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Hold Your Own review powerful poetry from Kate Tempest

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She may have been pipped to the Mercury prize, but her latest collection is a winner

At the heart of Kate Tempests latest work is a captivating dichotomy. On the one hand, she is the soul of modernity: now 28, she began her professional career as a rapper at 16; became the youngest-ever winner of the Ted Hughes prize for innovation in poetry for her spoken story, Brand New Ancients, last year; was named by the Poetry Book Society as one of its 20 Next Generation poets in September; and, this week, was tipped to win the Mercury prize for her debut album, Everybody Down, in which she lays out the lives of three friends struggling with loneliness and insecurity in 21stcentury London, over the course of 12 densely plotted, dashingly articulate tracks. By the notoriously fusty standards of the poetry world, in which performance poetry can still be regarded as daringly outre, she is beyond modern; shes practically science fiction.

Then, intriguingly, theres the other hand. When it comes to straight poetry (and this, her first full-length collection with Picador, is the straightest thing she has done by far: looking and sounding like a traditional slim volume; conforming unselfconsciously to time-honoured conventions of line length and layout), Tempests focus is firmly classical. She is fascinated by the deep past. Hold Your Own, like Brand New Ancients before it, takes for its subject the lives of the gods and monsters of Greek mythology not, perhaps, what you would expect from an urban former rapper who cites Roots Manuva and the Wu Tang Clan among her other key influences. What makes her work so irresistible, then, is her method of synthesis; the manner in which she brings her hands together. Her poems arent simply routine retellings of time-worn tales; rather, she picks up the fabulous, familiar characters, dusts them down and hauls them into the present. In Brand New Ancients, the gods were recast as two warring, intergenerational south London families; here, the update is more sophisticated and, if anything, more compelling.

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