An Interview with Daljit Nagra
What were your expectations of live writing?
I assumed I’d have to spontaneously produce poetry. As I haven’t written new material in a workshop session, or to demand in a few minutes, for over a decade I was terrified I may have lost the knack. The session lived up to my expectation of having to produce poems in quick succession and I was pleased by the many helpful suggestions from the public that encouraged my creativity.
How different was it from a normal writing day for you?
I never write to order and if I’m commissioned to write a poem I spend several months working on a text. So this sitting in a public space and being the focus of expectation was highly unusual for me. I normally write in snatches – a half here or there. I rarely spend more than an hour just working on my poetry. In some ways, the four hour session helped to connect me back to working in a grand concentrated manner. I need to find four hour slots in which to do write!
What was the best moment?
The best moment happened about five times. Each time I felt I the emergence of a poem I felt relieved and excited. Relieved that my creativity was functioning, excited that the written piece might be good enough for my next poetry collection. I think one of the pieces might work for my next collection; I’ll show it to my editor at some point. The really amazing moment was meeting people who had no relationship to poetry whatsoever and who found themselves making suggestions for a poem and then finding I’d written them a poem. I hope they’ll feel poetry is a normal living activity not only involving bald men a few hundred years ago.
Your poetry readings are always wonderfully animated. How does writing live, on screen and on webcam, compare with that kind of performance?
This was a performance, for sure. Several members of the public suggested ideas for a poem and I told them to come back in a bit and see if I’ve written a poem. Three members of the public returned to find I’d written a poem based on their thoughts. Instead of feeling in control in one of my usual readings where the audience sits quietly I was mindful the audience was a participant and I had to respect their vision. I don’t know if the people who inspired my poems liked the pieces but they seemed happy that I had included their names in the poem.
Finish this sentence. If live writing were an animal, it would be...
...a chameleon because I’d have to constantly adapt to the knowledge requirements of the poems and the different styles required of me.