For Global Indian poet Rishi Dastidar, curiosity is key

For Global Indian poet Rishi Dastidar, curiosity is key

Poetry offers a unique language of the soul, which speaks with a Byzantine expression. A quality poem ducks a chase to the crude popularity. To open to it means to gain a rewarding experience.

Exclusive to ‘iGlobal’, UK-based writer and poet Yogesh Patel MBE introduces poets of Indian heritage who are redefining the English literature with their extraordinary contribution. Many are the winners of major international awards and globally hailed by critics. Here is another Indian poet abroad.

Rishi Dastidar is a poet who challenges not only the linguistic possibilities but also experiments with the content as highlighted by his latest collection ‘Saffron Jack. To declare his own country may sound as bizarre and outrageous as Jack’s character, but the narrative deals with some serious aspects of time we are living in, not forgetting its politics. Unassuming Rishi is a serious intellectual challenge through poetry and his wild creative leaps are yet another testimony to it!

Rishi Dastidar is head of the brand language at independent consultancy Brandpie, and has written for a wide number of brands including Telefonica and EY. His second poetry collection, ‘Saffron Jack’, was published in the UK in 2020 by Nine Arches Press, and he recently wrote and presented a documentary on poetry and advertising for BBC Radio 4.

A little help from the Poet:

“I have been thinking a lot recently about overconsumption, and what that might do to us; but also the sense that the internet is this game-object-that can never be completed – and to all intents and purposes we have manifested the idea of infinity. I don’t think we’ve realised this yet, and it’s making us all kind of unsettled. The poem tries to reflect and grapple with that sense.”

Q: Commercially, as the Head of Brand Language at Brandpie, you are in a dream job any writer and poet can wish. You are also the Chair of Spread the Word, again a very innovative organisation in literature. How do you find synergy in these diverse undertakings and exploit the language ‘to inspire people’ in business and literature?

A: Well, I suspect part of the secret is setting out not to find synergies deliberately and crossovers in all these activities, but rather see what emerges organically and then hopefully capitalise on them if relevant. At one level, being presented as a poet in a commercial context can help intrigue clients and sell in work–they can feel that they’ve got the help of a ‘different’ type of writer, and so maybe that opens them up to the idea that they can get an answer that might look different from more run-of-the-mill options; equally, I have had clients whom, when they’ve discovered this other side of my writing life, they’ve stated baldly that they want ‘none of that arty-farty stuff thank you very much’!

What unifies everything is the notion that writing is thought made visible, so then the question becomes–what sort of thought is necessary to solve the problem in front of us? Does it need to reflect, display a robust and thorough logic, to persuade unquestioningly an audience that doesn’t want to be seduced? Or is it actually an audience that is tired of rationality and wants to be surprised by language? And then if that’s the case, maybe a poetic approach is the right one, precisely because it is more surprising?

Q: You are also very playful with your peculiar humour as in your poem ‘A shark comes to dinner’. What is a trick to writing poetry that could step beyond being caught in mere poetic descriptions? Apart from cookery, your subject range includes football, music, classics, gentrification, history, yoga, politics, racism, and immigration. Please tell our readers the mechanics for writing a serious poem that also can be fun.

A: Oh, if I knew the answer to that last point, I would have written that in a book by now! Readers who are unfamiliar with my work should know that, more often than not, I am trying to cram as much as possible into my poems: I often talk of myself as being as a maximalist, seeing how much I can stuff into a lyric before it collapses in on itself.

I suspect part of being able to balance the comic and the serious is attitudinal: I’ve never quite understood why you might want to keep the tragic apart from the funny in poetry, because life rarely does, does it? So, it seems natural to me that even in the bleak there will be moments that raise a smile, and so poetry that is truthful will reflect that – I suspect I just bring that to the fore more, and revel in the juxtaposition. So, I’m not sure there’s a ‘mechanic’ for it so much as a cast of mind and remembering that even the heaviest of subjects can benefit from a light touch now and again. A cudgel can draw blood; so can a rapier.

Q: For me, the test of an excellent poet is ‘I wish I can write like that’, though not with a brain wired up as in that poet! There is an experimentalist in you. Please caution us in how Rishi is wired up.

A: Yes, there is an experimentalist in me, but I hope not a po-faced avant-gardist. I think I’m wired up the way I am in part because I came to literature late (I didn’t study it for my bachelor’s or master’s degree) and so I perhaps I don’t have the aesthetic discrimination I should.

I think the poems emerge this way also because I genuinely don’t see why the way I write can’t be influenced by the music I love, the prose writers I like, the journalism I read, the films that have burned their images on to my retinas….

Curiosity is key: fundamentally, life in all its maddening complexity is also pretty exciting, and if you can retain some of that wonder that helps. I tend towards being reasonably optimistic, trusting that generally something good will arrive, even in the darkest of moments. That doesn’t mean I cannot feel bleak–more that I struggle to be bleak forever. Others may view this as preposterously shallow for an artist. Alas, all I have to offer is: life might be as bad as all that, but dammit, I’m still gonna smile now and again, and I hope that you might too.

Yogesh Patel MBE runs Skylark Publications UK as well as the non-profit Word Masala project to promote South Asian diaspora literature. He is the recipient of many awards, including as Poet of Honour at New York University in April 2019. By profession, he is a qualified optometrist and an accountant.

In this regular series for ‘iGlobal’, he profiles Global Indian poets from around the world.

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