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Thought of living in a small town repulsed me says East Anglian poet Luke Wright

Poet, performer, publisher, curator and broadcaster Luke Wright. Photo: Idil Sukan

Poet, performer, publisher, curator and broadcaster Luke Wright. Photo: Idil Sukan

Image licensed for press and publicity usage for the sitter, dependent on the accreditation to the photographer: Idil Sukan/Draw

Edinburgh Fringe winning performance poet Luke Wright shares his, sometimes reluctant, love of East Anglia.

Lowestoft beach. Photo: Steve Jones Lowestoft beach. Photo: Steve Jones

Growing up in Coggeshall, Essex, Luke swore he’d never, ever, live in a small town in East Anglia again. So why spend years living first in Wivenhoe and then Bungay?

“It’s mad because the very thought of living in a small town repulsed me, but you get a bit older and think ‘that’d be nice’. My wife at the time and I moved here because we really liked living in Wivenhoe.

“I spend a lot of time on the road so I like the idea of it being an antithesis to gallivanting all around the country - that you come back to a nice, quiet, calm place,” says the poet, publisher and broadcaster.

“If I didn’t do the job I do I don’t think I’d live in a small town. My partner lives in Brighton so I spend half my week here, a night or two in Brighton and the rest on the road so I’ve got lots of variation which is good.”

He’s currently sitting in his car after dropping his eight and five year old sons off at school. He’s squeezed in some rewrites and edits of his new play, Frankie Vah; earlier this morning. It’s school sports day so he’s taking the afternoon off.

“Doesn’t that sound like a wholesome day?” he laughs.

“It’s frustrating because I’ve got loads of writing to do but you can’t miss sports day, can you? They’ll never forgive me,” says Luke, who has his trainers at the ready in case he’s roped into the three-legged race.

Born in London, he moved to Essex when he was two; spending most of his formative years there before leaving when he was 18.

Poet Luke Wright in Frankie Vah. Photo: Contributed Poet Luke Wright in Frankie Vah. Photo: Contributed

“It’s nice, a beautiful little place,” he says of Bungay.

“I do love East Anglia... the counties don’t matter to me, that middle part of it’s all very similar; the Waveney Valley doesn’t look too different from Constable Country. Dedham Vale, all those sort of places have the same gentle, subtle beauty. It’s not breathtaking around here but there’s something that just gets in your bones if that’s where you grow up.”

He and his boys love that there’s lots of green space, lots of good places to go for walks. They go to the beach a lot and get in the sea, visit lots of old houses and halls; that whole “National Trust thing”.

“We like a good garden to run around in and a great big mansion to marvel at... my older son’s autistic and I think life is slower, quieter around here and that’s good for him,” says the Edinburgh Fringe First winner, who brings his latest show The Toll to the Auden Theatre, July 26, as part of the Holt Festival.

He likes old beamed and wattle and daub houses and Victorian suburbs; and becomes more determined each year to never live more than half-an-hour from the sea.

“I try to get in the sea as frequently as possible... people call it wild swimming, it’s just swimming really,” laughs Luke, who hosts and co-programmes all the poetry for Latitude Festival, returning to Henham Park next weekend.

“I swim anywhere but there’s something marvellous about being in the sea. I swim in the Waveney as well but I prefer the sea... my friend and I go to Sheringham sometimes or Sea Palling, Waxham... if I’m on my own I tend to go to Lowestoft. People turn their nose up at Lowestoft sometimes, I don’t understand that.

“It’s not the prettiest place, it’s functional, quite industrial; but the beach is cracking and you’ve got all the dunes further down if you go towards Pakefield.”

Luke, who has been commissioned to write a film script for his show What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, finds the region inspirational. His latest collection features five or six East Anglian poems he wouldn’t have written if he didn’t live here.

“I do feel it’s good to have a place as a poet, as a writer; it’s generally good to know who you are fullstop. If you’re going to write poems, half of which nearly always end up being confessional in some way, it’s good to know what you think about things.

“Having a place where you belong is part of that, it is for me. I feel like it would certainly change my writing if I lived anywhere else.”

While East Anglia is in Luke’s bones, he doesn’t like how socially and politically conservative people here can be.

“That stops me from ever really, totally feeling at home, which is a shame because I grew up around here so it feels like my place. I feel like I’ve got a relationship with it and why shouldn’t I? But there seems to be a mainstream that sits against a lot of things I believe in,” says Luke, returning to Edinburgh next month with his new verse play Frankie Vah.

“That’s not to denigrate people in this area, I think they’re slower to change their ways and that’s just not who I am... [John] Bercow said you don’t have to wear a tie as long as you’re smartly dressed and there was a big furore in Parliament... if we kept that attitude people would still be wearing ruffs. Some people are ideologically opposed to change and it seems strange to me.

“The Brexit debate summed up the divide in the country at the moment; that there were the people of anywhere and the people of somewhere. People who feel they belong in a place, don’t ever want to leave it and if anything changes they get really cross and defensive about and people who feel they could live anyway.

“Although this is my place and I like living here, I’m a person of anywhere. I might never leave here every again,” laughs Luke, who’s been commissioned to write a film script for his show What I Learned From Johnny Bevan.

“But I don’t feel like I don’t want it to change or move forward. What I love isn’t the way of life, it’s the way it looks and the way it feels when I walk around.

“Living here has given me a real insight into how this division in our society has come about and puts me in touch with people who are different. Even if you don’t feel like you have much in common it’s important to understand where people are coming from no matter what they think. I wouldn’t get that if I lived in a city, I’d be in some kind of bubble... it’s given me a much better understanding of people and society and that’s a big part of my work.

“It’s also little, less important things, like food... my girlfriend’s daughter is vegan and when she comes up here, if we go out to a restaurant...,” he laughs.

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