Everywhere I go, I find that a poet has been there before me- Freud
In 2014, I (Smita) had the opportunity via Connecting Conversations, a Rowan Arts project by psychoanalyst Ruth Robinson, to talk to Daljit Nagra, an award winning British Indian poet. The project was for psychoanalysts to talk to artistes, poets, authors. I was newly qualified but not your 5x week psychoanalyst but the 3x week one. A lot of money and commitment goes into these distinctions. A few years later, the psychoanalysts began to call themselves psychotherapists, for the jobs.
Going back to the day of recording, Ruth’s energy led the day. For such short notice and almost no promotion, we were a decent sized group. Here is a snippet of the prep taken from Poetryarchive and a little about Daljit himself, who was charming, :
Daljit Nagra (b. 1966) was the first poet to win the Forward Prize for both his first collection of poetry, in 2007, and for its title poem, ‘Look, We Have Coming to Dover!’, three years earlier. An earlier pamphlet, Oh My Rub! was a winner in the Poetry Business pamphlet competition, and was selected by the Poetry Book Society as a Pamphlet Choice. Nagra has also contributed to a collection of translations from Dutch, Uit het Hoofd, and won the Arts Council Decibel Award in 2008. Born in Middlesex, he now lives in London, where he works as an English teacher.
Nagra has described Look We Have Coming to Dover! as “obsessed with Asian-ness”, and this can be seen in poems that use Punjabi-inflected English, narratives involving casual racism, and characters who seek the cultural signals of ladoos or saris. However, the work is also interested in Britishness, dealing with the points where these two conditions collide or coincide. Both ‘Digging’ and ‘Look We Have Coming to Dover!’ take models from acknowledged classics of English-language poetry, using Seamus Heaney and Matthew Arnold as predecessors with varying relations to Britain. ‘Yobbos!’ takes a moment of racial harassment in which the narrator is almost driven to describing himself as “more British” than the Irish poet he is reading, nearly falling into the same idea of there being some kind of scale – but resisting.
This is done with humour and charm, and with an insistence that poets should not be reduced to their backgrounds. ‘Booking Khan Singh Kumar’, a title that refers to the poet’s previous cross-religious pseudonym, asks “Did you make me for the gap in the market/ Did I make me for the gap in the market”, worrying that fitting into that gap may be restrictive. ‘8’ is an elegy that speaks to anyone who has experienced a bereavement.
The shaping of his poems, from the flamboyant Muldoon-like near-rhymes of ‘Yobbos!’ to the disorienting fractured form of ‘X’, demonstrates with grace that craft is an important element to Nagra’s poetry. He reads here as a seasoned performer, able to slip into varied voices as the poem demands, and knowing just how much information to give in occasional introductions so that the poems are illuminated, but not over-explained. The Observer has said “The poet’s reading, like his words, is energetic and as alive as quicksilver”, and this recording shows how apt that judgment is.
2014 Shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize
212 Shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize
2008 Arts Council Grant for the Arts
2008 Won The South Bank Show Decibel Prize…more
2007 Costa Poetry prize nomination…more
2007 Won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection
2007 Shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award
2007 Shortlisted for the Glen Dimplex New Writers Award for Poetry
2007 Shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize
2004 Won the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Individual Poem
2003 First ever Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice
2003 Oh My Rub! (Smith/Doorstop) Won the Poetry Pamphlet Competition
2003 Pamphlet selected as one of the Guardian Poetry Books of the year
His Literary commitments
2013 Guest Faculty at Banff
2013 Judge of Poetry By Heart (national schools competition)
2013 Elected Board Member of the Poetry Archive
2013 Judge Kent & Sussex Poetry Competition
2012 Ilkley Festival Poet in Residence & Judge of the Ilkley Poetry Prize
2012 Judge David Cohen Prize
2012 Judge Costa Poetry Prize & overall judge of all categories
2012 Judge Greenheart Poetry Competition
2012 Committee of Poetry Archive
2012 Read at Dubai Literary Festival
2011 Read at International Poetry Festival Rotterdam
2011 Read at Amsterdam Poetry Festival
2011 Read at Galle Literary Festival2011 Writer in Residence at Goldsmiths College
2010 MC of TS Eliot Poetry Prize
2010 Read at John Hewitt Poetry Festival
2010 Committee Poetry Book Society
2010 Judge Christopher Tower Poetry Prize
2009 Annual Judge of the Simon Powell Poetry Prize
2009 Judge National Poetry Competition