August 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Daljit Nagra by Becky Ellis
1. From reading your biography, I see that your confidence in writing used to suffer. Could you pinpoint a time when you realised that what you were doing could be successful?
Only after Faber took my first collection. Even till then I assumed no one would publish me or I’d end up with an obscure tiny publisher.
2. How often do you write? Do you commit yourself to something daily or are you more spontaneous?
I regard writing as a hobby. I work full time, at school and various poetry-related jobs each week. So I write when I’m on
trains, buses, aeroplanes and some evenings at home. Poetry can work well in short bursts.
3. What made you feel that writing in the hybrid Indian/English would appeal to a wider audience?
I never thought of an audience at all. I wrote the way that seemed the best response to all the literary tradition from Beowulf onwards. I fully expected little interest in the poetry community because my style is so particular and not a fashionable one.
4. The amalgamation of cultures is so vivid within your poems, do you feel that you have done both your British and Indian roots proud?
I’m not so concerned about making my roots proud as I am about ensuring I make my poems feel as though I have done them justice. I try to ensure I make each a poem as good as it can be. My responsibility is to the poem. I am not a politician or a doctor so I can’t have that kind of social mission. After all, I can’t speak for a community. People are much more complex than a mere poem.
5. Which other poets have influenced your writing?
Shakespeare remains the biggest influence. Then Milton. Then hundreds of contemporary poets such as Seamus Heaney, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop and so on.
6. Your poems have a strong voice, at what point do you decide when a poem is finished?
I get a sense I can’t improve it anymore. I get feedback from my wife and then from my editor, and only then do I leave the poem alone.
7. How important is mentorship and guidance when writing poetry? Would you advise an aspiring poet to experience work-shopping or one on one discussions to forward their creativity?
It is vital. I had a mentor and my poetry improved no end. I couldn’t get away with easy lines and I had to defend my
decisions. Above all, mentorship can be inspirational so you become more productive.
8. Your poem “X” stands out both in style and structure, what made you want to experiment with this poem?
The poem wrote itself. I had to ensure I controlled the form so the voice could express its own ambiguous world.
9. What can you express in poetry that you can’t in another literary or art form?
I have no interest in writing in other forms so for me, only poetry please! I love the concentration of language in poetry and the length of a poem.
10. After you have your ‘whoosh’ of ideas and get them down on paper, how do you decide which ones to explore?
A very imprecise science. I make many editing mistakes and often have to go back to earlier versions of a poem. I make fewer mistakes with more experience, I think.