Edinburgh International Book Festival: Luke Wright & Michael Pedersen
Two poets who have made the leap from stage to page, defying the bias against performance poetry which still undeniably exists in the minds of academics and critics, both Luke Wright and Michael Pedersen gave incendiary performances at their festival event, chaired by another performance and page veteran, Ryan Van Winkle.
Luke Wright first found acclaim as a member of 'poetry boyband' Aisle16 – since then he has developed and refined his style, appearing on television, reading across the country and as far afield as Australia; all culminating in the release of his new collection, Mondeo Man, published by Penned In The Margins. Wright is in town to promote his new book, and to perform his much-admired one man Fringe show, Essex Lion. Dressed in a grey three piece suit, a silk scarf at his neck, the wild-fringed, cherub-faced poet showed how much his technique has developed in the past few years, becoming a restrained, controlled performer who knows when to let the passion flow.
His verses have been tightened and refined, working in strict meter, but using this technical proficiency in the service of a thrilling performance poetry style. His poem about the occasional sing-songs on “the drunk train” back from central London is powerfully evocative, its repeating refrain elevating it to the status of a classic ballad. Wright perfectly captures the glamourless pulse of mainstream Britain and transforms it into rhythmic, transcendental beauty. As his performance is greeted with whoops and whistles, he remarks: “Poets are like fairies – if you don't clap, we die.” If this is indeed the case, then Wright should be in rude health.
Michael Pedersen, who co-founded successful Edinburgh multimedia poetry performance night Neu! Reekie! with Rebel Inc's Kevin Williamson, is younger than Wright, but his passion and flair for language are no less impressive. Reading from his debut collection Play With Me, published by Polygon, he showcases his scintillating verse, equal parts introspective, complex wordplay and charming, sensual wit. In particular, his poem A Raven at my Writing Desk is devastatingly effective, working from his premise that “the more ravens I see, the more of a dick I've been the night before.” This poem of drunken misunderstandings becomes a powerful metaphor for death and forgiveness.
Another poem about a school French exchange is also fantastic, drawn from direct lived experience to create “a poem like a bomb, a bomb like a poem.” Drunken Saturday nights and mornings after, childhood and friendship and love are his subjects, his style equally influenced by indie-folk ballads and slam poetry. One particularly funny poem features a young Pedersen pretending he has almost been abducted by a man in a raincoat with “puppies in the back of a beat-up Astra,” the shocking nature of his faked abduction used as a hilarious metaphor for youthful attention-seeking.
Judging from audience reaction alone, these two young poets are the brightest and most engaging Britain has to offer – a world away from the sterile technical exercises worshipped by professors in dusty towers of academia, and far more incisive than the bland popularism and lazy sensationalism of Carol-Ann Duffy and her aging ilk. Quite simply, this is the future of popular poetry, drawn from a vibrant stage tradition, and now immortalised on paper.