Sunday, 17 October 2010

Q&A with Oxford based Spoken Word artist 'Pete The Temp'

If Pete The Temp ruled the world it would be squeezed between his chest and arms in a giant metaphysical man hug.

If Pete The Temp ruled the world the C Word would be "Classism".

If Pete The Temp ruled the world he’d sell a lot of CDs.

Every now and then you pick up some roadie stories as a travelling artist and one of my favorites involves the day I met Pete. We were on the same bill at a Festival in Cambridge and Pete had a late set. As festival audiences go the later you’re set the higher chances of a drunken and disorderly audience.

Pete launched into a poem and some disgruntled, pink-eyed drunk woman in the audience barged onto the stage and wrestled Pete. Unable to get Pete on the floor she decided to jump on his back while Pete (without stopping his performance) punched his poem out his panting lungs. He completed his set carrying the woman off stage on piggyback…

Pete The Temp instantly became my hero.

Q. So Pete, you’re a temp?

I graduated with an arts degree and consequently spent my early twenties as a temp. Much of my early work was workplace satire. The Temp part of my name is about solidarity with the underdog. It is for everyone who believes that there is more to life than mindless work that devalues people as human beings, pays them fuck all and channels all their productive time into menial tasks that make a small minority of people rich. You know those vans, that drive up to dusty roadside junctions near the Mexican boarder to pick up men and children desperate for half a days work? That's the same thing as a temp agency. I have spoken to countless people who find an escape from this in writing and performing. By laughing at it and poking fun at it we can make something positive out of something negative.

I used to do human rights work in Colombia where standing up for yourself as a worker can lead to assassination at the hands of a death squad. Workers there are at the sharp end of the same system – one that values profit over people and seeks to trivialise and casualise employees. The temp thing is also an expression of solidarity with them. But no, I’m not a temp, I haven't been for years. I'm now a corporate lawyer.

Q. I thoroughly enjoy the social commentary in your poems but does poetry and politics have a good relationship?

My big mouth is my gift. It is my duty to channel my creative energies into making a song and dance about what I believe to be important. Historically poets have always been a bit subversive. Poetry engages you intellectually and creates arenas of public discussion and critical thinking. It could be about sexual politics, relationship politics or politics politics. People who prefer to spend their evenings in these environments rather than watching TV are less likely to accept what 'The Man' tells them.

I am currently working on a spoken word stage show: 'Pete the Temp verses Climate Change! We are in the process of finding people and venues interested in hosting it. The aim of the show is to get people talking about climate change and laughing at the same time. While the mouths are open you can throw in some food for thought.
Q. You teach performance poetry. How do you teach someone to become a good Spoken Word poet?

Games are an important part of the creative process and are missing from the school curriculum. De-constructing the text of John Hegley and Benjamin Zephaniah from books is not enough to spark young imaginations to engage with 'spoken word'. A large proportion of the workshops we carry out at Hammer & Tongue are warm up games, improvisation games, rap battles and mini – competitions. Games are fun. They engage your body and get blood pumping to the brain which releases endorphins and sparks creativity. I believe this is how we can bring the words to life, get people performing and resurrect the oral tradition.

Q. You sing and play guitar and you have a lot of call and response material in your performance catalogue. Do you feel poetry on its own is never enough to engage your audiences?

You can do anything on a spoken word stage – satire, music, character acting, audience participation. I’ve even got away with doing sketch comedy once. The call and response stuff creates a nice dialogue between audience and performer. For every ego on stage there are another twenty in the audience. When it comes to the guitar, stand up poetry has masses of musicality in it already – even without an instrument. Imagery and metaphor is important but that is not to say that it cannot be brought to life! I don’t think that there is any less 'content' or 'writing' in heavily performative poetry – it is just that the pieces are designed to have different effects on the listener.

Q. You were born and bred in Oxford right? When I think of Oxford I think of the place that isn’t Eton or Cambridge University but it might as well be. How the hell did you become the public menace you are?

I exist in the badlands of Oxford. I eat rats in tunnels below the colleges and periodically jump out to eat rich people with my fingernails and teeth.

Q. You’ve performed all over the country how do your audiences vary and what does this teach you as an artist?

Being a performer has given me the great privilege of backpacking round my own country and experiencing new places and people. Poetry is about community as much as it is about words and spoken word audiences are unlike any other – open minded, attentive, aware and friendly. Each venue, night and point in time has its own demographic and its own vibe. The challenge for me is to tap into this and to orchestrate the right set for that particular audience.

Q. Are the rumors true? Do poets die poor?

Someone once said “there is no money in poetry, but then again, there is no poetry in money.” Bollocks! There are too many fantastic performers out there who are not getting paid for the professional work they do. This is not the case in other branches of spoken word like stand up. It doesn't have to be this way. In France and Germany poets regularly perform to audiences of 400 plus. Not all nights have a budget to pay performers and that's fine. Poets in the UK do after all operate in a small artistic economy but this is changing all the time. People are waking up to the fact that poetry can move you, inspire you and even get you singing along. How many poetry gigs have you been to where people are like “Wow! I never knew poetry could be like that!”?. I don't know any poets who want to be rich but they do want to be able pay their rent. Valuing our work as poets is part of the task of changing public perceptions of poetry. If you are a poet and someone asks you to do “a reading during the interval” - decline the offer!

Q. Pete, I love your work and you’re a top bloke... I’d give you a permanent contract any day!

I'd be your office bitch any day my friend. Keep up the good work.


Pete The Temp is the 'current Hammer & Tongue National Slam Champion'.
Become his fan on Facebook.

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