Q&A with poet and UEA alumnus Luke Wright

You’re touring with your new show Luke Wright, Poet Laureate which must be massively exciting for you – in what way is this show similar or different to the many other shows that you’ve toured with?

Fundamentally speaking, I do two different types of shows. Frankie Vah – the last one that I toured with – was all performed in one type of character. This show is made up of different poems which are all linked together, sort of including stand up as well. When I was 24 I did my first solo show and called it Poet Laureate, which was a way of talking about Britain. It was quite jokey, I was very young, there was no way people were going to take me seriously as if I was actually Poet Laureate. But then, when I was touring the show, a number of radio stations actually announced me and welcomed me on as Poet Laureate. When Carol Ann Duffy was announced as Poet Laureate, when people couldn’t get her on their shows they’d actually ask me – obviously she was the first female poet laureate and she also identifies as gay – I was like, I’m a white English straight man, I’m not sure if I’m the person to replace her!

This time I’ve called it Luke Wright, Poet Laureate as a kind of cynical marketing ploy since the next Poet Laureate is being announced in May this year. No, but really it’s an excuse to write about Britain again. It’s really revisiting a pivotal moment for me when I was 24 which was the year I got married and really I found that the more I started writing about Britain, the more I started writing about myself. There’s a dichotomy in being a poet – all poetry is confessional. Some poets complain when they become Poet Laureate that their self and the nation get mixed up. But no I’m really enjoying it, I set out to make it a wide ranging view of Britain which I think hopefully is what it is.

The themes of your shows have constantly been praised for being politically relevant – what would you say about the power of performance and poetry in the current political climate?

I saw this Wilfred Owen quote once, I think a friend actually gave it to me on a tea towel, saying ‘All a poet can do today is warn’. I think he also said that a poet must be truthful. I think that there’s not a lot to be gained from getting on a soapbox and it’s something I try to avoid: A. who cares? And B. you can’t necessarily convince people otherwise who have set views on things like Brexit. The great thing about poetry and art is that it’s about the bigger picture: the poems are addressing issues in our culture but I’m trying to do it on a more personal level. The show begins with a poem called Good Morning Britain which starts by looking at Britain as a whole through a lens, and kinds of explodes out and ends with someone going for a swim and just being alone. It shows how poetry and the show itself is about a reconnect with the self.

So this is the 20th anniversary of your first gig in Norwich: how do you think your shows and your style have changed since then?

I’m a lot more confident. I think that now I have the self knowledge and confidence that comes with getting older, not just on stage but also just as a person.

Aisle 16 (a poetry collective founded by Wright and Ross Sutherland whilst at UEA) has clearly been a big part of your life: how do you think your time as a student at UEA influenced where you are today?

Oh, hugely so. I was surrounded by brilliant writers at UEA, we spurred each other on and made each other jealous which was the best thing for a writer. I was at uni with Joe Dunthorne, Ross Sutherland, Alexander Gordon Smith, I met Molly Naylor after I graduated; there are so many other people that I should probably mention as well. I was surrounded by loads of great writers and we were all really close mates. I came from quite a middle class family, not a family that was very involved in literature – I mean my mum read a lot of novels but I didn’t grow up with literature around me. UEA normalised writing for me: it became normal Me and my friends went to see the Hay festival together, we’d see other famous writers together and were always giving each other feedback. In a way, writing can be isolating, but we grew up together. And of course, with Aisle 16, we went off and began our careers together. At uni when we were performing, of course we still had work but there was less pressure, we had time away from the pressures of life to enjoy our work. When I graduated I went straight onto the circuit in London which was a lot harder.

I loved UEA – I love Norwich.

I saw that you led a workshop at the Fly Festival for young people this year.

What advice would you give to any students who are passionate about poetry and performance and are considering pursuing this?

Read or listen to a wide range of stuff. I know my voice now but one of the great things about writing when you’re young is that you’re not afraid of trying new stuff. I would encourage you to read, and in terms of spoken word poetry, watch a really wide range of stuff. The more you do it, the better you become at it.

Also, it’s OK to not enjoy it. At times I found writing difficult: it took a lot of mental energy and I felt ashamed for not enjoying it, as if I wasn’t a real writer. But that’s OK. It’s just like running; the more you run, the easier it gets and it starts to click. Writing is a muscle and you need to train that muscle. I’m not one of those people that says you have to write every day but it helps to do it as often as possible.

The show sounds like it’s going to be fantastic – thank you for speaking to me and I hope it all goes well!

Thanks – I think it’s going to be something really exciting – it’s been 20 years and it’s my homecoming show so yeah, I’m excited.

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September 2021
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