It wasn’t until the brink of his thirties, that Rishi Dastidar started reading and writing poetry. Before then, his passion was music, specifically indie rock. It’s not surprising then, that Dastidar invites his readers to play the song ‘Gone Without Feeling’ by Black Ryder ‘before, during or after reading his debut collection,’ suggesting the two make for a visceral experience.
Ticker-tape, Dastidar’s first full collection came about when Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press offered him some mentoring. At the same time he was beginning to realise that he had a body of work that could work as a collection. He pulled together 50 or so poems and sent them off to Commane. After three months, she wrote back to say that the offer of mentoring was still there but she really liked the book too. ‘It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting at all,’ Dastidar says. ‘I had a sense that I might be ready, but I didn’t know I was definitely ready.’
We talk about the editing process and Dastidar is keen to stress that once the book was accepted for publication there was still plenty of work to do. Both poet and editor worked closely together to build sequences into the collection, add new poems or edit existing work to bring it to life. ‘Often you will get to close to something so it needs someone to look again and spot these opportunities.’
The collection is vibrant and energetic. Dastidar’s accurate representation of 21st century living offers us snapshots of life in Brexit Britain as well as a small window of what it’s like being brown and British. ‘A lot of the poems in the collection revolve around power because I spend a lot of time thinking about power. And how can you not when you come from a minority?’
In ‘Diversity campaign’ Dastidar tackles the often misguided efforts taken by corporations to tackle lack of representation:
This is a communication announcing the company’s
latest ‘diversity’ campaign.
First you see a happy-clappy message that says
something piously right-on about how we strive to be
different, in the way our customers are different. You
know, Kumbaya Commercialism
‘Diversity campaign’ by Rishi Dastidar
While the themes and topics in Ticker-tape are grounded in the contemporary, they are wide in scope, covering the banal and trivial to the most pressing and urgent. From a young woman taking a selfie, to diversity campaigns, from the two slices of leftover pizza in the fridge to the plight of refugees. This also helps to make for a truly accessible collection which also doubles-up to answer the question of whether poetry remains relevant in our lives today.
“You write about what interests you, and hope that it interests other people too.”
Dastidar admits that he didn’t set out to do implicitly write the story of our times, but that this was a result of his lived experiences. ‘Because I spend a lot of time online on social media because of what I do as a day job in advertising and branding. I am at least immersed in a lot of the contemporary and what’s shifting language wise so it was inevitable that I bring some of that in the poems.’
For much of the collection, Dastidar remains invisible, he is merely an observer of truths. His politics and what’s important to him flow within each and every line, but there isn’t much of the man himself. ‘Genuinely I don’t think that my life isn’t that exciting,’ he tells me. ‘My life isn’t filled with trauma or exciting adventures.’ Part of me is desperate to know more about the man behind the art. This is how I’ve come to know poetry and studied it. When he admits that much of his work is only channelled through personas or through other imaginations and not about him at all, I’m bereft.
This isn’t to say Dastidar is afraid to tackle matters of the heart or that his work isn’t heartfelt but that his maximalist take is neatly balanced with a great deal of control. It’s only in his epic-poem, ‘Ticker-tape’ that I feel that he unwinds, let’s go, and consequently let’s it all hang out. It’s a joyous poem of 80 lines about love and London, home and life in the city which started life as a piece of prose. Written through the eyes of a female character it overwhelms and overflows:
my stereotypical cliché, my bomber command, my secular hymn,
my paradisal playground, my seducer’s liar, my casino bank,
my pie and mash, my fizzing diamonds, my broadcast booth,
‘Ticker-tape’ by Rishi Dastidar
Dastidar is a generous spirit. Perhaps it’s because he came to poetry later in life, that he’s playful about his creative process; free to find inspiration from listening to his favourite song on loop; unselfish about how his readers interpret his work; only too happy that they do so at their own will. Moreover, he’s keen to challenge misconceptions of what poetry is about and what it can do, hoping that his work will open up the world of poetry to new audiences. It’s this openness and distance from his subject that makes Dastidar an incredibly exciting voice. Given that he’s telling us a story about how we live today, we should all make time to seek him out.
Rishi Dastidar was educated at Mansfield College, Oxford University and the London School of Economics. His poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others, and has featured in the anthologies Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins) and Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe). A fellow of The Complete Works, the Arts Council England funded programme for BAME poets in the UK, he is a consulting editor at The Rialto magazine, a member of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, and also serves as a chair of the writer development organization Spread The Word.
Ticker-tape by Rishi Dastidar is published by Nine Arches Press