Interview with Luke Wright

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Luke Wright’s first ever poetry gig and to mark the occasion he’s touring his show Poet Laureate, which arrives at the Soho Theatre next week. I caught up with Luke to find out more about his upcoming show.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your upcoming show Poet Laureate?
There’s going to be a new Poet Laureate appointed in 2019. They will be the country’s official poet. They’ll have to write wretched drivel about royal weddings and royal babies and the unveiling of statues. Who wouldn’t want to do that job? My new show is nominally my tilt at that gilded position, filled with the very finest of my brand new poems – some to make to laugh, some to make to cry, some to make you THINK (note capitals). But in reality, not only do I not want the job, I don’t we should even have a Poet Laureate. The laureateship mimics the monarchy, the power structure it was created to prop up – we’ve come a long way since then, I think we can do better. Look at that, you asked such a short question! In the show I attempt to write poems about Britain and society and end up going down some personal rabbit holes. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hurl etc. etc.

What can audiences expect?
I try to take my audiences on an emotional journey. Poetry can be funny, sad, full of rage, wistful, whimsical – I try to do all of that (though I fail a bit on whimsy – I’m not Paul McCartney).

How did you first get interested in poetry?
I saw Ross Sutherland stand on the Colchester Arts Centre stage and perform his poetry on 12 December 1998 and he just looked so goddam cool. It was like watching the singer of a band but without the band. After him came Martin Newell and John Cooper Clarke, who were as much stand-ups as poets. They made me laugh, they made me think, they made me feel. I just knew I wanted to do that, it seemed like an impossible dream and every inch of the journey appealed to me: filling notebooks with terrible first drafts, travelling around the country in the dead of night, kipping in dingy hotels, on sofas and in tents, meeting my heroes; the whole bruising, sad, joyous wonderful adventure.

What influences your work?
Everything from personal experience to breaking news. I am a huge consumer of the world, be it in book, film, newspaper, conversation. I am interested in the world, in the debates raging around me, in the people I see on my travels. It all goes in.

Which other poets inspire you?
It changes frequently but two of the poets I always come back to are Larkin and Betjeman.

With the new poet laureate due to be announced this year, who (other than yourself) would you recommend for the top job?
Well, if we can’t get rid of it then I think it should be either Lemn Sissay or Simon Armitage. They’d go about it in different ways. Armitage is an outstanding candidate, he towers above his contemporaries and he has the common touch, but I think he would represent the evolution of the role. Lemn comes from more a stage poet background, although he has always published. He is such a dynamic figure and his life story is inspiring and galvanising. I admire him deeply. I also think having a BAME Poet Laureate will be a very positive and inspiring thing.

The UK is currently divided over Brexit and politics among other things. How do you think poetry can help to unite a nation?
Poetry encourages us to look inwardly and reflect, we could all do with a bit of that right now.

Luke Wright’s 20th anniversary show Luke Wright, Poet Laureate is playing Soho Theatre 10-13 April and touring nationally. For more information visit http://www.lukewright.co.uk

Photo credit: Idil Sukan

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