Kae Tempest is known for having all the right words. A performer, poet, recording artist, novelist, and playwright, their immense talent has been recognised by various awards over the years, including multiple Mercury Music Prize nominations, The Ted Hughes Award, and in 2014 the once-in-a-decade accolade of Next Generation Poet bestowed by the Poetry Book Society. On Connection (2020) is Kae’s first published work of non-fiction, it is a love letter to creativity, a testament to its power in connecting us to one another, and to more deeply connecting with ourselves.
Kae writes about creativity and connection from the perspective of a performer. Performance in today’s language is bound up with ideas of social media, or public lip service, it’s almost become a cuss — to be performative is to be the opposite of authentic. Kae warns against this kind of performativity in our daily lives, online or otherwise, as a way of being that can bring us farther away from our true desires, and our true selves. Performance for Kae, as creative work, is an act of love, of deep mutuality, it is to make space for friends or strangers to be stirred out of their everyday rhythm, to access something higher, and something shared. Who hasn’t had the experience of being completely lost, or found, in a concert, an exhibition, or a play — of being at once out of your body and also right where you are?
But creativity for Kae doesn’t always take the form of an artwork, a poem, or a performance, it can be expressed in a meal made with care or a generous conversation with a friend. Creativity is attending to the moment, as they write, of ‘landing in the present tense’ and having the feeling of ‘being absolutely located’. These acts or experiences not only give you a greater sense of self awareness, they also give you greater capacity for empathy, and connect you more fully to those around you. On Connection makes clear that we are essentially social animals, we feel with each other, and that awareness of one another’s needs is the reason we have been successful as a species. It is this natural connection that gets lost in the sped-up pace of life in late capitalism, and what we can regain in committing ourselves to acts of creativity, large and small.
On Connection is written with a poet’s clarity, evocative and transporting language that is both simple and profound. Kae also writes with the kind of tenderness and stark honesty that comes from someone who has been through it and has lived to create again. During this time of necessary disconnection, Kae reminds us how deeply entangled we continue to be, and how much pleasure and purpose can be found in making things, together.