A bit of grit in a sea of subfusc

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Luke Wright’s poetry is raw with emotions, uncovering experiences often forgotten in the flurry of an Oxford term. Listening to his poetry online, I feel tired of the unfaltering short-sightedness of the drive for perfection rampant in the Oxford academic system. We are trained within an inch of our lives to analyse everything – every emotion, motivation and economic structure – with cold reason. Yet in this there is something the unfalteringly driven tutors and grasping BNOCs of Oxford lose: empathy skills. This is something Luke Wright’s poetry brings back in tender detail. It is not always about who is right or wrong, who has the power to win the argument: it is about where people are and what they experience.

I have the thrilling experience to interview him before his upcoming show. His dulcet Essex tones invoke an involuntary homesickness, which is odd because this is the vac, and I am at home. We start off with some Essex nostalgia. He actually went to Colchester Sixth Form, the same school as my brother. I meant to ask him about his poem ‘Essex Lion.’ The original news story was hilarious, his poem perhaps better. I also meant to ask about the hair. He co-wrote a book with Joel Stickley called Who Writes This Crap?, which looks simply brilliant (even if I haven’t actually read any further than the title page). But in the stress of a first ever interview and the caffeine of that overly strong coffee I just drank, I forgot. So I move on to the more important questions.

Essex or Suffolk? East Anglia (correct answer.) We talk about the North/ South divide and how it is really the fringes such as the East which you should watch out for. We are of course a wondrous region of our own, which will eventually take over the world with Olly Murs and Maggie Smith. I am glad he agrees.

So then moving away from the great geographical debate to the actual reason for the interview, why poetry? He describes how he saw some poets when he was 17 and fell in love with the art. They were passionate, exciting, funny and inspired him to start writing his own stuff. I asked who he would describe as his biggest inspiration. He mentions Martin Newell, John Cooper Clarke and Philip Larkin, and the list goes on. He also doesn’t hesitate to add that friends and people around him can often be the biggest influence and in his uncannily realistic character portrayals in some of his poems, you can understand how. He revels in the joy of spoken poetry, as he claims you can write something in the morning and be performing it by the afternoon. Wright per formed this year at Edinburgh Fringe, winning a Fringe First award for new writing, a load of four and five star reviews, and The Stage Award For Acting Excellence. I try to ascertain where is his favourite place to perform. I notice he is performing in Diss. I don’t know how much the Cherwell general readership knows about Diss, but for me it has always just been a train station. I am quickly put right. Diss is actually quite pretty, despite the row upon row of gravestones you pass as you enter the train station. Apparently there is a quite good gravestone shop, not just loads of dead people. Wright plays a number of venues; from the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall to the Colchester Arts centre, so trying to choose just one favourite was hard and, I guess, a fairly stupid question.

Having noticed the politics of some of his work, I ask about Corbyn. He says he considers him a principled man, who has been on the right side of history multiple times and that he is astute, a rare thing in modern politics. However he despondently questions whether Corbyn will ever be able to win an election because of the self-destructive infighting in the party and the wrestle for soul of Labour. His message for the current Labour Party? “Shut up and leave him (Corbyn) alone. He needs a fucking good team around to win an election.”

I ask him what concerns him most about our generation (this provoked the inevitable debate as to whether we really were part of the same generation. He’s now 34, so perhaps not.) His answer was blunt. Life’s tough. Unemployment. Really the same issues which span across the whole board of society. He worries how, with the welfare state being hacked away at, people in the most vulnerable positions are being hit. Looking to the future, he wonders at the power of technology in influencing future politics and doubts whether the public sector can survive.

Moving onto the more serious questions: cats or dogs? Cats (dogs are a lot of work!) He quickly puts me right in stating that cats and dogs are not really comparable. Dogs or children would be a more apt question because of the apparent degree of loving attachment. So I ask that. He says children. I realise how desperately I need to get better at this interviewing malarkey.

I ask him to summarise the show in five words. He replies – political, intense, funny, sounds good.

I then ask what message he would give to the average, exams-stressed, time-pressed Oxford student. Come watch the show! It will hopefully feel really relevant at the moment. It’s about the Labour party, being a student, finding something to believe in and the intense relationships you build at University. He highlights as a lasting point the formative power of our time at university. I cannot but agree.

Luke Wright’s multi award-winning political drama ‘What I Learned from Johnny Bevan’ comes to The North Wall, Oxford on Friday the 29th January 2016. Tickets here.

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