Poet has seen festival grow to become leading arts showcase

Latitude Festival, at the Henham Estate near Southwold

Latitude Festival, at the Henham Estate near Southwold - Credit: Ashley Pickering

Suffolk poet Luke Wright has seen the Latitude festival grow from a modest boutique gathering in 2006 to one of Britain’s biggest music and arts events.

Suffolk poet Luke Wright in his current touring show Stay-at-Home Dandy. Photo by Steve Ullathorne

Suffolk poet Luke Wright in his current touring show Stay-at-Home Dandy. Photo by Steve Ullathorne - Credit: Steve Ullathorne

Now the established host and programmer for the festival’s Poetry Arena, he is responsible for assembling what promises to be another distinguished line-up of spoken word performers.

With Simon Armitage, John Cooper Clarke and children’s writer Michael Rosen already on the bill, and more poets and authors due to be announced next week, Wright can’t wait to get back to Henham Park for July 16-19.

The former Colchester sixth-former, who now lives with his family in Bungay, said: “It’s grown a lot bigger in those 10 years. I remember our tent fitting about 500 people that first year – now it’s three times the size and we keep on filling it.

“Back then I was 24, unmarried and just starting my career. Now I’m a 33-year-old married father-of-two, so I’ve grown with the festival.

“I’m in quite a unique position to be given pretty free rein to curate the festival as I would like.

“We’ve left no stone unturned since it began, attracting big names like Andrew Motion, Wendy Cope, John Cooper Clarke and Patti Smith.

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“In John Cooper Clarke, Michael Rosen and Simon Armitage, I couldn’t hope for three more exciting poets this year.”

With recent cuts to culture spending, some critics have questioned whether the arts remain accessible to all or have become the domain of a privileged few.

Wright, who recently gave a TED Talk on what it requires to be a DIY artist, agrees access should be unlimited but believes poetry remains unconstrained by social divides.

He said: “It’s still very democratic. You don’t need any equipment but your voice to get up there and say something.

“We do have a diversity of voices in poetry. People like Kate Tempest, Scroobius Pip and George The Poet would not be considered ‘posh’. But there does remain a problem with access to the arts for all. It’s the job of our institutions to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“It’s not just about class – it’s about race and gender. Through diversity, you always win.

“Artists have the freedom to say things that strike us emotionally. Poetry can be particularly direct. In some ways it makes more sense than other art forms – after all, we can all talk and use language.”

At Latitude 2015, Wright will preview his new Edinburgh show, What I Learned From Johnny Bevan – his first full-length theatre piece, about friendship, class and a ‘really bad idea for a festival’. But he’s quick to disassociate fiction from reality. “It starts with the character attending the launch of a festival which is being held in an abandoned council state and is quite crassly called ‘Urbania’,” he said.

“It’s based on the theme of middle class commercialisation of working class culture. I must point out that the festival in the show is not based on Latitude!”

Wright has written a special poem for this year’s Latitude which you can hear online by visiting youtube and searching for Latitude Festival 2015: Latitude by Luke Wright.