I Am Because You Are – Book review

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You might assume that an anthology celebrating the centenary of Albert Einstein’s famous General Theory of Relativity might be a little too deeply rooted in its heavily theoretical source material. Yet in reading this marvellous little book, it soon becomes clear that I Am Because You Are (Freight Books)is the kind of anthology that helps even the least scientifically-minded reader understand the mind-blowing, reality-altering beauty of physics.

This feat alone should grant this book deserved accolades – for too often it seems we are content to sit within increasingly closed worlds, and it so often falls to literature to open these portals through space and time, to capture our imaginations and take us on journeys we perhaps didn’t think were possible – opening up whole new realities, worlds and ideas.

Indeed, it is thanks to I Am Because You Are that, as readers, we are able to encounter fantastical circuses and impossible acrobatic stunts; brought into intimate scenarios of family lives struck down by familial break down and depression; encouraged to question our response as we watch “rising temperatures and new weather patterns [the] oceans evaporate and the atmosphere wither”; asked to contemplate whether we are simply “talking about the end of time”; we are able to discover delightful new turns of phrase that leave us asking whether we are “wise beyond our years or too immature to appreciate terror”; and we are even forced to consider whether we might, in actuality, all be rabbits – or was that a pygmy marmoset?

Such is the display of writerly talent on display here that we are reminded that, as with space and time, the possibilities of literature will likely never cease to astound, amaze and inspire us.

Yet the success of this collection of fiction, poetry and non-fiction goes beyond this. Largely, this is down to the excellent variety of writing on show from a wide-range of authors, and thanks to the incredible depth each individual story works on.

This depth stretches from the microscopic to the macroscopic, variously seen through intimate, tightly focused stories to wider reaching, expansive pieces that look at grand ideas. Yet each are original and provide gripping insight into the universe as a wide, grand space, and also into our own worlds and universes we create for ourselves. The existentialist themes that are found throughout the anthology of course look to continue Einstein’s greatest quest – to help us better understand our place within the universe, and our place within time. Fittingly, the book often leaves us asking more questions than it gives us answers for.

There are 23 pieces of writing here, from 23 writers. Naturally, we have 23 different points of views and 23 ways of approaching narrative, of using language, 23 different voices; 23 different styles.

Each deserves its own review and description – but that is perhaps for another day, since this review is about the collection as a whole. Fortunately, this is neither a case of the collection being more than the sum of its parts; nor of one or two stories or poems overshadowing everything else. The two work in perfect equilibrium and balance together. This feat, one might be tempted to suggest, perhaps is an example of Einstein’s theory in practice, and even to use that rather hammy and corny phrase, “it’s all relative”.

This is not to say that every piece is excellent or without fault, and nor is it to guarantee that they will all be to your liking; but isn’t that the point of an anthology? For their part, the editors – Tania Hershman and Pippa Goldschmidt – have skilfully created a place to showcase original and unique thinking, all through the prism of Einstein’s greatest theory. Their precise placing of each piece is extremely deft, and it’s charming to appreciate the way the structure of the anthology allows ideas and emotions to build up inside of you, only for these to change suddenly as a new piece of writing takes you down some entirely unexpected route or direction.

To badly paraphrase the great man himself (for the purposes of this review): Imagination will take you from A-B, but this book will take you anywhere you want it to. To put it another way; you won’t be quite the same after reading it.

  • To order ‘I Am Because You Are’ for £8.99, go to http://freightbooks.co.uk/i-am-becasue-you-are-edited-by-pippa-goldschmidt-and-tania-hershman.html 
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5 top writing tips for writers, from Rishi Dastidar

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In a series of posts, we here at Nothing in the Rulebook have been asking writers to share their top tips and advice on writing. Today, it is our pleasure to bring you the top writing tips from journalist, copywriter and poet, Rishi Dastidar.

Whether you enjoy writing simply for the pleasure it gives you, or if you are looking to develop and improve, these great little pieces of advice will set you on your way!

Rishi Dastidar’s top five writing tips:

  1. Always carry a notebook and a writing implement: I mean a phone is OK, but there’s nothing quite like dashing something off in a cursive script that only you can decipher.
  2. Read more, and then read more than that again: Other people’s words are your fuel. What you do is compress, re-interpret, play, dance with them to make your new things. If you don’t read, you won’t write.
  3. Find your place and time to write: and the trick is that it doesn’t have to be a long time. 15, 20 minutes every day starts to mount up very quickly. The habit of doing so soon becomes addictive, and you’ll find that the time constraint gets good stuff out of you – fast.
  4. The blank page is scary. So don’t leave it blank before you start. Make some form of mark. Try writing 1 to 10 down the side – then you only have ten lines to write. And you’ll find you blow past that fast enough. Or pick a word from the nearest newspaper or magazine, and write that at the top of the page, then start scribbling.
  5. Because ultimately you’re writing for you, it doesn’t really matter if another souls reads what you write. So be bold and brave when you start – there’s no one else you need to please.

About the author

Rishi Dastidar has worked as a journalist, copywriter and poet. He has written for a wide variety of brands in different sectors during his career, while his poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others. His work was most recently in Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe, 2014). A winner of And Other Stories short story prize in 2012, he has also had reviews published in the Times Literary Supplement. He was part of the 2014-15 Rialto / Poetry School editorial development programme, and also serves as a trustee of Spread The Word. Rishi was recently featured in our Creatives in profile interview series.

All the laurels in the world, and you give me these?

I woke up this morning
thinking I’d won the
Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

This is where love and capitalism
has got me, having me on that
I can win a horse race in Paris,

when it’s obvious that
I’m only any good over
the jumps at Wolverhampton.

About the poet

Rishi Dastidar has worked as a journalist, copywriter and poet. He has written for a wide variety of brands in different sectors during his career, while his poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others. His work was most recently in Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe, 2014). A winner of And Other Stories short story prize in 2012, he has also had reviews published in the Times Literary Supplement. He was part of the 2014-15 Rialto / Poetry School editorial development programme, and also serves as a trustee of Spread The Word.

Creatives In Profile: Interview with Rishi Dastidar

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Creativity, in all its myriad different forms, can take us to the edge of the world and look beyond. It can inspire, inform, influence. Used in the right way, it can illuminate the path ahead.

Because of this, Nothing in the Rulebook has been founded to emphasise such creativity. Yet we’re also here to highlight not just works of creativity; but the creative individuals who write our stories and our poetry; take our photographs; create our artworks.

Our new ‘Creatives in profile’ interview series offers creatives the opportunity to discuss their life and art at length. And it is an honour to introduce our very first interview – with journalist, copywriter and poet, Rishi Dastidar – Assistant Editor at The Rialto.

He has written for a wide variety of brands in different sectors during his career, while his poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others. His work was most recently in Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe, 2014). A winner of And Other Stories short story prize in 2012, he has also had reviews published in the Times Literary Supplement. He was part of the 2014-15 Rialto / Poetry School editorial development programme, and also serves as a trustee of Spread The Word.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle.

DASTIDAR

Ach, no, that stuff doesn’t really matter. Suffice to say: London-born and still reside; older than I’d like to be; over-educated, work in marketing; you’ll mostly find me in bookshops, theatres and burger joints. If your readers really want to know more, and frankly I’d be worried if they did, I’m not too hard to find online.

INTERVIEWER

Is creativity and writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

DASTIDAR

Let’s say ‘writing’ rather than creativity, as in the advertising / marketing / brand world I also inhabit, it does have a different, means-to-an-end spin. It’s a love, yes, fraught with all the difficulties that implies… I knew I wanted to ‘write’ by the age of 14. But I had no clue what I wanted to write, let alone how I could make a living out of it. Thank God I did find out in the end… But music was actually my gateway to everything: discovering Queen, R.E.M. and then My Bloody Valentine early in my teens, and then the NME, the writers, the sub-cultures, the new genres… I have spent a lot of time being a neophiliac, chasing new sounds and new words, which in an analogue age was much harder than it is now.

INTERVIEWER

How long have you been working with The Rialto – and could you let us know a little more about the magazine?

DASTIDAR

I’ve been lucky enough, along with Holly Hopkins, to be part of the most recent editorial development programme the magazine has been running along with the Poetry School. The programme started in October 2014, and we recently ‘graduated’ with the publication of issue 83 of the magazine. So about 10 months or so, during which we worked with Michael Mackmin, the editor, looking at submissions, choosing and then finessing poems, working out running orders, organising launches, even getting involved with behind the scenes stuff too – a real immersion in what it takes to get a magazine published.

The Rialto is (adopts sales voice) the UK’s leading independent poetry magazine; going for 30 news now, based in Norwich, with an enviable track record in spotting and publishing some of then best new voices in British poetry. I might of course be a bit biased, but it’s really the place to come if you want to dive into and immerse yourself in poems, loads of them. And if you’re a writer – send some poems! We’re always on the hunt for good ones, from every quarter.

INTERVIEWER

When looking to submit poetry, what are the steps and key aspects to consider before doing so?

DASTIDAR

I think talking of ‘steps and key aspects’ makes it sound far more of an intensive burden than it should be. It’s mostly advanced common sense, I think:

  • Make sure you read the magazine / publication you want to submit to: if you’re a writer of doomy melancholic epics, the editor of that light verse magazine isn’t going to be hugely impressed. Do your research.
  • Don’t send your first draft: it won’t be ready. I guarantee it. If it takes 8, 16, 20 drafts to get a poem right, then take that long. This is a patient game. And the poem will wait for you.
  • Speaking of patience, don’t be alarmed or downhearted if you don’t get an instant response. Most poetry magazines are labours of love, run in people’s spare time. Things do sometimes get lost and timelines slip; but if your poem is good enough, it will get found.
  • But do send. You won’t get on to editors’ radar without doing so – or rather, it’s less likely. And you deserve to give yourself that shot. Editors are hungry for new poems and new voices. And yours could be the one their page has been waiting for.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?

DASTIDAR

Depends; I’ll often write poems which are for, or inspired by, a particular person, and I try to keep them in my mind’s eye when drafting. But mostly, I’m self-indulgently trying to entertain myself – that someone else then subsequently likes my nonsense is unutterably humbling and pleasing.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

DASTIDAR

Putting two or more different things together, and hoping for the best.

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘poet’ mean to you?

DASTIDAR

On a good day: a post-modern Casanova. On a bad day: a failed post-modern Casanova.

INTERVIEWER

James Joyce argued poetry was “always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality.” In the modern world, ‘actuality’ is increasingly hard to define – with reality often seeming more fictitious than fiction and beyond the imagination of mainstream culture. How does poetry revolt against actuality in a reality increasingly ‘false’? And what role can poetry play in protest and activism – specifically protest and revolt against current dictats of ‘reality’?

DASTIDAR

Let’s separate some of that out, mainly because I lack the brain power to try and conflate poetry and power, and then deal with reality on top.

In terms of activism, politics, and the relation to power, poetry clearly can’t do much in terms of the hard stuff of changing things on the ground, policy, implementation. But where it can and must play a role is in that more indefinable sphere – the one of arguing for new vistas, new perspectives on problems; bringing into the public domain voices that might otherwise go unheard; opening up space for the imagination, because at one level politics is the art of using power imaginatively. I think part of the disaffection from politics as currently practiced that lots of people feel at the moment is precisely because the language of it is managerial and corporate, rather than poetic. People hunger for rhetoric – it wasn’t just because Obama was cool that people flocked to him; it was precisely because he could couch his arguments in ways that were, more or less, poetic. Of course, you have to deliver, but bloody hell you have to inspire too.

Now, you’ll note that I said that politics and imagination are linked. So I think part of what our job as poets revolves around imagining new realities – that is to say, not to take the world as it is, but to dig about, to reveal what’s underneath, sense what can be changed, find the language that can help to change it. If there is any revolt that poetry has to make, it’s against that sense that there is only one way of doing things, one way to the truth. Our gifts as engineers of metaphor should make us embrace the idea of multiple realities. Because we can do and do see the familiar anew, and we should wake the world up to that.

INTERVIEWER

In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?

DASTIDAR

If I crack that, I’ll be rich and I’ll tell you afterwards.

INTERVIEWER

For all writing, the importance of finding the right ‘voice’ is of course crucial. Often, writers’ speak of developing an ‘other’ – who provides that voice when they write. How have you created and refined your voice and tone for your writing – and do you have a separate, ‘other’ persona who helps you write?

DASTIDAR

Hmmm; my day job involves a lot of writing for different brands, so I guess I’ve got reasonably skilled at some form of ventriloquism. Whether that’s come across into my poetry, I’m not so sure; but then, looking at the tone that’s emerging through a lot of what I’ve written over the last 18 months or so, the poet in them is probably more sure than I actually feel about things; probably more political than I actually am in real life; and certainly more articulate in conversation than I ever hope to be. Though I do worry the guy in the poems could be a bit too bumptious, and wearing if you have a prolonged exposure to him… How has that voice arrived? By writing and writing and writing, I’m afraid. No shortcuts. Oh and embracing the tendency to maximise that I appear to have. Even my short poems appear to be full – of nonsense mostly, but still.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

DASTIDAR

At the moment it’s trying to pull a manuscript together for a first collection, and writing some more poems to flesh that out. There’s always other ideas for projects floating around, but I have great trouble committing to any one of them… but the itch to write something like a verse novel is becoming almost unbearable so I think I will have to attack that at some point soon.

INTERVIEWER

And, finally, could you write us a story in 6 words?

DASTIDAR

‘Lazarus was tired of his trick.’

I’ve done loads of those. More here.