On my radar: Daljit Nagra’s cultural highlights

The poet on a great children’s TV drama, the magic of Vindolanda and the health benefits of the NutriBullet

Brought up in west London and Sheffield, Daljit Nagra gained an MA in English literature from Royal Holloway, University of London. In 2004 he was awarded the Forward poetry prize for best single poem, and in 2007 published his award-winning debut collection Look We Have Coming to Dover! Nagra teaches creative writing at Brunel University London and is poet-in-residence at Radio 4, where his Odyssey Project – a series of commissioned poetic responses to Homer’s Odyssey – has just finished. In 2017 Nagra, who often employs “Punglish”, English spoken by Indian Punjabi immigrants, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His third poetry collection, British Museum (Faber £14.99), a meditation upon multiculturalism, heritage and the legacy of empire, is out now.

1 | Museum

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge

the museum of archaeology and anthropology in cambridge
The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge: ‘perhaps the perfect place for fashion tips this summer…’ Photograph: Dave Porter/Alamy Stock Photo

If you should ever seek an exciting place for a short visit, I’d go to this tucked-away museum, which is ideal for the whole family. Gaping masks, hand-carved weapons, totem poles and flints abound in this effusion of human vigour. The museum has objects that are stylishly lit and easy on the eye, with labels that tell a good story. I’m looking forward to visiting their Summer Drop In exhibitions featuring stories on Indian scrolls and intimate contact with Indian accessories such as sets of 10 toe rings – in traditional communities women would select a toe ring to suit the personality of each toe. The museum is perhaps the perfect place for fashion tips this summer!

2 | Poetry

Stranger, Baby by Emily Berry

a potrait of the poet emily berry
Emily Berry: ‘She’s absorbed all of Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and Stevie Smith.’ Photograph: Peter Barry

Emily Berry’s second collection is about the death of her mother, yet the innovative sequence is life-affirming. It’s as though she’s absorbed all of Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and Stevie Smith in her elegies that are earnest, ironic, kooky and always brimming with ideas. Dickinson famously wrote of her terror, “and so I sing, as the Boy does by the Burying Ground”. Reading Stranger, Baby, I could hear Berry by the burying ground, as in the opening of this prose poem: “I was crying and it felt like I was feeding. Be my mother, I said to the trees, in the language of trees, which can’t be transcribed, and they shook their hair back, and they bent low with their many arms…”

3 | TV

Anne With an E (CBC/Netflix)

a still from tv drama anne with an e
Anne With an E: Aristotle would have approved. Photograph: Caitlin Cronenberg/Netflix

Turn away, those of you without children! This Certificate PG drama is a Canadian adaptation of the novel Anne of Green Gables, which charts the life of an adopted orphan who lives on a farm on Prince Edward Island. My daughters enjoyed having the book read to them, and now they’re loving the adaptation, although the tone is darker than the novel. I like it, not only because the child actor playing Anne is superb, but because Anne has a propensity for Dickensian sentences that fall on my children’s tongues like vitamin tablets. They think they’re watching telly but, to me, they’re imbibing the OED and all the rhetorical structures that would have cheered Aristotle.

4 | Nonfiction

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

maggie nelson sitting in cindys diner in eagle rock california
Maggie Nelson: ‘Her liberated approach to form serves to enrich ideas.’ Photograph: Dan Tuffs/The Observer

Aiming to update my sensitivity to the latest PC speak, I recently turned to this highly intelligent account of non-binary gender identity, the politics of having a baby in this harsh world and what it means to be part of a family, as well as the ordeal of trying to live a meaningful life. I love the liberated approach to form that serves to enrich ideas, that serves the assemblage of memoir, poetry and philosophy. Anecdotes are often the springboard for rich ideas: “You’re a great student because you don’t have any baggage, a teacher once told me, at which moment the subterfuge of my life felt complete.” This book challenges us to think about our own dependence on our subterfuges and their complicating procedures.

5 | Place

Vindolanda, Northumberland

the roman ruins of vindolanda
History is all around: Vindolanda. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Long Roman roads undulating over a low horizon is a joy in itself while around Northumberland, and the county is full of wonderful walks around Roman ruins, including along Hadrian’s Wall. My favourite site is the fortress Vindolanda, which has ruins that include a barracks, a bath house, and a replica temple. In addition, there’s a museum, and a live excavation that keeps unearthing objects in near mint condition. I love walking around this fortress; it’s a place steeped in our multicultural lineage, with the first black Roman emperor Septimius Severus and his glamorous wife Julia, and crack Syrian soldiers.

6 | Podcast

The Invisible College (BBC Radio 4)

ted hughes
Ted Hughes, among the posthumous contributors to The Invisible College. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features

It’s hard to find fun teaching manuals for creative writing, but this podcast is a kind of notebook approach for experienced and new writers as well as for those who simply enjoy a good story. Each episode is a mini-journey, a thematically arranged distillation of pithy statements from the mouths of our greatest writers. Novelists and poets such as Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Graham Greene and Allen Ginsberg talk about styles, rituals, the writer’s mind, writer’s block and how to create characters. One of my favourite moments is when Ted Hughes explains how the creative piece becomes a dead body if all the parts are not alive and are not made to work well together. Who needs Dr Frankenstein when you’ve got The Invisible College?

picture of a nutribullet blender
The NutriBullet: a canny beast… Photograph: NutriBullet

7 | Gadget


My wife just bought this peace-loving bullet into which we can sneak our black bananas, raw parsnips, kale, flax seeds and frozen berries for instant Wagamama-style juices. I say “sneak” because our children are suddenly consuming all manner of hideous raw vegetables while thinking they’ve had a shot of fresh summer fruits. I often abandon resolutions and good intentions after a week or so because they can involve too much effort. The NutriBullet is a canny beast because it’s dead easy to clean and is always beckoning me. I’ve recently been cartwheeling to work and I’m sure this has been caused by the nutrients revved up by the “Bullet”. So far so good for the recommended 500 fruit and veg a day; if the daily count goes higher, I will order a NutriTank.

Daljit Nagra

The GuardianTramp

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