Luke Wright is dangerously close to becoming the poetic voice of a generation. His poignant, sardonic, and satire-drenched lyrics have led him to become one of the biggest names in contemporary performance poetry. And after his witty, caustic performance at Corpus Christi this week, I’m inclined to agree.
Wright’s poetic epiphany came when watching Manchester punk poet John Cooper Clarke aged 16. ‘All I wanted to do was put words together and rhyme’, said Wright. He later went on to form the poetry club Aisle16 in 2000 and toured a show with the group called ‘Poetry Boyband’. Like all boy bands, the magic had to come to an end, and Wright left to pursue a solo career. In the style of an X-Factor contestant or Dick Whittington, Wright says he moved to London and ‘decided to give myself a few years at it. It took me 15 months till I’d become a poet – until it was my day-to-day job.’
Nowadays Wright has written poetry for films (watch the charming and a slightly weepy Seven Ages of Love on 4od), organises the poetry line up for Latitude festival, and performs at Edinburgh every year. His obvious involvement with the more public side of poetic life led me to ask if he felt himself carefully surveying the divide between performance or ‘proper’ poetry. But Wright calls himself a ‘performance poet’ despite its reputation – ‘there is some lazy stuff on the scene because you don’t have to cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s – because poetry is a sonorous experience. There are two types of poetry: the stuff that’s self-referential with posh language and the stuff that’s trying to tell stories, and I’m definitely in that second bracket.’
Nevertheless, Wright quotes Andrew Motion, saying that ‘poetry shouldn’t have to make people like it. Poems should hit you in the gut the first time you read it. I like to have an emotional connection with a poem but, more than anything, I love a great line.’
Wright was also employed as the poet in residence for Radio 4’s Saturday Live where he has recently written on Christopher Hitchens’ death, the race for the American presidency, and his dad’s crush on Twiggy. Does Wright find it easy working on commission or is it the cross the modern artist must bear? Wright admits that he doesn’t ‘have a real love for these [commissioned] poems. I never hand in something I’m not happy with but there’s no truth or heart in those poems – there’s something genuine that you lose from it.’
From his latest work in progress – an epic called Revolt! that twins narratives of the peasants revolt in 1381 and the recent riots – to his new show, entitled Jeremy, Who Drew Penises On Everything (and other poems), it’s clear that Wright, undoubtedly, is a poet of the people.