Meet a Member: Rishi Dastidar

This month I caught up with Rishi ahead of the release of his second poetry collection, Saffron Jack, to find out where he gets his inspiration, the writing he’s most proud of, and more.

We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at sophiedjgordon@hotmail.co.uk. Don’t be shy.

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

I’m London, born and bred, and bar a nine-month sojourn in Newport Pagnell, I haven’t managed to make it anywhere else. I have moved from the northwest of the city to the southwest though, so I guess that’s *some* kind of progress.

Depending on the day of the week, I wear one of three baseball caps: head of language at independent brand agency Brandpie; I’m chair of writer development agency Spread the Word; and I’m also a poet.

Where did your love of words come from?

Oooh, not sure at all. I think my parents would confirm that I’ve always been given to talking a lot, and Dad reckons that some of my ability comes from his mum who was apparently a great storyteller… For as far as I can remember, I’ve always much preferred to be nose in a book more than almost anything else. And I’m pretty sure I am the only teenager who read both NME and The Economist religiously every week. Somewhere between those two poles lies the roots of any style that I might lay claim too.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

So I’m one of the not-quite-there-at-the-beginning-but-not-long-after-that crew; I think I joined about 2007 or so; in part to have a chance to work on the TfL Platform for Art collaboration we did about the Circle Line called ‘From Here to Here’. But also as a relatively greenhorn copywriter at that stage, I was looking for support, a chance to meet

people like me in the branding and design worlds; back then it didn’t feel like there was many of us about. Turned out there was, we were just lurking in the shadow of all the designers.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

Lots! So many in fact, I’ve sorta lost track… Let’s see: From Here to Here, Free the blog, Common Ground, 26 Miles… I think 26 Postcodes too, editing; oh and 26 Armistice of course, most recently. All of them in their way thrilling, fulfilling, fun.

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

I’m a coffee shop / notebook / napkin guy, mostly – I’m fluent enough that I can get the draft of a bad sonnet down in the time it takes me to finish a flat white. Editing is much harder and slower, and generally has to be at my desk at home, with the help of one of the cats on my lap. One of my ambitions is to get away on more retreats in the next few years, to make some progress on some ideas which are stubbornly stuck at the sketch stage at the moment.

What are you working on at the moment?

At Brandpie, we’re spending a lot of time helping clients think about their purpose – and crucially, making sure that their commitment to it is significant, real and changes behaviour, internally and externally. That places some significant challenges on language: how do you find a form of words that starts to motivate and inspire, but doesn’t sound hoary, or like corporate greenwash? 

And with my poet’s cap on: I’m gearing up for the publication of my second collection, Saffron Jack, at the end of March, through Nine Arches Press again. Can I tell you that I’m just a wee bit petrified? It’s a single, long, narrative poem, loosely updating Kipling’s

The Man Who Would Be King in a form that looks more like a legal or scientific report. Fingers crossed that it lands well, but I appreciate it might be a bit of a swerve for people who are familiar with my poetry already. But hey! – you might as well take risks with your words when you can.

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

It’s something that not that many people will ever see, but: I was part of the team that rebranded the International HIV / AIDS Alliance as Frontline AIDS in 2019. For them I wrote a new brand narrative that managed to draw together a lot of strands of the NGO’s history, the challenges it faces, and what it’s here to do, and it had a great reaction from the organisation, which was gratifying. I then turned it into a sonnet, as the new brand was launching on Valentine’s Day. I doubt I’ll ever do commercial work more important or satisfying.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Pretty much anywhere and everywhere. I’m primarily a thief, so my ears are always attuned for language constructions that sound odd to me, and words I’ve not come across before; they got recorded on my phone or in a notebook, and work – whether copy or a poem – starts to emerge from that. The answers are out there: you just need to look and listen.

– Rishi Dastidar, interviewed by Sophie GordonHeadshot by Naomi Woddis.

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