About Kae Tempest

Born in south-east London where they still live, Kae Tempest made their live debut as a spoken-word artist at sixteen. Having initially conceived of themselves as a rapper, Tempest found their work was also extremely popular at poetry slams; they now comfortably straddle the notional divide between the two art forms (and indeed several others). In 2014 they were selected as one of the Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation Poets. Their already formidable body of work encompasses both stage and page and includes Everything Speaks in its Own Way, a first collection of poems published under their own imprint; the verse epic Brand New Ancients, which won the 2012 Ted Hughes Award for innovation in poetry; the plays Wasted and Hopefully Devoted (published by Methuen); the acclaimed poetry collection Hold Your Own (published by Picador in 2014) and their Mercury-Prize-nominated debut album Everybody Down. They also have a novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses (Bloomsbury, 2016).

Tempest is a spellbinding performer, as the reviews of  their live work attest. ‘While they move casually across the stage, they often seems to be vibrating like a tuning fork with the urgency of the telling’, wrote the New York Times of their performance in Brand New Ancients, which it describes as a ‘thrillingly good, genre-bending show’, noting the ‘gorgeous streams of words’ and the way in which ‘both as writer and performer, [they] stitch together words with such animate grace that language acquires an almost tactile quality, and the drama they unfold […] soars to operatic dimensions.’ Meanwhile Lyn Gardner wrote of her experience of seeing the show, that ‘it feels as if we are not in a theatre but a church…gathered around a hearth, hearing the age-old stories that help us make sense of our lives. We’re given the sense that what we are watching is something sacred.’

Kae’s album Let Them Eat Chaos was released in 2016, alongside a volume of poetry of the lyrics (Picador), and was also nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and the Costa Prize for Poetry, respectively. Their third album, The Book of Traps and Lessons, was released in 2019 and nominated for the Ivor Novello.

Their latest collection of poems, Running Upon the Wires, was published in September 2018 to critical acclaim (Picador). Their new play Paradise, a retelling of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, is due to be staged at the National Theatre in 2021, having been postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Its play text will be published by Picador.

In October 2020, Faber published Kae’s first work of non-fiction, On Connection, a “sonorous, humane polemic, advocating the values of sharing, authenticity and creativity over the heightened individualism, competitiveness and consumerism that dominate our society today… a powerful remedy and an urgent call for change.’

The oracular quality of Tempest’s poetry is particularly evident in Hold Your Own. This sensitive, tender, yet political examination of contemporary society is built around a reworking of the myth of blinded prophet Tiresias, asking questions about issues such as gender, class and capitalism and their impact on an individual’s search for identity. In so doing ‘the majesty and mystery in ordinary lives’ are brought vividly to life. ‘Myths used to be “the stories we used to explain ourselves,”’ Tempest has observed, ‘[they] remind us that every person, every passer-by on the street, has an “epic narrative” within’ (New York Times). As the Independent has noted, ‘Tempest has forged their own voice unlike anything else in the mainstream poetry world.’


The recordings available here were produced by Dan Carey at Mr Dan's Studio, London 2014. The unabridged audiobook of Hold Your Own can be purchased on iTunes. 

Featured in the Archive

Books by Kae Tempest



Ted Hughes Prize

Prize website

Poetry Society Next Generation Poet

Prize website

Mercury Prize - shortlist for album 'Let them Eat Cake'Everybody Down

Prize website