What if Rapunzel used her braid to climb down the tower herself? What if Little Red Riding Hood became ruler of the wolves, instead of being eaten by one? What if Snow White and Sleeping Beauty woke up on their own, without the princes kissing them? What if Captain Hook wasn’t evil but just heartbroken? These are questions that UK-based writer-poet Nikita Gill asks in her latest book Fierce Fairytales: Poems & Stories to Stir Your Soul (Hachette, Rs 399) — a collection of poems and flash fiction.
What was it that made you reimagine fairy tales as poems, prose and letters?
I have a deep love for fantasy, but I recognised that most magical tales relied on magic from the outside, a chance meeting with a magic stranger, for instance. The point of these fairy tales is to rely on the magic inside you, that everyone is already born with strength and hope.
Why do you blur the lines between heroes and villains in the stories?
Human beings are not just their best nor are they their worst. Nor is anyone born evil. All of that is learned behaviour, and comes from somewhere, from trauma, abuse, or something harmful. I approached these stories by giving villains a more nuanced perspective, to make people think a little deeper than ‘good and bad’.
What kind of writing did you want to pursue when you first started at 12?
I wanted to write everything. I’m a voracious reader and I read everything from poetry to non-fiction to novels in verse. Why limit yourself to a single genre when there is so much to discover?
What is unique about Instagram poetry that has found mass readership?
Instagram is a bite-sized way of appreciating something. It is a great way to foster community. While a lot of Instagram is dedicated to highlighting someone’s reel life, the poetry part is dedicated to some extremely painful conversations that people rarely feel comfortable sharing elsewhere.
What is your response to the criticism the form receives from traditionalists?
Instagram is democratising poetry. For gatekeepers, who work via western frameworks, it is clearly awful. But women of colour, LGBT+ and other marginalised people now have platforms to speak up, and that is not a literary journal. They, who want to make these platforms disappear, generalise the work and say it is craftless and amateurish because the people here haven’t pursued MFAs and whatever other qualifications gatekeepers think is necessary to write poetry. As for consumerism, I don’t make money off my Instagram, but I do make a nominal sum from selling my books. If that is ‘consumerist’ then I guess all art is consumerist in some way, given that artists in a capitalist society cannot make any money to live, rent and pay bills without selling their art.