Before Phill Jupitus was a panel show staple (but in a good way) he was a performance poet. This show, in which Jupitus assumes the identity of his alter-ego Porky the Poet, reveals a side of him only hinted at in his work in television and stand-up. Underneath his slightly scary, sarcastic exterior is a real force of sensitivity, both passionate and compassionate, that not only manifests through his political leanings but in an examination of his interior life. Phill Jupitus really, really cares about things, and his passion is inspiring.
Most of his poems have a simple aim: moments of elegant compression that result in laughter.
This is not to say that it is through poetry that Juptitus reveals his sensitive side, although there is an element of that in the juxtaposition between this and his ticketed stand-up show. Only a handful of these poems could be called ‘sensitive’ (a sonnet about a painting that haunts him is both moving and remarkably skilful; two poems dealing with recently deceased friends are also genuinely affecting) in the sense normally applied to poetry. Mostly they are cultivated, highly patterned explorations of comic revelation. They feel like a set-piece that might be attached to a stand-up routine, rather than an isolated event.
This is not a bad thing. Normally ‘performance’ poetry doesn’t interest me as much as more serious ‘academic’ writing. But Jupitus’ work only attempts to work in and of itself, it doesn’t aim to be part of a scene or movement that might be categorised and arranged thematically on the shelves at Waterstones. Most of his poems have a simple aim: moments of elegant compression that result in laughter. He is not deluded into thinking they add to the literary canon.
Lurking behind this show is a political aim. Jupitus is a massive supporter of the Free Fringe and part of the function of this show is to demonstrate what it can achieve. A suggestion that performers playing at paid venues should do so on the condition that they also perform a free show met with big audience approval; it’s an intriguing suggestion and one that might inform the future of Fringe politics. Passion felt at a personal, emotional level - a poem about his real, absent father leaves him visibly angry - feeds into his passion for this cause.
Jupitus is a hugely engaging and talented individual; it’s unlikely that there will be a free show as generous and sought-after as this one. Hopefully, in future years and because of what Jupitus is doing, that situation will change.