| 28 May 2024
BBC Radio 4 appoints Daljit Nagra as poet in residence

MUMBAI: Radio 4 has announced the appointment of its first poet in residence, Daljit Nagra, as Andrew Marr and some of Britain’s most loved poets mark National Poetry Day on the network with We British: An Epic In Poetry – telling the story of Britain through its poetry, from the earliest verses ever written on the British Isles to some of the latest.

In the role, which will last two years, Nagra will journey into the BBC poetry archive and curate a weekly programme on BBC Radio 4 Extra to tell a new story about 20th century poetry and the BBC. He’ll also be appearing on various Radio 4 broadcast and social media platforms over the year while writing original work to commission.

On his appointment, Nagra says, "It is an honour and a privilege to be given such a valuable platform as poet in residence at Radio 4. This position will, I am sure, inspire me to write new poetry that speaks of our complicated age. What excites me most is the chance to give exposure to my beloved art form of poetry; I will take part in discussions about the latest issues concerning poetry but most of all I am thrilled to be given the role of curator for the 90-year-old poetry archive at the BBC.

"When driving my car, I am almost always listening to CDs of poets such as Eliot and Auden reading their own work, and now I will have the chance to hear voices of our greatest poets so I can be the one offering the listener a selection from the treasures of our poetic heritage. I regard my position as an opportunity to enthuse people of all backgrounds to the wonders of poetry.”

Gwyneth Williams, controller of Radio 4, says, “I am thrilled to have a working poet of such distinction joining us as our Poet in Residence. Many will have read and appreciated Daljit’s remaking of Dover Beach and his Ramayana. It is a pleasure to give him the freedom of Radio 4. I’ve always wanted a poet to root around in our extraordinary archive. Who knows what he will find and what will inspire him.”

Nagra is the son of Sikh immigrants from India who came to Britain in the late 1950s. His father worked in a concrete factory and his mother worked in a hospital laundry before they bought a shop in Sheffield in the early 1980s. He studied at the local comprehensive where he grew up with little awareness of poetry. When he was 19, he came across a book of William Blake’s poetry in a bookshop and says he has never stopped reading poetry since. He now lives in Harrow with his wife and two daughters and works part time in a secondary school. He has a BA and MA in English from Royal Holloway College.

All day today, Thursday 8 October, BBC Radio 4 is reflecting and exploring British history and identity through poetry – from the medieval church, the court of Henry VIII, the Civil War and Restoration to the Industrial Revolution, the Slave Trade, the Victorian Empire, mass immigration and the two World Wars.

Throughout the day, Andrew Marr is weaving his way through the Radio 4 schedule with a series of readings, archive material, interviews and conversations. Radio 4 listeners can hear the works of poets such as William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti and Ted Hughes played out against the grandeur of British history – and Andrew will take the listeners down a few roads less travelled too with poems of Anne Askew and Anne Bradstreet, and anonymous medieval ballads.

Andrew and his guests are debating issues around British identity and looking at how the past and present collide. They are examining how old poems expose the deep roots of today; how the nationalism played out in the last election was laid down in medieval ballads; and how the North-South divide, the rural/urban spilt, the ever-present contempt for politicians, the damning of celebrity, multiculturalism and suspicion of Europe can all be found in poems from the past.

To coincide with today, BBC Radio 4 is inviting young spoken-word performers to share poetry reflecting on what it means to be British. Films of these young poets and their work are available on the Radio 4 website – which will also offers listeners the chance to test their knowledge of the lyricism of Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan in a Dylan v Dylan quiz, and the chance to follow the construction of The People’s Shipping Forecast. The Radio 4 social media accounts are also full of content reflecting We British from a digital perspective, helping listeners to find and share their favourite pieces of poetry.