Livvy Hooper continues her look at the University of Greenwich’s brightest talents; focussing her spotlight on undergraduate poets who featured in the end of year exhibition and reading; these are the ones to watch.
SPOTLIGHT: AMANDEEP K. JOHAL
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Amandeep K. Johal, I’m Indian and was born in East London then moved to Romford, now 22 years old.
How did you ‘get into’ poetry?
I spent most of my school life as a mute, and wasn’t great at communicating with others; I had enough friends to get me through, but also enough enemies to shut me away. I started writing a diary which slowly became short poems summing up the day – it wasn’t all doom and gloom, but it was the only way I felt I really could communicate. If people didn’t know me I’d assume they hated me, and towards the end of my school years not only did I learn that my bullies would attack my insecurities, but so would my friends. What never seemed to disappear though was my way of looking at the world; I knew one day I’d be smiling again. When I left school, I made a promise to myself that I would let my voice be heard. I started Performing Arts; this was my first experience at receiving criticism that helped, and I met inspiring people from all sorts of backgrounds, I felt comfortable! From stage to pen and paper, starting University gave me more confidence and to think I have one more chance at doing what I want. I love thrills and taking risks, personally, and standing up in front of strangers and allowing everyone to step into my headspace is quite exhilarating itself.
So tell us about the collection of poetry you created in your final year – what’s it all about? After the Ever After isa collection of poetry inspired by fairy tales, princesses and old folk tales. The idea of the project was to raise awareness of mental health, diminish stereotypes that demean women, and to escape or twist the traditional forms and moral concerns of fairy tales. Snow White, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, The Beast, Cinderella, and Goldilocks all feature in magical atmospheres. The collection also explores notions of time, space, the ‘damsel in distress’ taking a darker look into a familiar world with unfamiliar occurrences.
Your collection focuses on fairytales and being a woman – why did you choose to write around this theme?
The princesses are introduced to the modern day world and presented with much more dominance than before. What I found quite upsetting is the traditional pattern of the fairy tale: female character is tormented and waits for a male character to ‘save’ her from the wickedness. I wanted to create a magical realm that pushes the boundaries and limitations of a fantasy world. The collection frees the femininity of the damsel, playing on all the super heroines to really push these princesses.
How does it feel to have written a full collection of poetry?
Amazing, truly amazing, I never thought I’d have the courage to push my work and finally have a copy that I can whole-heartedly be proud of, what’s scary about the whole thing is that this is just the beginning!
Where do you find your inspiration when writing?
I’m the kind of person who has one too many conversations in my head, whenever there are two words I jot them down. It used to be how the day has affected me, now it’s that and how I’m progressing through it. Sometimes it can get complicated; I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing when I should be sleeping, but every time I have a very eccentric dream I’ll write about it – that was actually one of the inspirations for ‘Sleeping Pretty’. I am inspired by people I see, conversations, hungover day dreams and beautiful scenery, and sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll (if you can call it that).
Who are your biggest influences?
Cherry Smyth without a doubt; her honest opinions and suggestions pushed my work to extremes – sometimes I would be an emotional wreck! Cherry understood my voice and gave me the kick up the ass I really needed, I can’t thank her enough. Also, Andre Simmons’ vivid performances make me want to just jump up and let myself free. A few of my cousins from India are extremely creative – one’s an artist, another is a fashion designer – so my family push my creativity to new volumes. India has always been a home to me, and whenever I visit I remember my roots; I’m determined not to ever let that side of me fade. There’s something spiritually guiding about going to India. My friends and my partner have made me who I am today – stronger, louder, funnier and crazier; it’s always reassuring to find a great bunch of creative minds who share your own talents.
What’s it been like studying in the beautiful grounds of the Royal Naval College?
Wherever you turn there is a fantastic view – I remember coming out of a lecture at 6pm with a thousand notes flying around in my head, then I looked up and saw the green laser that extends from the Observatory and continues over the skyline of the city. It felt like a shooting star and I realised, this place is fuckin’ pretty init!
What are your highlights from your time at the University of Greenwich?
I had one teacher who told me I’m rubbish: fortunately I had many more that could see my potential, but there’s always one isn’t there? If you’ve ever had the same experience, use it against them, I always look back and laugh. Seriously, I think it may be one Halloween when I dressed up as Alex from Clockwork Orange; I didn’t know many people then and one of the tutors complimented my balls. I like to stir it up every now and again. I used to sit alone in lectures (don’t do it!), but eventually I spoke to a few of my classmates sat alongside me; I felt really grateful, and somehow made me write more from the heart than from my head.
How does it feel to have finished university?
It still doesn’t feel like I’ll ever finish Uni – I’m hoping to catch up regularly with my peer group! For now, the world belongs to me and I’m going to spread my creativity around. Whoever said being creative doesn’t get you enough money has obviously missed the point!
What once piece of advice would you give to any would-be poet or writer?
Be ruthless. Swear when you’re not meant to, cry in front of an audience and let your voice be heard, and if you are going to offend someone, good! I spent most of my life saying nothing, now I’m making up for lost time, so I’d say; TWERK YOUR MIND NOT YOUR BUTT!
So what’s next for you – what are your plans now you’ve finished university? Any projects we should know about?
I’m currently developing my second poetry collection inspired by my own battles and how a poet’s mind works, as well as designing jewellery, art work and possibly a collection of short stories. I’ll definitely be at the Poetry Cafe in Convent Garden, sinking my teeth into any open mic slots and hoping to inspire writers who are on the same pathway I am. The more I think about it, the more my mind blows.
Watch Amandeep reading from After the Ever After below, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Twitter & Instagram: @r2geek2
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