Born in 1966, to Indian immigrant parents, Daljit Nagra was raised in London, and currently works in a secondary school. Nagra’s award-winning debut Look We Have Coming to Dover! earned immediate and universal applause. The Guardian praised “the ebullience of his word play, which stirs English, Punjabi and Punjabi-accented English into a series of funny and poignant poems that defy easy categorisation.”
Playing with the ‘Punglish’ dialect of his parents’ generation, and its convoluted syntax, his poems burst with rhyme and alliteration, fusing the idioms and rhythms of the two cultures. Nagra says of ‘Sing Songh!’, for example, “I wanted to write [it] as an Indian Music Hall song.” The poem is narrated by Mr. Singh, keeper of an Indian corner shop:
I run just one ov my daddy's shops
[ . . . ]
but ven nobody in, I do di lock –
cos up di stairs is my newly bride
vee share in chapatti
vee share in di chutney
after vee hav made luv
like vee rowing through Putney
Nagra’s poems are lively hymns to the richness of everyday life. His dramatic monologues are awash with mishearings and linguistic confusions, with hybridising phrases like ‘Odour toilet’ (eau de toilette) and ‘cardigan arrest’ (cardiac arrest). Through these surreal new coinages we see contemporary Britain painted afresh. But behind the poems’ knockabout humour there is often an underlying sadness. As the narrator exclaims in ‘The Speaking of Bagwinder Singh Sagoo!’, “Oh my Rub, what is England happening to us?”
On the inspiration for his work, Nagra has said, “I was born in England to parents who are traditional Sikh Punjabis, and my collection is about the Britain where Indians came and settled. The reader should expect to be immersed in a community that often feels its values are self-evident. My community and its individuals intend to show their true colours. I hope the reader will experience this Britain from the ‘inside’.”
Look We Have Coming to Dover! won the 2007 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. It was also longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, shortlisted for the Glen Dimplex New Writers Award for Poetry, and the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. Nagra was also nominated for the Costa Poetry Prize, and in 2008 he was the winner of the South Bank Show Decibel Prize. He has been published in Poetry London, The London Review of Books and Poetry Review. His work is also forthcoming in The New Yorker.
Oh my Rub!, Smith/Doorstop, 2003
By Heaert (contributor), Five Leaves, Nottingham, 2006
Look We Have Coming to Dover!, Faber and Faber, London, 2007
Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-man Eating Tiger-toy Machin (not published yet)
Daljit Nagra’s website
The Guardian’s of Look We Have Coming to Dover!
Daljit Nagra reading his poetry at The Poetry Archive
Daljit Nagra’s publisher, Faber and Faber
The Observer reviews Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!!