Mention to someone that you are heading off to a night of poetry and they may well feign interest outwardly whilst inwardly thinking, 'how incredibly dull', and shuddering at the memories of reluctantly analysing 19 th century poems at school. Tonight's show obliterates any reputation of poetry as a dry, lifeless art form, demonstrating instead just how invigorating, hilarious, educational and powerful it can be.
Tonight is the first of a string of UK dates for Luke Wright, who has been steadily making a name for himself over the past decade, with numerous BBC radio appearances and sold-out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. Also the co-founder of the poetry collective Aisle16, Wright has established a reputation as one of Britain's leading young poets, combining political and observational commentary with sharp wit and touching personal anecdotes.
Supporting Luke Wright on his UK tour is Jemima Foxtrot, a London-based poet recently nominated for the Arts Foundation Spoken Word Prize 2015. Judging by tonight's performance, it is easy to see why. Foxtrot combines a unique mix of poetry and song, belting out soulful melodic phrases (and an impressive voice she has too) between flurries of spoken word. The content of her poems is largely humorous, with Foxtrot attributing the tendency for her poems to cover money and sex to the fact that, at 25, she's "not old enough to have experienced much death yet…". A particular highlight is her amusingly-named 'It's amazing what you can find on the internet these days', in which she conveys the experience of internet dating.
Foxtrot's take on living in London ("the two halves of London – split like a grapefruit") is both funny and touching. Perhaps the most touching of all, however, is her poem 'Growing Up', where she captures that simultaneous sense of fear and excitement that comes with the end of 'student-hood' and the start of living in 'the real world'. The line "I chase pigeons just show I can change things" particularly resonates. Warming up a small crowd in an intimate setting where you can see all the pairs of eyes looking at you is no easy task. Despite seeming initially nervous in between poems, however, Foxtrot does a grand job, and by the time she scurries self-deprecatingly off the stage she has left us all charmed.
Wright is more than just a 'stand up' poet ... He keeps the listener gripped throughout.
From the moment Luke Wright takes to the stage you cannot help but be captivated. His appearance, first off, is striking; it is hard to believe that the doughy-eyed, fresh faced, flamboyant man before you with the eye liner and paisley handkerchief is a 33 year-old father of two. What is more, his comical craft and engagement with the audience in between poems is second to none. His show tonight, 'Stay at Home Dandy', is centred on the daily school run and the people and stories that he encounters as a result. Wright opens with his poem of the same name, which plays on his role as the 'house husband'. The poem demonstrates immediately Wright's astounding combination of wit, lyrical genius and boundless energy, writhing and jumping from spot to spot as he hammers out each verse. The audience lap it up greedily, laughing out loud and whooping with delight at the end.
'The Bastard of Bungy' meanwhile, is equally impressive and comical, right up until the end, where – as Wright puts it – 'the sting in its tail' hits us right in the stomach and our laughter is replaced with a sad exhale of breath. Indeed, despite his obvious wit and charisma, Wright is more than just a 'stand up' poet. Poems such as 'The Toll' are thoughtful and heart-breaking, their sentiments lingering beyond the final words. 'Clevedon to Liverpool Street', meanwhile – a recollection of a teenage Wright's coveted shared train commute with his father – is incredibly heartfelt and touching. Wright takes us on many highs and lows; whatever the tone of the poem, however, he keeps the listener gripped throughout.
Despite the combined performances lasting a couple of hours, the night seems to be over before it has begun; time flies, as they say, when you're having fun. Tonight illustrates just how important performance poetry is – just how much one can see and feel the effect of words on a page coming to life in full force. Indeed, this has been a very special night and one that any poetry cynics would do well to try out – whisper it to them quietly, but they may well find themselves enjoying it.