Nikita Gill is a social media phenomenon, and may very well rank as the No. 1 poet on Instagram because of her celebrity. Rejected by more than 100 publishers, she turned to social media, especially Instagram, where she has more than 271,000 followers (at last count). She might even be called a “viral poet.”
Like social media, Gill bends genres. Her first published work, Your Body is an Ocean (2012), is ostensibly a collection of stories. But the stories often resemble poems. The same is true for what might initially be called a memoir, Your Soul is a River (2016). These are works that don’t easily fit standard categories, just like social media.
A London-based poet, writer, visual artist, and photographer, Gill blends poetry, stories, and myths and legends in her writing. Her work has an especially strong sense of the visual, employing simple yet powerful images. And all of that comes to the fore in her more recent work, a collection of poetry, Wild Embers: Poems of Rebellion, Fire, and Beauty, comprising 131 mostly short poems. The brevity is conducive for posting on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social channels.
If there is a unifying theme to Wild Embers, it is one combining feminism with common emotional feelings. Gill mirrors the feelings and experiences of many young people, especially young women, as they deal with relationships (good, bad, and indifferent) and love.
Why She Stayed
you ask her
why she stayed,
look at the way
a caged bird
refuses to leave,
its cage door
is wide open.
you call it
Even when you
try to take it
out of its prison
to set it free.
And perhaps then
you will understand.
The collection includes two notable series of poems. One reinterprets the heroines of fairy tales, Grimm’s and Disney’s, to provide a different understanding of Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Alice in Wonderland. The other turns to the women of Greek mythology, and considers Helen of Troy, Aphrodite, Artemis, Athena, Persephone, Hera, and Demeter.
While not included in this collection, Gill’s reading of an earlier poem, “When Your Daughter Asks,” provides a good example of the brevity, visual impact, and theme of many of her poems.
Wild Embers won’t explain how or why someone becomes popular on social media. But it does provide an almost visual representation of what that popularity looks like, a strong combination of cultural issues, imagery, and brevity.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish