Arts Q&A: Poet Daljit Nagra on Paul Weller, Sinead O'Connor and Seamus Heaney

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week award-winning poet Daljit Nagra

Daljit Nagra – Dylan was terrible but at least I saw him in the flesh. Picture by Adrian Pope

1. When did you think about a career in writing and what were your first steps into it?

When younger, I assumed people without a valid construct for living sat in their squats and wrote stuff that was glued into books for boring people to say ooh, that's so interesting. As an adult, and after discovering the pleasure of reading, I revised that vision. My first steps were to join a writing workshop group to learn I wasn't a genius but a competent writer; I didn't think I was a genius but felt it might be fun if someone fell at the altar of my peculiar work.

2. Best gigs you've been to?

Paul Weller, when he went solo after splitting The Style Council, in Portsmouth; I was one of about 30 fans in the room, and I felt as though he was singing to me only. We made eye contact and I think he thanked me after each song.

Bob Dylan around 1984, just because I saw him in Hammersmith Odeon. He was terrible but I saw him in the flesh; I have low standards for joy.

Sinead O'Connor in Shepherds Bush, during her reggae phase. It was the first time I'd been to a gig with my wife, plus it was funny hearing an Irish woman singing about Ja, Rastaman and so on.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

I would hire Tom Waits (in Swordfishtrombone period) and Nina Simone on vocals with Jimi Hendrix and his band performing the music, plus cameo from Miles Davis.

4. The record you'd take to a desert island?

Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan: when my wife and I moved in together, we decorated our flat to this great album.

5. And the book you'd take?

Paradise Lost by John Milton. It's the most beautiful combination of heightened imagination and mashed diction.

6. Top three films?

Three Colours Red by Krzysztof Kie?lowski. Everything about humanity is in these three films.

7. Worst film you've seen?


8. Favourite authors?

I eagerly await each of Jen Hadfield's poetry collections with their mix of lively lingo to capture the natural world; Sunjeev Sahota is a prose stylist of the highest order and I can't wait for his third novel later this year; Derek Walcott, a poet I read in my dreams and Seamus Heaney, for his compassion and dancing word-hoards.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team?

I love watching football, but only highlights. I am neutral, though generally I support the underdog or the poorer of the two teams, or the one not owned by a nasty oligarch.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

A week on Mars in my own man-buggy following the Perseverance thingmabob as it explores the red planet, while listening to the first song played there – mars by Yungblud. Is there any life on Mars? Is there any life on Mars?

11. Pet hates?


12. What's your favourite:

Dinner? Veggie pizza with extra rocket.

Dessert? I've a self-imposed sugar-ban. Being from Indian heritage I fear diabetes!

Drink? Red, white, Champagne, ale, lager, G&T, Pimms, and vodka, accompanied by a large bag of Tyrell's Cheese & Pickled Onion crisps.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

Neil, a professor of Work Psychology I've known for 33 years; Steve, unemployed, I've known for 40 years, and Sajid, who I knew for two years at uni, but who died at the age of 21, two days after graduating.

14. Is there a God? ?Is there any life on Mars? Is there any life on Mars?

:: Daljit Nagra is hosting a free online poetry workshop as part of NI Writers Day on Tuesday March 23. Hosted by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Royal Society of Literature, NI Writers Day is linked to RSL Open – in which the RSL is seeking public recommendations of excellent UK writers who are underrepresented in the literary culture – this free online day of events will shine a spotlight on our acclaimed poets, playwrights and authors. To find out more about NI Writers Day and book your place visit

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