work while I was crashing her couch on tour. She handed me a copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God and Mules and Men my first night there and I read through all of Mules and Men before I’d left two days later. I bought Watching God on the way home from the airport.

Zora Neale Hurston is important not just because of her incredible ear for authentic voice, but also because of her contributions to the conversation around art and culture during her lifetime. As much of her work was collecting folklore, what she’s left behind is a living testament to storytellers of the oral tradition which is in turn inspiring to me as a performer and storyteller.

The following is a clip of her niece reading selection from Their Eyes Were Watching God. If you ever get the chance to see the film, do yourself a favor and just read the book instead.








Hieu Minh Nguyen | Seven

Hieu Minh Nguyen | Seven

Hieu Ming Nguyen is a writer and performer from Saint Paul, Minnesota. I first saw him perform at the National Poetry Slam in Charlotte a few years ago and was knocked back and have been a fan since. Hieu’s super powers come from not just his strength with a pen, but his ability to use his voice to draw an audience in. I have seen him hold a packed room with a whisper and I’ve seen him steal folks’ breath with a rattle and boom that few performance poets are capable of harnessing without looking like they’re screaming from nervousness. His words in another performers hands would still be a great experience, but his handling of his work is like watching a fist fight where you forget who swung first. When Hieu spits poems, you can’t always remember the lines verbatim but you try to explain what just happened to someone later.

Hieu is going on tour with the amazing Franny Choi in April (see Eternal Graffiti’s post on Franny here), I couldn’t find any tour dates but do yourself a favor and follow along with them both and track down a show near you, you won’t be disappointed. For more on Hieu (and for a link to buy his book!) follow the links after the video.



Follow along with Hieu here: