Settee of Stories: A sit down with Lewis Buxton

Norwich. A city of mavericks and makers, creators and trail blazers. A big-hearted city beneath even bigger skies, and open air, open minds. In Norwich, everyone has a story to tell. And we’ll be sure to tell it. Every month, we’ll be sitting down with local writers, designers, makers, artists and influencers to discuss life in Norwich. This week we’re joined by acclaimed Poet and Producer, Lewis Buxton.

Lewis Buxton

Born in London in the early 90s, Lewis regularly visited Norfolk to see his grandparents in Swaffham during the holidays. In 2011, after years of enjoying visits to the county, Lewis moved to Norwich for University. After a brief liaison with London after graduation, Lewis made his way back to Norwich (as many of us do!) to develop his career as a writer and arts producer. In 2016 he founded TOAST, a poetry project that brings audiences and artists together at the Norwich Arts Centre, and in 2017 he was shortlisted for the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Prize. Lewis’ poems have been commissioned by organisations like The Tate, First Story, and Nationwide Building Society, and have garnered thousands of views on YouTube and Facebook. Today, Lewis works in schools, libraries and community centres across the country teaching poetry and performance. His first book, Boy in Various Poses is coming out in May 2021 and his one-person show Bo(d)y Talk will also debut at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2021. We sat down with Lewis to discuss life as a Poet and Producer in Norwich.

Lewis Buxton at Interlude. Credit: Max Hilton

How did you get into your chosen career/profession, and why did you decide to pursue this in Norwich?

Poetry actually started for me in a field in Suffolk: at Latitude festival I saw poets like Ross Sutherland, Hannah Jane Walker & John Osborne performing their work. It was funny, emotional, the energy of live music with the intimacy of reading alone in your room. I began writing poems, songs, stories, volunteered for the National Centre for Writing teaching poetry to young men in Thetford, and after graduating university got my grounding as an arts producer working for a writing charity. Throughout this time, I organized live poetry events in Norwich and London and built a reputation as a poet and performer, publishing in magazines and reading at events around the country. In 2016 I went freelance – a privilege afforded to me by living at home in North London – and began to build TOAST before moving back to Norfolk. Norwich has always felt like home even when I didn’t live here. It has the creatives and the audiences that I thrive off to build artistic communities.

What do you love most about Norwich and why?

I love its size. London began to feel like a fancy suit that I love but fits a little tight and I only want to wear a couple of times a year: I needed a different sized city which fit a bit better, and Norwich was perfect. A city the size of a town that feels like a village. I love the way Norwich hides from itself: sometimes behind the brash loud coat of Prince of Wales Road, or the ever turning and turning cobbles of the lanes. I love how huge churches are tucked into small corners, and small pubs hold hundreds on match days. The way Norwich gives way to the rest of Norfolk also brings me a lot of joy: how trains and A roads can take you out of the city and out of yourself, hayfields, cornfields and fields of sugarbeet unfolding like a duvet cover taken out of the airing cupboard. I feel like I can walk anywhere in Norwich: that wherever I go I’ll be able to find my way back home.

Norwich Lanes Summer Fayre, 2017

Favourite place(s) to eat in Norwich?

The Bicycle Shop, its strangeness in a city of strangers makes me very happy whenever I walk in there. My partner and I once got very drunk and then demanded they serve us dinner. Luckily, I am friends with the manager so he took my drunken demands in good humour. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had but what I ate I still cannot remember!

Moorish Falafel for lunch of a day in the city. Their wraps hug your stomach, somehow warm on cold days and refreshing in the heat. Also, Carberry’s on Wensum Street do hearty, full sandwiches made even more pleasant by the presence of their 70kg golden retriever, Toby, who spreads himself like sunshine on the front step.

Food & Drink The Norwich Lanes-St Benedicts_The Bicycle Shop

The Bicycle Shop, Norwich

Favourite place(s) for a coffee/beverage?

Eaton Park Café for summer drinks, post-run water, and hot chocolate in the Autumn. Franks Bar for the intimacy of dates where cocktails or Blue Moons help me forget or celebrate life.

Café 33 is perfect for a cup of tea and cake the size of your face. Though the simple, artistic joy of that place is always accompanied for me by a deep bowl of shame. Once, whilst having lunch with my mum, sat at the breakfast bar by the window on a tall stall, I dropped a fork, leant down to pick it up, and slowly, ungracefully, fell with a loud thump on the floor. Bruised shoulder and pride, I sat back up and pretended it hadn’t happened. A waitress gently asked if I was okay, before, just as gently, replacing the fork.

Franks Bar, Norwich

What have you missed the most in lockdown?

I missed pubs an awful lot: and the thing I loved most about them still isn’t back. The ease of walking into a pub, of knowing the rules, of feeling welcomed or happily ignored, carving out my table to read or watch football or argue with my partner. The same goes for 5-a-side football at the SportsPark, the closeness and proximity of other people is a physical as well as an emotional thing for me. Again Norwich’s Goldilocks geography where everyone feels close but not oppressive hasn’t quite returned for me. I want the easy movement of Norwich to return, the way the city swells with students in September, the way Autumn collapses onto the Avenues, leaves falling as if stunt actors from skyscrapers onto the crashmat of pavement, how Winter grabs Norfolk by the neck and forces you to wear a scarf, the fist of blossom in Spring the way it unclenches and breathes out come June. What I’ve missed is how Norwich changes and stays the same all in one breath.

Elm Hill, Norwich

What was your experience of lockdown like, and do you have any lockdown tips/recommendations for our readers?

Lonely, frustrating and weirdly calming. As a freelance writer, I spent hours on Zoom with family and friends restraining myself from shouting ‘YEAH IT MUST BE REAAAALLLYYY DIFFICULT TO BE FURLOUGHED AND ALSO HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE FURLOUGH?’. Lockdown was stressful and unknown yet at the same time, I felt safe in not going out: as if I was in a conservatory and it began to rain, I could see the droplets falling but was not getting wet. A self-interested but comforting thought.

You should all read Ada Limon’s The Carrying and Bright Dead Things; Joe Dunthornes’ O Positive, Michael Chabon’s Kavalier & Klay and Louise Erdich’s Four Souls. However, what really got me through lockdown was Brooklyn 99; Parks & Recreation; Match of the Day (when it returned) and the film Blinded by the Light.

10 unmissable buildings in Norwich

Norwich Cathedral

And finally, what does ‘Norwich’ mean to you, or can you tell us your favourite memory of the city?

In about 2012 I was stood outside Vue Cinemas near Castle Quarter with a rather philosophical American. He looked up at the Cathedral and said ‘Hey maaan, it’s like someone has unzipped the sky.’ I then waited years to fit that line into a poem (which I did in 2020 in a commission for the BBC). I went into the Cathedral this year for the first time with my partner. I’m not a religious person so entered tentatively but once inside I felt, once again, welcome. Norwich is a place to think, to create, to not just work but more importantly, live. That feels like what Norwich means to mean: a place of beauty, of friendship, of a stranger who is welcome to come from 3,000 miles away and describe the shape of our Cathedral’s spire. It’s also a place where patience pays off: like poetry, things don’t move fast here. You wait and suddenly one day you realize how comfortable it is.

Lewis is available for workshops, performances, and commissions here