Luke Wright: Poet Laureate comes to Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 12:08 19 March 2019
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Part stand-up poet, part stand-out political provocateur, Luke Wright is pitching for the top job in poetry
Rant and rhyme, rhythm and news, blistering invective and breathtaking comedy, Luke Wright’s performances are political, funny, audacious, angry and very, very clever. Twenty years ago Luke strode on-stage in Norwich – and launched a career which has taken him to national radio and television, international festivals and huge acclaim.
The one place his poetic brilliance has not taken him is right to the top of the official poetry tree. But this month his show, Luke Wright, Poet Laureate, comes to Norfolk, to continue his campaign to take his career to a whole new level.
With 2019 being not only Luke’s 20th anniversary year, but also the year that a new Poet Laureate is due to be appointed, Luke is pitching for the job. He’s got a case. He’s been called ‘One of the funniest and most brilliant poets of his generation,’ by a national newspaper.
He has been credited with helping popularise poetry among young people. Language leaps to do his bidding and he has twice been offered lots of cash to become a Nationwide advertisement poet. And yet, and yet… He not only refused Nationwide but also turned down an invitation to Buckingham Palace. And his verse is royally irreverent.
It’s not even the 37-year-old’s first attempt to win the Laureate laurels. He tried as an upstart 24-year-old, winning rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival before taking the show on tour. “It was deliberately arrogant, to title the show Poet Laureate,” said Luke. “It was a cheeky title. But then I started going on radio stations to promote the show and on a number of occasions I was invited on as ‘The Poet Laureate’ and I’d be like ‘I have to stop you there…’ No-one seemed to know what the Poet Laureate was and no one really cared.”
As a teenager Luke dreamed of being a musician, but when he wrote songs, it was all about the words. He was still in his teens when he set up the poetry collective Aisle 16 with friends. One of the lads worked in a supermarket and the name came from the aisle for miscellaneous items, which did not fit anywhere else, were stacked.
Luke was studying English Literature at the University of East Anglia when he played his first gig. Within months he had a paid booking at the Norwich Arts Centre. He went on to write and perform his own full-length shows everywhere from pubs and arts centres to festival stages and even the Palace of Westminster.
He has created verse documentaries for Channel 4 and regularly performs poetry on national radio and television shows. For 11 years he ran the spoken word arena at the Latitude festival, he curates the poetry stage at Port Eliot festival in Cornwall and programmed Edinburgh Fringe’s first ever dedicated poetry venue.
What was he hoping for when he first stepped on to a stage 20 years ago? “To get through the next 15 minutes.” And now? “To get through the next 15 minutes.”
Luke, who lives in Bungay, grew up in Essex and has called himself, “half posh and half Essex.” One of his best-known poems, The Essex Lion, is a fabulously flamboyant poem about a lion which was (not) sighted on a Clacton campsite one summer.
“I’ve lived all but two years of my life in East Anglia and there’s no denying it’s home,” he said. “I love being close to Norwich. I travel all around the UK and Norwich is one of the very best cities we have in the country. It’s getting better all the time too.”
His verse veers from vitriolic political rants to tender family tableaux as he commands the stage, riffing on current affairs, class, relationships and a country divided by austerity and Brexit. His tour-de-force one-man verse-drama What I Learned from Johnny Bevan told the story of fictional UEA student Nick, inspired by fellow student Johnny Bevan to embrace politics, music, literature, life. Fast-forward 20 years and Nick is a jaded music journalist on his way to a pretentious arts event in the London tower block where his friend once blazed with political passion.
And now there is his tongue-in-cheek manifesto to land himself that top job. As a republican he realises his chances are minimal.
Luke Wright, Poet Laureate takes a tour through previous Poets Laureate, from the launch of the role, to flatter royalty, through the years it was a reward for worthy wordsmiths, and on to the end of the 20th century when Laureates no longer reigned for life but were given 10 year tenures and were more about penning poetry for the people than rhyming about royals. As he delves into the surprisingly murky world of former Poets Laureate, he hauls out heroes, villains and people who didn’t even write poetry.
Many wrote poetry about the state of the nation. Luke is the master of blistering, blustering, reeling, railing poetry about a nation in a state.
Luke Wright, Poet Laureate, is at Norwich Playhouse on March 30, norwichplayhouse.co.uk
The national tour and West End run includes an extended show in Norwich to celebrate Luke’s 20th anniversary.