Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients pushes the idea of what poetry can be, telling a complete story through verse rather than serving as a collection of individual poems. It’s the kind of story that deserves to be read all in one go, preferably with tea, and lose yourself into the world of these characters whose lives intersect in ways that are recognisable to the reader.
Tempest’s work as a rapper is clear, and I think Brand New Ancients works best read aloud to really appreciate the work that has gone into crafting this poem. It tells the story of normal people the reader could easily identify with, their stories contrasted against the idea that they have the importance of Gods and are more than the roles they’ve been given by society. It fits in well with the rest of her poetry in her other collections like Hold Your Own, where she covers contemporary topics that many people wouldn’t typically associate with poetry and finding references to mythology in everyday situations.
The main focus of the poem is a group of young people growing up today in difficult circumstances, people who find the struggle of their childhood following them into adulthood and impacting their actions. Maybe a predictable storyline, but something that works in Tempest’s favour as it feels normal, the expected outcome for people like this. It suggests that this outcome could be avoided – like characters from the Greek mythology she draws upon, we all have the ability to become a hero or to become wicked, but it’s up to us how we choose to use this power. We can recognise the events which lead to these outcomes, and this could give us the tools and the insight to change the narrative to make the best of what could be a bad situation.
Brand New Ancients has been adapted an as album, theatre piece and a short film (which can be found for free online here!), as well as letting Tempest become the first person under 40 to win the Ted Hughes award in 2013. She has performed at Glastonbury, Latitude, and Big Chill, and continues to write and perform new work with a focus on life in today’s society.