Meet the flamboyant wordsmith who combines domesticity with national tours

Poet Luke Wright at home. Luke is embarking on a tour called Stay at Home Dandy. He is also a ‘stay

Poet Luke Wright at home. Luke is embarking on a tour called Stay at Home Dandy. He is also a ‘stay at home dad’. - Credit: Gregg Brown

The traditional life of a poet is meant to be all wandering and musing and staring at daffodils. All well and good, but Luke Wright has also got the school run to do and the tea to put on.

Poet Luke Wright at home. Luke is embarking on a tour called Stay at Home Dandy. He is also a ‘stay

Poet Luke Wright at home. Luke is embarking on a tour called Stay at Home Dandy. He is also a ‘stay at home dad’. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Matt Gaw meets Suffolk’s brightest and most flamboyant wordsmith.

The last time I saw Luke Wright he was standing legs splayed, eyes smudged with kohl, as he put a “champagne-rinsed rococo boot” into the establishment.

He’s now pouring himself another cup of Assam tea in what could be the quaintest tea-room in Suffolk.

It’s fair to say that even without the make up and the spray-on red trousers; he sticks out from the other clientele.

We’re talking in a precious window, the golden hours between school runs, snack fixing and dinner making for two young children, when Luke usually sits at his desk to write.

He smiles, “At the moment, I’m recovering from writing. I work four days a week during the school hours and if I’m not away doing something, I’ll go to my desk and work from half nine to half two. Or I’ll come down here.

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“Johnny (John Cooper Clarke, a regular touring partner who Luke has known since the tender age of 17) always says that artists need long periods of idleness. It sounds like a massive cop out but I think it’s true.

“I don’t force stuff if it’s not there; I will go for a run or drive rather than just sit at the desk.”

A perfectionist, Luke is still working on Stay-at-home-Dandy, a show he is currently touring which will arrive in the county on May 22. With his profile in the ascendancy, the tour will no doubt mean even more critical attention than before, but it is also an explicit acknowledgement of his circumstances – combining domesticity and caring for two young children while touring the UK and beyond.

“Stay-at-Home Dandy, was a slow burn, which is how I like to do my shows now. I just start collecting poems and see where it’s going.

“I wrote a poem called Fat Dandy and I liked the idea that I would have an alter ego like David Bowie, the Fat White Duke. Then over the last year I lost a lot of weight, like three and a half stone. I did a set at Edinburgh book festival billed as Fat Dandy, and it had some other pieces that made it into this incarnation, but it started being a bit weird doing Fat Dandy, and not being fat anymore! I wanted to replace it, so I wrote a more honest poem about the Stay-at-Home Dandy.

A tongue-in-cheek autobiographical piece, Luke paints himself as a cross between Oscar Wilde and Mother Hubbard – a Byron-quoting, gin-toting “puce peacock of the PTA”.

He grins. “I’d been doing the school run for a year and I stand out. I’m there often about to shoot off to a gig so I’m in dressed in all my finery. I’m pretty much the only dad as well, so I think it’s quite a funny concept that the one dad is in more make-up than all the mums put together. Stay-at-Home Dandy just plays on that.

“The show then started to feel really domestic and about parenthood and childhood. So that’s really what the show is about.”

Luke, a former Colchester Sixth Form College student who returned to East Anglia to raise a family, suggests it is this heightened sense of domesticity that has affected him creatively.

“I think it’s changed me as a person. But then who is to say how I would have changed if I hadn’t had kids in the last six years. We’re all growing up anyway, but I do think it has changed me. I’m a much more empathetic person, much more emotional than when I was a younger man. I supposed I used to be much more ideological.

Helping himself to more tea and flicking his fringe out of his eyes, he explains. “Being a parent means you do come across people with very different views to you. We enclave ourselves in a little liberal left-wing bubble, or I have, for the last ten years and then suddenly you’re back out in the world with real people.

“I find that you can totally live in a bubble where people become monsters, they are not nuanced. The only people you hear about, who break through are the ones being really horrible, like Katie Hopkins.”

It is this more nuanced outlook that now interests Luke and is evident in many of the poems that make up his Stay-at-Home Dandy show.

“A lot of the characters in the poems are teetering on the edge of oblivion. They have got this safe life, the school run and all that stuff, but then there is the question of what would happen if you just dropped off a cliff the other side. There’s a poem called The Toll, about Tracey who doesn’t have that safe home life and it’s quite awful and she tries to build it out of nothing.

“Then there’s something like the Bastard of Bungay, which is quite fun but when the camera pulls back you see it’s not just some guy stomping round the place shouting, there is a real horror in his life.”

Although domesticity may be an influence for Luke now, it doesn’t mean he is settling down creatively.

The last six years have seen a prodigious outpouring of books and shows in the last six years (including the debut collection of Mondeo Man and the critically acclaimed spoken word album Essex Lion) he feels he can still do more.

“I think I’m due another creative shift. I need to loosen up. I use meter and rhyme a lot, I think I need to do something a bit more on the edge. I’ve been thinking that for some time.”

But for all the talk of change there is a striking constant to Luke’s work.

From his earliest poems to the most recent collection, there is a strong, progressive tone – whether it is the chiding of Tory grandees (Have a Gong! Better Together) or a delicate portrayal of life cut off from privilege.

It is this social conscience will see him perform at the inaugural Suffolk Festival of Ideas – a Bury St Edmunds-based event intended to discuss responses to climate change and a hyper-consumeristic society.

“I’m really looking forward to the Festival of Ideas. It’s an artist’s duty to interact with the world. I think Damon Albarn said something like that the other day – about bands not engaging with anything these days. Brian Sewell said something similar about Brit Art; ‘Who cares if she spent three months in a bed? It doesn’t say anything about the world’. It wasn’t the craft he was worried about, it was the lack of an outlook.

“I agree with both, that it is an artists’ duty to look outwardly and to engage with the world. Even if you end up writing something very personal, it needs to have the weight and sense of it existing within something larger than itself.

“I try and do that, try and make a social political point in almost everything I write. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.”

Luke Wright performs Stay-at-Home Dandy at the Norwich & Norfolk Festival, at the Norwich Arts Centre on May 15 and then Suffolk Festival of Ideas on May 22.

For tickets to the Festival of Ideas show phone 01284 762 081 or visit their website

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