I love words. Written words and spoken words. Words like hypnaogogic, gobsmacked, serendipity, and onomatopeia that lick my lips as they slip slide out of my mouth. Words in a sweet bowl of language as smooth and rich as the icing on a cake. As a child I hauled away as many books from the library as they would let me check out. My mother used to sit and read poems aloud to me and my sister as we sat rapt in the worlds of Longfellow and Poe, Browning and Dickinson, Kipling and Shelley. Words have long been my solitary confidantes, sentences my circle of friends, paragraphs my neighbourhood and books my embrace of humanity.
Hearing written words spoken stretches my senses to uncover an awakened wonder as to how a word is said and what else it could possibly mean. Studying Shakespeare in high school was a labour in strenuous elocution and brave commitment to learn what Will was really trying to tell us in his plays. Old English still taunts me, much like a miner knowing there is gold beneath the surface if only I can dig deep enough. I’ve witnessed those words take on exquisite meaning carried by the voices of such masters as Lawrence Olivier, Emma Thompson, Sir John Gielgud, Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh.
When I was in my 20’s I bought an LP of Dylan Thomas reading his short story, A Child’s Christmas in Wales. I remember sitting and staring in awe at the album cover, incredulous that someone as inconsequential as me could hold this visage of magic in her hands. The Holy Grail would not have elicited more fervor from my humbled soul. To hear the long dead author speaking his own words seemed nothing short of Lazarus stopping by for a cup of tea. For many years in the dark expectation of Christmas Eve I would listen to the rich patina of Thomas’ Welsh accent fill my living room as he shared with only me his remembrance of the ice edged fish freezing waves, Mrs. Prothoro’s garden and cats.
Words were reborn when I discovered Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam. It was an epiphany for me to hear in these new sparks of flint sharpened deliverance the way poetry could transcend meter and rhyme, race and reflection. My world opened to the unexpected directions words can take us if we’re willing to go along for the ride. Poets Alicia Keys, Gil Scott-Heron, Nikki Giovanni, Floetry, Shane Koyczan and so many others have shifted my vision of verse and beautiful, hard-wrought words.
Spoken word artists can shape shift words and sound to craft an experience beyond the letters and punctuation sleeping prone on a page. Poetry readings are cool again. Storytelling festivals blossom across North America. One of my favourite performers is Britain’s Kate Tempest, a name that cries out to speak the words of The Bard. Her waif presence belies the depth and emotional well of her poems and the passion she brings to her work and the world. She rattles the cage of what we think we know of ourselves yet speaks to the most hidden qualities of our humanness through her the gift of her voice.
Check out Kate in her performance of a scene from “The Tempest” commissioned by The Royal Shakespeare Company. You’ll never hear Shakespeare quite the same way again.
“What we came after” performed by Kate Tempest as part of the RSC’s Sound and Fury project – Shakespeare meets modern wordplay.Originally commissioned for the egg, Theatre Royal Bath. Find our more about Kate at her website: katetempest.co.uk.