"Educator Pete is driven by creativity" - Denise McNamara meets writer and teacher, Pete Mullineaux
Pete Mullineaux is a man on a mission. That mission is to inspire as much creativity and imagination and across as many different forms as there are out there.
If ever there was a man to exude creativity, it is the amiable Bristol man.
A Jack of all trades in the arts world, he is a published poet, songwriter, musician, dramatist, actor, comedian, educationalist and lately, just for relax- ation, a fiddle player.
This week he turns his attention to two favourite themes that crop up often in his writing: fairness and equality.
As part of the Baboró children’s arts festival, Pete is holding workshops with national school children which encour- age them to write poetry which will tip the balance towards a more just and equal society.
Held in association with Poetry Ireland and Trócaire, this poetry encounter is designed to get kids to think creatively about the world and their place in it.
“There’s so much information out there. We know there are 250 million child labourers in the world for example, we know there are 25,000 who die every day from hunger. But our leaders seem to lack the imagination to do anything about it,” he insists.
“These kids are coming up with weird and wacky ideas to tip the scales but they’re no weirder or wackier than have been tried by governments which are not working. Imagination can change the world. Our imagination is the greatest gift we have.”
The workshops instill confidence in young people to express themselves and help them get over an innate fear of being wrong which can dampen cre- ativity, he believes.
“It’s about knowing the importance of having a voice. We have a voice to articulate the imagination, we can sing, write, draw – but a lot of people don’t have a voice. This is about instilling the confidence in themselves that what they feel and what they think matters."
Free workshops are also being held in the Galway City Museum for families on Saturday to allow parents to compose poetry with their kids, creating a rich memory for posterity.
Much of Pete's working life involves teaching, al to of it teaching poetry to school kids of alleges through his association with Poetry Ireland, which runs the Writers in Schools Scheme, one of the longest running arts-in-education programmes in the country, which is funded by the Arts Council.
He leads a regular creative writing course in Oughterard as well as other creative writing courses with older people throughout the city. He teaches act- ing classes in the Galway Arts Centre and works with the Galway Youth Theatre, training the young actors in the art of devising plays.
Outside of teaching, there is his own writing. He has published three collec- tions of poetry, the last one in 2011 entitled Session
, which is inspired by his love affair with the fiddle and the regular music sessions.
One of his favourite ways to relax is to get lost in the fiddle with the Dusty Banjos, a community session for beginners and improvers held weekly at the Western Hotel in Prospect Hill.
Pete’s previous poetry collection was A Father’s Day
, featuring stories about dads and dedicated to his own father, “an extraordinarily caring and kind and self-sacrificing person”. That came out in 2008. The first was called Zen Traffic Lights, which was published in 2005.
The very first poem he had published was when he was just 13.
His class was asked to write a poem inspired by the annual harvest festival and the poem, Harvest Festival, was featured in the school magazine. McMillan Publishers then wrote to him asking if they could include it in an anthology featuring such luminaries as Keats, Yeats and Shakespeare, called Poetry & Song.
It was his mother who nurtured that side of his talent. “She was always act- ing in school plays and embarrassing me. She always played the principal boy – Aladdin, Jack or Dick. I remem- ber from a very, very young age she was reading and telling us stories, mak- ing up poems. She gave me a sense of love of the language and words and story.”
But it was music rather than poetry that took over his life when he moved to London in the late 70s.
He played in a punk band called The Resisters before going solo as Pete Zero performing in two Glastonbury Festivals, once sharing the stage with the Pogues. Protest singers such as Bob Dylan and Woodie Gutherie were his biggest inspirations.
His top hit was Disposable Tissues, which the BBC chose as their crazy song of the week.
Making a living on the comedy and performance poetry circuit proved a bit difficult. He decided to instead study drama as a mature student in Middlesex University and went on to teach drama
It was in London while working for a campaigning group for the elderly that he met his wife-to-be, Moya Roddy from Dublin, who was also a writer.
When the couple’s only child Cass had turned two, they decided to move to Roscahill in Connemara where they had friends.
“I got fed up pushing her around parks in London when I could be pushing her around the countryside. We came in 1991 and have never left.”
Unsurprisingly his daughter, now 22, is big into the arts but has chosen to study law and German. Moya continues to write and has published a novel, short stories as well as plays for theatre and the radio.
The couple have frequently collaborated and in 2010 they wrote the radio play, Butterfly Wings, which aired on ￼RTÉ.
To wind down he plays the guitar and now the fiddle, which he believes is excellent training for him.
“Learning the fiddle reminds me what it’s like to be on the receiving end. I do a lot of courses with active retirement groups and many of them are afraid of writing, they might have had a bad experience with it. Learning the fiddle is so difficult. It helps me to keep in touch with how scary learning can be,” he explains.
“The fiddle is where I go into another place. You can only play it when you get into the zone. I like to play in the bathroom. I went to a Martin Hayes workshop and he said he loves my poetry – I have poems about the fiddle. He too likes to play in the bathroom,” he grins.
As well as the teaching, he runs the poetry “slam” at the Galway Arts Centre and MCs a “Grand Slam” poetry final at the Cúirt literary festival in the city in April.
He also hosts a Cúirt slam at the Electric Picnic festival mind field area in Stradbally every year. Pete is currently working on a sci-fi children’s book aimed at the 12 or 13 age group.
“This is my first novel and it’s a new venture. I do so many school visits, it would be great to have my own book to share with them. I really want to enjoy writing it.”