Daljit Nagra: Exploring Britishness

Life after Look We Have Coming to Dover! has changed dramatically for me. I moved house twice, I got married and I have two young daughters. In addition, I work just two days at school because of all the poetry work I have been getting over the past few years. I attribute all these changes to my Dover collection of course for books are truly life changing!

A few months after my first collection came out, in February 2007, I was awarded an Arts Council grant and I used this partly for research purposes. I went to the old seat of British power in India, Calcutta, and then off to Darjeeling. I wanted to see where the British Empire originally was and then I wanted to fast-track the journey from the burning heat of Calcutta to the cool of Darjeeling the English would take over the hottest months of the year.

Tippoo Sultan’s Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!!


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Some of the poems seem to have sprung from very personal experiences, in particular because of my relationship with and marriage to a ‘white’ woman. I’ve been particularly intrigued by responses to our two daughters by family who have tried to appreciate the value of cultural mixing and in what ways children can be specifically Indian and English in behaviour. Some of this is explored indirectly in a few poems.

Mostly though I think I’ve been consciously trying to explore the state of modern Britain from the perspectives of my characters. I tend to allow language to create a sort of voice for a character and then I imagine what they think about things and allow them to speak freely. I try and keep my judgements out of my characters perspectives, as much as is possible anyway. In the case of one poem, School Daze Woz the Best Daze!? I found the speaker attacking other students, teachers, the sonnet form, I had put him in, and the reader. There is some repulsive language in the poem but I had to allow the speaker his turn once he had started. I am so pleased Faber allowed this hideous poem to go into print.

As part of my exploration of Britishness many key figures are explored or touched upon: queens such as Victoria and the two Elizabeths, Duke of Edinburgh, Cliff Richard, John Simpson, Winston Churchill and John Bull to name but a few. Some of these are treated comically but most with a grown up attitude, the latter has been a strange experience for me as I have avoided being flippant!

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