Named a “rising star” by Vogue Magazine, Jasmin Kaur is back with her sophomore story collection told in prose, poetry and illustration: If I Tell You the Truth. Jasmin joins us as a Guest Editor this month to share her personal book picks and take us deeper into her newest project.
When planning a story in prose, does the overarching story come to you first or do the poems begin to flow first?
Poetry is my first language. When I first began writing If I Tell You The Truth in 2015, I wrote intimate, vulnerable poems from the perspectives of my main characters. This was a really powerful character-building exercise because it helped me tap into their deepest emotions, their most heavily veiled thoughts. My poetry is usually written in first person and digs into visceral experiences of love, sadness, anger and oppression. Embodying a character through this poetry style draws me closer to who they are and where I want to take them in prose.
What has drawn you to writing in prose, and do you think you’ll ever write a traditional narrative story?
I’ve fallen deeply in love with writing prose-driven stories over the past few years. Novels-in-verse allow me to get straight to the heart of an emotion but I find that writing prose offers me a chance to stretch my imagery and fully steep my reader in a setting and situation. I’m currently working on a prose-driven fantasy novel and find myself writing poems from the perspectives of my characters, though! These may end up remaining character-building exercises but I’m tempted to incorporate them into the manuscript. If I Tell You The Truth is very much a mixed-media novel, told in prose, poetry and visual art. There’s something about this multimedia style that creates such a compelling storytelling effect and I’m still very drawn to writing novels in this way.
There are similarities between social media captions and short verses written and shared. Could you tell us about your experience of making poetry in today’s world?
Social media has conditioned many of us to consume tons of information in the blink of an eye. But it’s also made it more challenging to focus on a single piece of information. As a writer sharing work on Instagram, I recognize that readers aren’t always in the right headspace to absorb longer poems when scrolling through their feeds. For this reason, I tend to share concise, punchy poems on social media and save my longer pieces for my books. I think that when you’re reading a book–whether you’re physically opening up the pages or turning on your e-reader or closing your eyes to listen to an audiobook–there’s a beautiful sense of disconnection from the all-pervasive nature of social media. Sometimes you need to be unplugged from all distractions in order to fully absorb an extended piece of writing.
What similarities will readers see between your first collection and your latest, If I Tell You The Truth?
If I Tell You The Truth is a novel told in poetry, prose and visual art that follows the story of Kiran and Sahaara, a Punjabi mother and daughter who were first introduced to readers through a short story in When You Ask Me Where I’m Going. Fans of my poetry will see an evolution of my poetry style in this novel that is driven by a fictional feminist narrative.
One of my favourite poems from When You Ask Me Where I’m Going reads: “scream / so that one day / a hundred years from now / another sister will not have to / dry her tears wondering / where in history / she lost her voice”. I truly feel like If I Tell You The Truth is the fictional storytelling manifestation of this poem. This novel captures the fierce, unapologetic, feminist spirit of many poems in When You Ask Me Where I’m Going and I can’t wait to share it with readers.
Would you mind sharing a few of the books you’re currently reading or recently finished and what drew you into them?
I’m currently reading Shelby Mahurin’s Blood & Honey. I read the first book in this witchy YA fantasy series earlier this year and fell head-over-heels in love with the romance in this enemies-to-lovers title. I was instantly invested in the characters and had to get my hands on the next book.
I also recently re-read my favourite poetry collection, Aphrodite Made Me Do It by Trista Mateer. I return to this book time and time again because it offers such searing insights into the patriarchal values that shape social commentary on women’s bodies. The poems in this book remind me so much of my character Kiran’s experiences in If I Tell You The Truth.