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.
Daljit Nagra's recording is available from www.faber.co.uk
2004 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem)
2007 Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection)
2008 South Bank Show Arts Council England Decibel Award