Author: Kate Tempest
Available in print and eBook
Why I Read It
Honestly, I don’t remember. I think Library Journal was doing a poetry round-up for National Poetry Month in April, and all the reviews of both Kate Tempest’s books were so good, so filled with awesome, that I had to buy them for the library. Then, of course, I had to read them. Even books with terrible reviews by authors I really like, I have to read. It’s like a compulsion.
The gods walk among us, because they are us.
Brand New Ancients is a long poem about gods. Not Greek gods, although their names show up, but the gods and goddesses that live in regular people like you and me. The 47 page poem centers around nine people with interconnected lives. Kevin is married to Jane, but Jane is having an affair with Brian, who is married to Mary. Brian and Mary do not have a happy marriage, and their son, Clive, suffers for it. The affair results in Tommy, but Jane never tells Kevin. It is unclear whether Kevin ever figures it out, but Brian does. He drinks and drinks. Mary takes Clive and moves out. Clive grows up to be a bad bad man. He’s never really known love, so he doesn’t know how to show it. He makes a friend, though, Terry. Then, he sets Terry’s curtains on fire, and Terry ends up with a burn scar on his face and the nickname, Spider.
Tommy grows up wanting to be a comic book author/artist. He loves drawing, and the stories in his head are his escape.
Spider and Clive meet Jemma and Gloria. Spider likes Jemma, but she laughs in his face, and she and Gloria walk away. Years later, Jemma is an activist and Gloria is a bartender/manager, and they are no longer friends. She’s had a hard life, Gloria, but that changes when she meets Tommy, and he worships the ground she walks on. Tommy gets a job in graphics at a PR firm, and his whole world changes. The guys are smart and they know it. Kinda assholes, and it changes Tommy. When he realizes this change is not who he is, it’s almost too late.
Spider and Clive don’t really remember Gloria, but they know of her and her past. It’s closing time at the bar, and they three are the only ones left. Gloria knows what’s coming, and she is not about to be willing by any stretch of the imagination. She’s swinging bottles and shards when Tommy comes in through the back door. He can only stare and wonder that this goddess calls him her love, and he prays that isn’t too late to make it up to her.
Here’s what I think
If the poem ended where I did, it would be fabulous, but it doesn’t. It goes back to Brian, a sad white guy living in Thailand, with his Thai girlfriend. Honestly, he was the worst part of the poem, because he just doesn’t care.
The story of the poem is quite engaging. I hope you think so too, just from what I wrote up there. It is meant to be read aloud, and indeed was performed before it was published at Battersea Arts Centre. The rhymes and beats of the poem were what really kept me engrossed in the story. They always felt like a surprise. “Hey, I found a rhyme.” or “That sounded really awesome in my head, I wonder what it sounds like aloud.” It can be difficult to make full characters in a poem, which are usually very short, but Tempest does it well. I mean, she has 47 pages worth of space, but each character really felt developed. Their arcs were well done, and though the true ending was less than stellar, the part that I think of as the ending, the last chorus before we flip back to Brian on page 43, is nothing short of epic.
I also enjoyed the Greek chorus parts. In between each section, Tempest places a chorus about what the gods are doing and how we are them and they are us. It’s quite masterful really. I can see why she’s won awards for her poetry. A must read. Honestly.
The beats and the descriptions really make this poem come alive.
5Q–Hard to imagine it being better written.
4P–Broad general or genre appeal.
How to be drawn, Terrance Hayes
The Lunatic: Poems, Charles Simic
The Beauty: Poems, Jane Hirshfield
poetry, descriptive, mentions of Greek mythology
Book discussion questions
1) What does it mean to have gods among us?
2) What do you think kept Brian from running away with Jane?
3) What happened to Mary?
4) Do you think Kevin ever realized that Tommy is not his biological son?
Clues to the Future
modern gods, poetry, Kate Tempest, Brand New Ancients, long form poetry, rhyme schemes, rhymes with a beat, UK poets
Awards and Lists
Ted Hughes Award for Poetry
Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews
Author website: http://katetempest.co.uk/