We speak to poet Luke Wright before his appearance at Nottingham Poetry Festival

Words: Talia Robinson
Photos: Provided by Luke Wright
Tuesday 11 June 2024
reading time: min, words

You’re invited to Luke Wright’s Silver Jubilee! He’s throwing the ballad bunting up and stacking the plates full of poems for a visit to Nottingham Poetry Festival tomorrow, commencing his five date UK tour celebrating his 25 year long career.

Luke Wright

Congratulations are in order! Poetry is such a visceral, personal thing and to have your voice connect (and still connect) with people is a real testament to your work. 

It’s an immense privilege and it’s never something I thought I would still be doing after 25 years.  

When I first started out doing this gig called ‘poetry’ I’d be heading to venues five hours away for a twenty minute slot. We’d say that when we were forty – which seemed like such a ridiculously old age – and we were off at dinner parties – because that’s what we thought people at forty did – and someone one would say, “Oh, what did you guys get up to when you were younger?” We could say: “We did this thing called poetry.” We thought we were just building stories. That’s all we ever dreamed it could be. I never thought that I could make a career out of it. Hence the extravagance of putting on a 'Silver Jubilee'. 

Extravagant indeed and if you’re like me, you link these celebratory parties with the food they come with. What buffet would be the highlight at your jubilee? 

My ideal buffet? Aha! I like Indian food. If someone was going to do a buffet for me, it would be a curry bonanza! 

And would you say the material in your latest show is like a buffet? Is there a wide selection of themes interspersed throughout? 

Everything threads back to my adoption and it’s all there for a reason. The show is a self portrait and so with that is the introspection of my family, where I might have come from – but there’s a lot of laughs and stand-up.  

There’s a poem in there that’s univocalic: it only uses one vowel. I’ve got another poem written in seven different styles. All good fun and experimental; excavating the unconscious. I’ve written a poem about my cat. I used to think that was the death of art when we started writing about our animals, but I've got some cat poems in there. I think they’re alright.

You’ll be stopping off at the Nottingham Poetry Festival. It must be like a welcome home when you’re invited to these community spaces. 

It’s very nice to be back! It’s nice that I was there for the inaugural one when they were still getting their footing, and now it’s been established for nearly ten years. Truly a full circle moment. 

At the first festival we were filmed for Notts TV. The problem was that someone put it out pre-watershed on the local telly; I had a Google complaint pop up for my name for how many times I had said f**k and how many times I had said c**t. It’s obscene! There’s something like, thirty times in one poem I swear. Funny stuff, but it’s nice to be back given the history I have with it. 

Have you seen the poetry scene evolve throughout your career?  

Exponentially. It was a much smaller thing and more isolated, I’d say. People would do poetry in their scene, but that would be it – you’d go to Bristol and there’d be a Bristol sound, or Manchester would have their own thing going on. There was only one or two people that really influenced each scene. 

YouTube created the real change. You’d have kids wanting to get into poetry who were watching the American slam poets or Kae Tempest. They would imitate those people online, rather than the biggest voice in their local area. Poetry is a lot more joined up now, especially with the ‘page world’ and the ‘stage world’, because people tend to do both. 

When I started out I was seventeen and there was no one else I knew of the same age. It wasn’t until I met Inua Ellams six years later that I thought “What?! He’s younger than me!” 

Are there any standout influences for you?

Shout-out to Martin Newell: the first person who showed me that poetry could be done. He’s the first person I tried to emulate. John Cooper Clarke is someone who I still work with regularly – he influenced me greatly and there’s definitely one or two pieces that have a shade of him in there. I love Philip Larkin because he showed me a different way of writing poetry. I also have a real soft spot for John Betjemen.

Before all that I was listening to lyricists like Damon Albarn and Jarvis Cocker. I also thought Kurt Cobain's lyrics were interesting and would study them for ages as a child.  

Can you pinpoint those different stages of your life in your writing? Are there poems that you read and think, 'Wow, I was obviously really into their work at the time?' 

Yes! God, I haven’t mentioned Tim Turnbull. My writing used to be more freeform than it is now. There was lots of rhyme but not much craft. Turnbull religiously wrote in heavy meter and form. Clare Pollard wrote an essay about ballads, which led me onto ballads. Then, around 2019, I decided to write shorter poems for myself. I didn’t really know what they were or where they were going, but I showed them to Kate Clanchy when I first met her and she gave me the confidence to seriously write free verse poetry.

How do you keep that melting pot of ideas boiling? 

I'm a sponge; I'm taking it all in all the time. I’ve been reading a lot of prose poetry as of late and I’ve just finished a collection of poems, but I need to do something different now. It’s sent to the publishers and there might be a few more that slip through the net, but that’s a chapter closed.

Essentially I have to keep moving things forward. If I write about the same things, in the same way, over and over again, I stagnate as an artist. I start to cotton on to what works and pigeonhole myself into that. I try to experiment with style all the time. 

What does Luke Wright’s Golden Jubilee look like? Where do you see yourself in the next twenty-five years? 

I’d be delighted if I could still be doing this. I always ask for just one more year. I'm not really qualified to do anything else at this point! 

How old would I be then? 67. I’d really like to write a novel: that’s something that I’ve been half-heartedly working at. I'd like to keep writing poetry and still be able to do shows. I can’t imagine a time when I stop gigging. It would be good to get to fifty years in show business.

The Nottingham Poetry Festival runs until 16 June 2024. Luke Wright's Silver Jubilee takes place on Wednesday 12 June. Tickets can be bought here.

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