Q&A with Rishi Dastidar

  • Wed, Apr 20, 2022

  • Join us for an evening of spoken word poetry with acclaimed poet, editor and reviewer, Rishi Dastidar. Rishi’s recent book, Saffron Jack was included in The Guardian Review ‘Best Recent Poetry Collections’ in May 2020. He has also recently been a judge for the Costa Book Awards and is currently reading for the Forward Poetry Prize. We caught up with him in advance.

    Abi: Your latest poetry book sounds like an amazing mix of self-discovery and political comment, can you tell me a little about your writing process and what inspired you to write it?

    Rishi: The actual starting point for writing Saffron Jack was watching the film adaptation of The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling, starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery. Something about it stuck, especially the idea of taking over a country. It took a lot of time – 10 years or so – for the book to come to fruition. I really struggled to find a form that worked to balance the intensity of the voice with a structure that could tether it and make it feel realistic to a degree. To that end, it was much like my writing process overall: a lot of trial and error, intense work on a project for a period, and then putting it to one side, and leaving it for a long time, so I’m surprised when I come back to it next.

    Abi: Can you tell me what it was like to be a judge for the Costa Book Awards?

    Rishi: A lot of reading, a lot of debating and a lot of fun. It was a pleasure to read some great poetry, and then some brilliant novels and biographies when judging the main prize. And it was great to see a book of poems, The Kids by Hannah Lowe, win the overall award.

    Abi: Can you tell me about your work with Forward, what does your role entail there?

    Rishi: I’m privileged to be one of the judges of the Forward Poetry Prizes this year, so right now it involves a *lot* of reading poetry. It’s a real delight to be immersed in so many different styles, tones, subjects and approaches to writing poetry. It’s a real reminder that the scene is healthy, and there are a lot of brilliant writers doing great work right now.

    Abi: What are you reading right now- do you have any book recommendations?

    Rishi: Prose as a bit of a change from all the poetry (see above); I’ve just started Night by Edna O’Brien, from 1972. Not one of her most famous novels, but intrigued to see what it’s about. Best prose I’ve read recently is Aftermath by Preti Taneja, a brilliant and eye-opening reckoning with trauma. 

    Abi: Do you remember the very first poem that you wrote?

    Rishi: Yes – it’s called ‘A Scent of You’, it’s rubbish, and no you can’t see it.

    Rishi Dastidar was talking to WORD!s Abi Willock. To purchase tickets for WORD! with Rishi Dastidar call Attenborough Art's Box Office on 0116 252455 or visit https://attenborougharts.com