Luke(y)-likey: An interview with Luke Wright of Nasty Little Press

With Nasty Little Press co-founder Luke Wright bringing a full programme of spoken word to the Book Festival under the banner of Babble On, we arranged a tête-à-tête with his fellow poet, pal and Jura Unbound performer

Feature by Michael Pedersen | 03 Jul 2014

When I was starting out in 2008 / 2009, Luke Wright was one of the biggest names in the poetry business. It’s safe to say he’s even bigger now: slicker hair, more fastidiously styled and, most importantly, he’s progressed – a powerhouse of the spoken word scene and more prominent in publication too. He curates regular nights in London, the Spoken Word Stage at Latitude Festival, plus he’s often on the ‘telly’ (which doesn’t usually happen to poets) and seen touring about the country with John Cooper Clarke. Last year Luke and myself re-launched our first full-length collections in a joint show at Edinburgh International Book Festival. This year he’s back with a bang – bringing cads and cadres with him and it seems he’s many a trick up his sleeve.

Let’s talk about this year, Nasty Little Press and the Jura Unbound Event.

I’ve programmed a section of the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival called Babble On – mainly to bring more spoken word into Jura Unbound and the main programme. It’s about nine events, two of which are Jura Unbound events – the first of which is Nasty Little Press. I started Nasty Little Press to get great spoken word acts into print. Also a bit out of the frustrations I was having getting my own work to print with a publisher. I met a two-year waiting list on a pamphlet when I wanted it to arrive immediately. 

So I found four people to publish and made it happen – myself, Byron Vincent, John Osborne and Martin Figura. Even if we hadn’t done any more books after these, we’d have still got four people swiftly into print (myself included) that deserved to be in print. It went well, people got excited and it didn’t really stop from then on. We’ve done about 20 books now and still seem to be punching above our weight. John Osborne got a highly commended in Forward Prize Best Single Poem last year. I just wanted to make beautiful books with people I like – things like that are an added bonus.

"I just wanted to make beautiful books with people I like" – Luke Wright

This NLP event at Jura Unbound is of the spoken word all-stars ilk. Can you tell us about who's coming along?

Martin Newell is maybe the top jewel in there. He’s an odd one, in that if you learn to understand everything he’s done he’s clearly a leading poet of his generation but he doesn’t really (and I think he’d be the first to admit this) play the poetry game (i.e. flock to London, crave prizes or get big reviews) – it’s a bit of a hackneyed phrase but he is a Peoples’ Poet. But then, for example, when his collected works came out a few years ago Germaine Greer volunteered to write the foreword for it – she loves his stuff and she gets it. He writes poems that get you in the gut and hit you first time out, still they’re beautifully crafted. 

Salena Godden: I love Salena to bits and pieces, she’s great. Her poems are great on the page and a real force when delivered live – there’s nothing like it. Good Cock and Imagine If You Had To Lick are two stand-outs. Salena was running the Book Club Boutique in Soho when we first started and we worked with her on some of our launches. And then she said to me after one of our nights – something like "I love what we’re doing would you be interested in working with me." Salena’s been in the game longer than me and I’d always thought she was both cool and talented. So I, of course, said YES, in a flash. I took this as a massive compliment.

Elvis McGonagall has just had his first Radio 4 series, he was on The One Show the other day too. It’s political satire, clever rhyming and he’s very funny in between the poems as well, a sign of a great performer. Believe it or not, Elvis McGonagall isn’t his real name. The persona is almost a character but there’s lots of him in there too. A lover of language, very visceral, it’s really funny stuff, alliterative and the words jump out. Everyone’s going to be rolling in the aisles for him.

Molly Naylor is our newest signing. She’s all sorts of things, a writer of theatre shows, she’s just written a sitcom with John Osborne that’ll appear on Sky in September. Like a lot of people who write multi-genre, often poetry has a special place in their heart – she really wanted to do a book. We published a book of her first show years ago, but I always wanted to work with her in the poetry way – that’s where my heart lies. We made a vow to make this happen and now we have – well nearly, it’ll be ready in the autumn.

Tim Clare is such a visceral writer, he brings things to life, often in a horrific and gory way and then he can be completely surreal too. My favourite poem in his book is where he’s imagining his lover getting decapitated on a roller coaster. Tim was the first full collection NLP published and a great first choice. I was chuffed he wanted me to do it because he’s such a great mate and the thing about great mates is they know how flawed you are as a human being. So with all that knowledge he still wanted to come to me.

The Nasty Little Intros series sounds interesting – limited releases of mini pamphlets for fresh voices.  You’re the elders, they’re the youngsters. Can you tell us a little about the ethos behind it?

Yeah it’s a way of giving support to newer writers. There wasn’t much support when we were starting out. Martin Newell and John Cooper Clarke stepped in and were good to us and you want to be good to people back. We produce the book, they keep all the money and we try and get them some press and publicity off the back of it. If we like working together maybe we’ll do a bit more, if it doesn’t work out then good luck to them. Because NLP isn’t my job, but more of an enjoyable hobby, if people want to head elsewhere for future works  – to a bigger publisher say – that’s great for them and fine by us.

Who are some of your favourite people to share a bill with and who’s still on your hit list?

I have to mention John Cooper Clark – my first ever professional gig was supporting him and I’ve gigged with him a lot over the years. I’m really lucky in that I’ve met and gigged with a lot of my heroes – and that’s not just in poetry, that’s some of my favourite comedians too. I’ve gigged with Michael Pedersen now so the list is complete [MP: naturally there was a slight tone to this.] What’s more exciting than heroes is those people you weren’t expecting – for example three or four years ago I was at Arvon, I picked a pamphlet off the shelf by Catherine Smith – I was just blown away. A bit later I met her and invited her to Latitude to perform, now we’re mates with loads of gigs together under our belts. What’s more exciting than gigging with someone you loved at fifteen?

Luke departs to tend to his children who’ve make a few cameos throughout the interview: the customary checking on how long he’s going to be and post dinner chatter. At one point Luke remarks – "Aidan could you please put some pants on." Like father like son? Let’s wait and see at Jura Unbound!

Nasty Little Press is on Fri 15 Aug in the Guardian Spiegeltent, part of Jura Unbound