Struggling For Words

After spending the day wondering about the festival generally, I made a firm plan for what I wanted to see this evening. I was keen to catch two things: The Sheffield-based band Bison, and the poet Kate Tempest.

I already know loads about Bison because I’m friends with many of the people in it, including Chiv. But amazingly, I’ve never seen them play and was excited to finally have the chance.

Unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan because early on in their set I had a ‘ticcing fit’, which meant swapping my prime position at the front of the stage for the damp grass outside the tent. Even though I didn’t see them, at least I heard them play, and there was something reassuring about having a fit while listening to Chiv sing.

The fit lasted almost an hour and a half. My three big worries during it were – first, getting trampled by the crowds leaving the Bison gig, second, someone calling an ambulance, and third, missing Kate Tempest.

When it finally ended, with the help of some emergency medication, we headed for the spoken word tent. It was crammed to capacity and we were told there was no way we’d get in. Fortunately I’d been to this venue earlier in the day and knew there was a side route in through a neighbouring café. We gave this a go and with a bit of wheelchair-induced goodwill we made it in.

I’ve wanted to see Kate Tempest live for a couple of years. I’d planed to see her with Bunny a few months ago, but that had fallen through. So it felt particularly right to be sitting on the floor of the tent being supported by Bunny.

For me, the challenge of watching poetry being performed live is the constant flow of my own words. I’m very anxious about putting performers off their stride or spoiling the experience for other people. I didn’t want a single word of Kate’s to be drowned out by my ‘Biscuits’. I put one of my gloves in my mouth to help muffle the noise. As a result my motor tics went berserk as I fought to be quiet. It was one of the hardest and most uncomfortable things I’ve done, but it was worth every second.

Kate’s performance was unspeakably powerful. Her poems give equal attention to large ideas and quiet emotions. They’re delivered with a stunning force and honesty that feels rare. It’s pointless trying to describe – just go and check out Renegade, Parables and the trailer for her new show Brand New Ancients.

Tourettes means I have an odd relationship with language. I say thousands of words a day but very few communicate anything at all. The way other people use language, and experience words, is fascinating to me. Tonight it was a joy to hear a small number of words made to say so much.


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