Insta-poet Nikita Gill discusses poetry in the digital age and reinventing fairytales

Insta-poet Nikita Gill discusses poetry in the digital age and reinventing fairytales

03 October 2018

Priyanka Mogul, Communications Officer

“Every writer is made of experiences. In fact, every human being is just the sum of their best experiences and their worst experiences.”

These were the words of Insta-poet Nikita Gill as she addressed an enthusiastic Asia House audience during this year’s Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival. The young writer has moved thousands of people with her poetry – using Instagram as the primary medium for her work – and began her talk with a recital of a riveting poem about the reality of growing up in New Delhi, India.

Joining us as part of the Festival, Gill talked about being a poet in the digital age, how she deals with rejection as an artist, and her desire to rewrite traditional fairytales.

The evolution of Insta-poetry

Gill says she has built her career through the internet, using social media as a tool to put her work out there for the masses. She told the audience that she first started doing this when she was teaching at a school for disabled children in India, where one of her students introduced her to Tumblr.

“It’s interesting to watch the internet evolve as a landscape. When I first started putting my name to my work, it was primarily because I realised a lot of my work was just floating around in various realms of the internet – and it didn’t even have my name on it.”

But adding her name to her work didn’t always pan out the way she hoped – particularly when Khloé Kardashian cropped her name out of one of her poems and reposted it.

“This happens to artists all the time. You create this beautiful piece of work, you put a piece of your soul in it, someone goes, ‘I really like that. You know the one thing that would make it perfect? Let’s crop the name out.’ Why?!”

This isn’t the only problem Gill has encountered being a poet in the digital age. She spoke out about those who complain about “Insta-poetry”, questioning why people have a problem with poetry reaching the masses.

“When did poetry become this really precious little thing, in this very insecure little club of people going, ‘No you can’t touch my poetry unless you’ve done an MFA’. There is representation in this genre, which is unfiltered and it’s bypassed the gatekeepers – and that’s pissed the gatekeepers off.”

Watch our interview with Nikita below

She went on to explain how putting her poetry on Instagram has allowed her to interact with those who read her work – and hear from those who have been impacted by her words. A young person once got in touch with her to say that they were able to face their abuser in court because of one of Gill’s poems.

“Would you replace those experiences to be accepted by this very small club of elite people? I don’t think so.”  

Being an artist in the digital age

When a member of the audience asked Gill about dealing with rejection, the poet offered some insights into the publishing industry based on her experiences.

Although Gill was rejected 137 times before securing her book deal, she brushed it off as “the nature of the beast” and pointed out that Jack London was rejected 600 times before White Fang was published. She also reminded people that publishing often “works on trends” – and that even if you are the next Charles Dickens, your book just might not fit the trend at that particular time.

She urged young writers not to take rejection personally and to keep putting their work out there: “No matter how successful or great you become as a writer, there’s always going to be someone out there who does what you do better. And being humble to that, and realising that this is a craft you will never be perfect at, is probably the greatest thing you can do for yourself as a writer – because you will constantly evolve then.”  

Taking back our fairytales

Listening to Gill, you would never think she has been rejected more than a hundred times. Her new book – Fierce Fairytales – was published in September and Asia House was honoured to host her first reading of it. The book reimagines traditional fairytales such as Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and Sleeping Beauty through stories, poems and illustrations, giving them a “modern makeover”.

Gill said she had been eager to take these fairytale characters – who are quite “passive” – and turn them into more “powerful” women.

“Do I want to read my daughter Sleeping Beauty? This guy kisses her – not only without her permission, she’s unconscious. In a post-MeToo society, is that a story we want to be reading to our kids? Which is why I rewrote all of those stories because I felt like it’s really important for us to take back our fairytales and rewrite them for a new generation of young women who are so empowered.”

Watch the full event here

There’s lots more coming up at this year’s Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival – check out the full programme