Well Versed: Temporary solution
Wednesday 25 April 2012
Pete the Temp is a well-known figure on London’s busy spoken word scene, and his poetry cuts right to the nub of the disenchanted masses.
He has been heavily involved in the Occupy movement and draws inspiration from the artwork and slogans which festoon the walls of squats, social centres and activist encampments.
“Some of those pictures I translate into word form and they make it into my poetry,” he says. “I have collected quotes, slogans and chants from Italy, Spain, Colombia and Copenhagen, as well as Occupy sites, banners, walls and tents.
“Occupy is dripping with poetry – ‘Compost capitalism,’ ‘democracy is a participatory sport,’ ‘if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything,’ and the witty ‘now is the winter of our discount tents.’
“I like these words because they are not part of the mass-produced, bleached and sanitised commerce that has poisoned the urban landscapes of our cities. They convey radical ideas in spaces that often only exist at flash points in history,” he continues.
While an assuredly contemporary poet, Pete has plenty of time for the historic giants of literature, citing William Blake as a recent inspiration.
Blake is interred in Bunhill Fields, otherwise known as Dissenters’ Graveyard.
“It was surrounded by riot cops on the night of the St Pauls eviction. While the cameras of the world looked elsewhere, Ken Clarke signed off an illegal eviction of Occupy London’s School of Ideas building which is adjacent to the cemetery. Occupiers ran past Blake’s grave to retrieve belongings,” he recalls.
“Blake wrote of the ‘mind-forged manacles’ of the Protestant work ethic and the ‘dark satanic mills’ of industrialised London. I think these things are as relevant today as they have ever been.
“We should start a radical poetry collective that can assault police lines with strongly worded metaphors. The best thing about this plan is that we can call ourselves The Blake Block,” Pete quips.
While camping at Occupy London’s Finsbury Square, then later helping to occupy the Bank of Ideas, Pete arranged events, performing in muddy fields and street corners in an attempt to lift people’s spirits with words and sounds. “When I perform at regular gigs those pieces serve as ambassadors to the movement, but some of my best audience members have been people who sleep rough. They rarely get to see live performances,” he says.
“As a self-employed performer I don’t have time to go to as many meetings as I would like, so I combine art and activism. Sometimes activist events, gatherings and conferences can be quite formal. I’m often asked to get up and throw in a bit of humour and randomness to proceedings.
Pete the Temp Verses Climate Change takes people through first-hand accounts of direct actions that Pete has been involved with. He hopes that it will help ignite an epidemic of civil disobedience that we can all be a part of.
The Occupy movement differs from previous activist movements in that it works best as a guerilla shock tactic – on a global scale it can spread like wildfire.
Pete is positive about the power of the movement. “By creating spaces of debate and political creativity it can solder people together. Many new working groups, actions and ideas have sprung from it, and occupation is as old as humanity – there is nothing as political as space, territory and property.”
The creeping nature of anti-protest legislation is not lost on Pete. “New laws could threaten our right to occupy workplaces and universities as well as peace camps, climate camps and occupy sites. We must all defend our right to occupy,” he insists.
The artistic potential of the movement is as valuable as the political. Indeed, the lines between the two disciplines often blur.
“Performance poetry can engage people physically, emotionally and intellectually because it is musical, as well as rich in imagery and oratory. It is perfect for getting a crowd of people going or getting across a message. It also fits with the DIY ethos – everyone has a voice, an opinion and the right to make it heard,” Pete says.
“Spoken word and poetry nights are one of the last bastions of free speech and critical debate. Whether the topic is relationship politics, sexual politics, identity politics or politics-politics, it’s about community and discussion.”
Pete’s new show, Pete the Temp Verses Climate Change! is a multimedia stand-up poetry show that tells a personal story of temp jobs, oil orgies, bank sieges and arrest.
“It’s about talking, laughing and taking action on climate change. I think this is the biggest challenge humanity has had to face,” he explains.
“The 1 per cent are getting huge profits from dirtying our planet whilst pensioners are dying in their homes because they are prevented from getting cheap locally sourced energy. It’s not OK. This is me talking about how ridiculous it all is and how fun it can be getting in the way of it.
“In the show I will defeat climate chaos using only my mouth, that’s all.”