Nikita Gill on fairytales and followers

On the humbling aspect of being an Insta poet and her latest book

Nikita Gill still remembers the first time she tried her hand at poetry, even if she is not entirely sure about what she wrote. “I was 13, and it was after reading Robert Frost’s Stopping By The Woods on a Snowy Evening’” she says. Since then, she has come a long way — her third book of poetry, Fierce Fairytales, was recently launched, much to the delight of her 4.8 lakh Instagram followers.

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True to the format followed by most Insta poets turned authors, the book is a collection of stories, poems and hand-drawn illustrations, attempting to give the “Once upon a time” trope a modern makeover. Gill says, “The first phase of my writing is always to read classical texts. For this one, since I wanted to write retellings and a few of my own tales, I read the Grimm Brothers, Charles Perrault and Arabian Nights, amongst others.”

Unlike the classics, there are no well-defined heroes, hardly any damsels in distress, and the characters are more grey than black or white. This is reflected in one of the excerpts she loves most, from a poem called Child’s Play:

“We have all taken turns

Being red riding hood

And we have all been the wolf.”

Gill explains, “Little Red Riding Hood has always been a dark and complicated tale for me and I wanted to confront the concept of good and evil inside every human being. We are the sum of all of the best and worst actions of our lives and everything in between.”

Hustle mode on

The 31-year-old is no stranger to Internet fame. The UK-based poet of Indian origin shared her poetry anonymously on Tumblr, before moving to the photo-sharing platform in 2015. She quickly racked up a following that included celebrities like LeAnn Rimes, Alanis Morisette, Khloe Kardashian and Jameela Jamil. And in 2016, she released her first book, Your Soul is a River, followed by Wild Embers in 2017. A sequel to her debut, titled Your Heart is the Sea, is slated to launch next year.

While the latest book might not have scaled the NYT Bestseller list like compatriot Rupi Kaur’s milk & honey, she does have bigger plans for it. “I’m currently working on a number of projects around the book itself,” she says cryptically. On the website, there is a little more information: “Now plans are afoot to bring new life to the characters in the book and we can’t wait to share what’s in store. But for now we’ll say no more…” A teaser on her Instagram feed has over 19,000 views, although it simply says, “Welcome to the world of Fierce Fairytales”, with some rousing background score.

Apart from this, she is currently working on “a play, a novel, a poetry book on mythology, and a collection of dystopian short stories. I plan over the next year to be doing some tours, but predominantly I am focussing on writing, reading and learning more about this extremely humbling craft”.


Insta good

Gill feels that the term Insta poet has taken on a derogatory turn because poets who post their work directly on social media have bypassed gatekeepers. “Most articles on the subject usually carry an undercurrent of racism, elitism and sexism, as this movement is predominantly led by women of colour, LGBT people and people who speak English as a second language.”

While she is quick to admit that not all poetry on the platform is good, she points out that so-called “bad” poetry existed long before social media, it’s just not been as easy to see before.

After reading everyone from Ovid to Ben Jonson and Walt Whitman to Amrita Pritam, she says. “The more I read, the more I realise that poetry is extremely diverse and has never fit into a boundary set for it by a strictly western framework. Poetry means different things to different people.”

Fierce Fairytales is available online and in bookstores at ₹350 (hardbound).

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 8:03:29 PM |

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