Small Talk: Daljit Nagra

Poet Daljit Nagra, 46, was brought up in London and Sheffield. His debut collection Look We Have Coming to Dover! won a Forward poetry prize in 2007. His second volume, Tipoo Sultan’s Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! was shortlisted for the 2011 TS Eliot prize. He lives in London and is married with two children.

Who are your literary influences?

Shakespeare and Milton. Modern ones are Sylvia Plath, Derek Walcott and Les Murray.

What is your daily writing routine?

My routine is there is no routine. I fit in my writing around readings and teaching workshops.

Where do you write best?

Anywhere – living room, bedroom, office, on trains, in dingy cafés.

What music helps you write?

It’s [Bob] Dylan or Jimi Hendrix at the moment. They get my blood pumping so that I can write lively verse.

What book changed your life?

Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake. It was the first book I read properly, when I was about 19. I started writing after that and never looked back.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

New York. Its filmic glamour, the arts scene, the bookshops.

What are you most proud of writing?

My poem “Look We Have Coming to Dover!” I felt it sounded like nothing else that I’d ever read or heard.

What poem do you wish you’d written?

“The Sick Rose” by Blake. It’s awesome and terrifyingly beautiful.

When do you feel most free?

When I’m at home. I feel liberated, which I don’t in open spaces.

What do you snack on while you write?

I get too excited to eat. Writing is my consumption, as it were.

What are you scared of?

I used to have a terrible fear of snakes. There was a snake shrine in our village in India, and my parents had to visit it to pay homage. I didn’t even know about it but I used to have nightmares. When my parents stopped going, the nightmares stopped.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

My dad told me to work hard and honestly. My mum told me to stay away from girls.

What would you change about yourself?

I would be more sure of myself in key personal dilemmas.

What books would you give a child as an introduction to literature?

Dr Seuss books – it’s the simple rhymes, the simple music.

What does it mean to be a poet?

I have extreme imaginative freedom, which is the most precious gift.

Daljit Nagra is a judge for this year’s Costa Book Awards.

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