My intentions as a poet: what I learnt from my poetry mentor

Last October, I attended the Asian Writer’s Festival for the second year running. A uniquely nurturing space, I particularly loved hearing wonderful poets like Khairani Barokka and Shivanee Ramlochan. A week later, I was thrilled to receive Farhana’s email to tell me I’d won the raffle prize of mentoring from poet Rishi Dastidar.

Rishi is widely published. A graduate of Oxford and the L.S.E. who works in advertising. Ticker-tape, his 2017 collection from Nine Arches press is a powerful commentary on our political moment, wildly inventive in language and form. My own work is very different, tending towards traditional lyric and informed by Indian myth. Familiar with Rishi’s work, I was thrilled but nervous for him to turn his keen intellect upon my efforts. Rishi began by encouraging me to define my poetry goals for the next year or two. This exercise was hugely valuable as though I’d been writing for many years I had never reflected on them. In a later exercise, Rishi asked me to write an ars poetica to reflect my intentions as a poet. Intention, purpose and goals are all valuable for a writer but as someone who fits writing around a job and children, I had never sat down to think about them.

Taking myself seriously as a poet was a big step. Before our discussions, I’d send Rishi six poems to look over, some we worked on over several meetings, others needed less tweaking. By the end of the mentoring period I had learned so much. Working with Rishi taught me that attention to craft hugely improves a work.
Reading for intent and purpose was a revelation–often, Rishi would show where I’d pulled back from a poem for reasons of fear or discomfort. Having shied away from experimental forms in the past, I discovered being brave opened up language, creating new possibilities. I’m delighted to say I will have my first pamphlet published next year, thanks to Rishi and Farhana.

I’d recommend mentoring to anyone. Spread the Word offer a Free Reads scheme to low-income London writers and of course, The Asian Writer is a wonderful resource for competitions and opportunities.
Rishi Dastidar has a forthcoming pamphlet from Offord Road books titled the break of a wave and is editing a book on poetic craft, which will be published by Nine Arches.

Gita Ralleigh was born in London to Indian immigrant parents. Following a diploma in Children’s Literature and an MA in creative writing from Birkbeck, University of London, she has published short stories in the Bellevue Literary Review and Wasafiri among others. More recently, The Emma Press, Liminality, The Brown Orient and 26 Writers have published her poetry.

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