Poetry Reviews

Poetry review: Running Upon The Wires // Personal, evocative, and wonderfully sapphic


Author: Kate Tempest

Pages: 64

Edition: UK paperback

Publication date: 6th September 2018 (UK)

Read: 14th – 15th September 2018

Rating:  4-stars

CW: Sex and discussions of a sexual nature.

Goodreads synopsis NEW

Award-winning writer, spoken-word star, and spellbinding performer Kate Tempest’s raw and exhilarating new collection is a heart-breaking, moving, and joyous book about the experience of love in its endings and beginnings.

In a sense a departure from her previous work, Running Upon the Wires charts the dissolution of one relationship, the budding of another, and what happens in between, when the heart is pulled both ways at once. It’s about joy and despair, confusion and clarity, self-destruction and revival. And it will come as no surprise to readers that Tempest is as direct, distinctive, and unflinching an observer of matters of the heart as she is of social and political change.

Calling in its title upon the classical poet’s harp, the technological wires of communication, and the neural wires of feeling, Tempest’s electrifying new verse weaves interpersonal struggle into a powerfully cathartic and memorable work of art. Explosively lyrical, rhythmic, and throbbing with feeling, this collection is frayed yet powerful in its pain, determined to speak and to find love in a human community of “terrifying beauty.”

Book review NEW (1)

I’m pretty sure I announce this at least once a week, but I haven’t said it yet this week so here you go: Kate Tempest is my favourite poet. Pretty much ever.

I first got hooked on Tempest’s work when I read her anthology, Hold Your Own, which to this day is the single best poetry collection I’ve read. It’s intoxicatingly imaginative, full of feminism, and uses language to draw out meaning in a way that’s visceral, rich, and bold.

Tempest’s new anthology is a departure from her previous style, which was highly feminist and critical of social issues. Running Upon the Wires is still both these things, but to a lesser extent. Instead, it’s raw, agonising, and a personal ode to Tempest’s own love life, which is passionate, sad, and heady all at once. Each poem illuminates her past romances and relationships with other women and as always, her words are masterful. Every poem is full of meaning and resonance, and some lines draw emotions out, unbidden. Her discussions of the intensity of falling in love are contrasted with the fierceness of the heartbreak at the end of it.

The collection runs in reverse, staring at ‘The End’ and ending at ‘The Beginning’, in a clever bid to how the retrospective framing of a relationship. It covers the span of two relationships, describing the end of one, and the messy period after, and the start of another. Each poem shows how the passage of time shapes our love and sentiments, and explores how even the smallest of items can remind you of a person once you’re no longer with them.

One thing I didn’t expect from this anthology is it’s intensely sexual nature. Tempest doesn’t gloss over sexual acts, but describes her more heated moments with lovers in an honest and slightly erotic manner. Desire is made plain upon the page and metaphors aren’t used to hide these actions, but rather to amply them.

Although the fire that Tempest injects into this anthology is honest and real, Running Upon the Wires didn’t blow me away me quite as thoroughly as Hold Your Own. But it’s still a queer, feminist triumph, with the usual immersive, powerful language we’ve come to expect from Tempest.

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