In this week’s mentorship series, the folks at People of the Community take us through an insightful and awe-inspiring conversation with literary crusader Jasmin Kaur.
Kaur is quite the multifaceted writer—and in fact she describes herself as an author, poet, and a public educator. And her work certainly speaks to her range. Kaur has released two books since 2019 the first being When You Ask Me Where I’m Going and If I Tell You The Truth. Both stories take you on a narrative journey via Kaur’s striking poetry.
Her work also spans further as she works as a public school teacher. Perhaps the perfect combination of being a teacher and a poet, she is also always finding ways to spread her message and spread awareness via her platform on social media.
If you take the time to check out Kaur on socials, her presence tends to function as informative and a breath of fresh air—whether she is educating about social causes or simply checking in on her followers' mental health, Kaur stays connected with her online community.
Having an online presence is something she addresses with the guys at POC. She speaks about the evolving state of creative expression and the beauty in being able to simply post and share your work, especially as a Brown woman. There’s no need to sweat the issue of self-censorship, and that means a lot to a woman speaking about feminism, immigration and a plethora of social issues.
Kaur also speaks to the guys about empathy, relating to her work and beyond.
Read on for more about Kaur’s thoughts, including some of her favourite poets:
Q: What is your superpower?
A: I think my superpower is my ability to feel. If someone shares something with me, I absorb that in a very physical, visceral way. It's a beautiful thing when I have to write a poem, or I have to write a story, where I need to step into my characters minds or to capture someone's experience. It's also just as hard. We’re in a public setting where people are constantly coming at you with all sorts of stuff, and you have to develop thick skin. It allows me to work, but it can also be a hindrance.
Q: What’s the source of your empathy?
A: I was a soft, introverted, quiet kid, who would be listening more than speaking. Being that kind of person, where you're always listening, allowed me to be more compassionate because I spent less time hearing my own voice.
Q: There's been this backlash against this viral social-media type, particularly because o how it’s consumer. What are your thoughts on that? Do you feel like this? Is greater accessibility beneficial to the artform? Or do you feel it dilutes the art?
A: I started out sharing my work on Instagram, because I love the idea that I could just write a poem and post it onto the internet. No one will fail me, no one's going to censor me. There isn’t a gatekeeper deciding if it’s good enough for publishing. A Brown woman can share her thoughts without a White gatekeeper coming along and deciding whether or not my voice is good enough.
People being upset about the form and expression of contemporary poets doesn’t make a lot of sense of to me. Language and creative expression are constantly evolving. The English language is evolving every single day, and we don't speak the same English that we spoke 100 years ago. You cannot attribute more value to one version of the language over the other.
We’re also conditioned to believe that certain types of expressions are more valuable based on who is expressing them. For example, Shakespeare could drop a two-line couplet and I would study that in my university class and write a three-page essay on it. A Brown woman writes a two-line poem, suddenly that's not considered art. There is a resistance to women expressing themselves in ways that deviates from what has been done in the past, or what we're socialized to believe to be valuable.
Q: What makes great poetry?
A: The quality of a great poem, or a great poet is someone or something that's able to dig into a place inside of me that I didn't even know was there and articulate something that feels very innate to me.
Q: What is something you feel our community needs to work on?
A: Being comfortable in having difficult conversations. We shove a lot of things under the carpet. The reasons are very complicated, but when we are able to have open conversations about very serious issues, we are making the community safer. For example, I think of how a lot of Sikh women are socialized to not talk about their bodies or their sexual health. There are women who are married and went through abusive circumstances, but don't know who to talk to, because it’s considered an awkward thing to talk about, because they've never grew up speaking on these things or they don't feel safe talking to their friends about it, because there's so much judgment.
I’m trying to use the space that I have to challenge the stigma and shame attached to these conversations. Last summer, I had a gynecologist do a takeover on my Instagram. She was dastaar wearing doctor. She spoke very openly and directly about things that people have never talked about on social media before. I think it was like really eye- opening and empowering for a lot of Sikh women to be able to have that conversation and to know there is someone that you can turn to for help.
Q: How do you deal with criticism?
A: It’s hard. One thing that I gained from my undergrad, because I studied creative writing, was that criticism for the most part, is not to break you, it is to build you up. There are going to be those asshole critics who just want tear you apart, but a good critic is there to help you find the best version of your work.
I remember the first time I got a bad review. I read this review at a grocery store and just cried. I stood there in the aisles, sobbing. I didn't expect it. It was a very personal project. It was something that I poured my whole self into. It was an extension of me, so in my mind, in that moment, I felt this person was critiquing me as a human being. Eventually I understood that he had some valid points. I wasn’t aware of certain critiques, which he then brought to my attention. I took what he said and applied that to my next project, and hopefully did a better job for that person.
I'm also aware that one critic is not every critic. That was one person's perspective. I have to bear in mind that people's tastes are very different. For example, when you're in school, you do an assignment, you spend a complete semester working on it. Your one teacher is the one who decides what grade you're getting. When you're a writer, you're doing an assignment for everyone. Everyone is your teacher, and everyone is grading you on a different scale. There's no satisfying everyone. You’re not going to make every single reader happy. If you're trying to make everybody happy, you're going to make no one happy. You have to write what feels authentic to you and know that it's okay for someone to hate it. If someone doesn’t hate it, it means that you're doing something wrong.
Q: Who is the first person you think of when you hear the word “successful”?
A: Arundhati Roy.
Forget the book sales, forget the bestseller list. It’s the fact that this woman is speaking her truth and speaking the things that feel authentic to her. She was censored to the point of arrest and detention, but she was still true to herself. I think that’s the most beautiful thing. This world often tries to take our voices and shape and contort them. To be able to stay true to yourself and to stay honest amid all of that is success to me.
Are there like certain books that you feel have impacted your life significantly?
I grew up reading Harry Potter when I was young. I was the kid who would have a book of Harry Potter in front of me while I'm walking around in public, at a grocery store, walking into like people's carts. That's where my love of reading came from. Being able to immerse myself in a story that is not of our world, to be able to imagine a different world and to be able to transport myself was the coolest thing.
Q: Whose poetic works do you recommend?
A: Sunni Patterson was the poet who inspired me to become a writer. When I first heard her spoken word on YouTube, I wanted to share her poems out loud for an audience.
Warsan Shire was an inspiration to me as well. She expresses very innate ideas.
Trista Mateer is one of my favorite poets. Her book, Aphrodite Made Me Do It, is my favorite poetry collection of all-time. It resonated with me so much as a Punjabi woman. Even though it was written by a queer, white woman, there were some universal truths about things that we experience as women, including being policed for our bodies and our sense of selves, that I really loved about her book.
People of the Community are a collective of socially conscious humorists & creatives who share their stories and hold space for collaborators to speak their truths. We advocate for a better world, healthier mentalities, equity, and justice through free progressive thought, inclusiveness, punching-up, uncensored candid open dialogue, and content that is honest, raw, and self-reflective.
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