Jaspreet Sangha (Behind the Netra)
Jaspreet who is known as Behind the Netra is a spoken word artist from East London. In Sanskrit, it is believed that Netra means ‘eyes’ or perhaps ‘eyes and mind’. Behind the Netra hopes to reveal the thoughts and ideas that have been hidden behind the netra, through her poetry, performances, images, quotes and academic prose.
When did your passion for writing poetry begin?
“The performance poetry journey only began just over a year ago, however I have been writing poetry since the age of fourteen and at that point, it was purely an outlet for some of the difficulties that I was goingthrough. I then decided it was about time that I shared it with the world and realised I wasn’t alone in the way I was feeling. It then became a voice for the voiceless and has grown into something I never expected.”
What or who inspires you to write?
“My father and mother have always made me feel so empowered. I am inspired by their endless strength and humility. I’m going to have to quote one of my poems which I feel explains this perfectly for me –
A father that grew up in an age of the 70s
Protests, peace and love on the tip of everybody’s tongues. A determination that could turn dirt into diamonds
A mother that managed to make everything out of nothing. Old earth into islands.
So when people ask me if I’m more like my father or my mother I say I am purely a product of their power.
I also have my female icons like Maya Angelou, Mai Bhago, Sophia Duleep Singh, Pankhurst, and Bell Hooks (the list is literally endless). I also find inspiration in the people I meet and talk to every day! I’m truly inspired to write by the thoughts of my work making a difference and ‘fighting the good fight.’ I am extremely passionate about working on breaking down stereotypes, chipping away at the walls that divide us and identify paths for taking action in our communities. This may be along the lines of mental health, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality and class.”
How long have you been writing for?
“I have been writing for almost 10 years now. I have kept all my poems over the years and have collated hundreds of poems!”
What does being a British Asian poet mean to you?
“The irony is that I have never been one for labels or boxes so I wouldn’t say I’m solely a British Asian Poet, but I love that it is one of the communities that I am able to be a part of. I think I am simultaneously a lot of things, a British Asian Poet, Sikh Poet, Feminist Poet, or simply just a poet. The themes in which I write about are mainly about taboo subjects within the South Asian Community so I am happy to associate myself with the title of a British Asian Poet, but my work also looks to consider other themes such as gender/feminism, love and emotions, mental health, history and education.”
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
“Behind the Netra is planning to save the world! So stage one would be more of the same – more teaching, more poetry, more performing, more public speaking, more learning! But stage two would be reaching a wider audience so maybe we will see Behind the Netra travelling the world and finding herself on the spine of her very own books!”
When you are not writing what do you do in your spare time? Work, University? And how do you manage to juggle this?
“By day, I am a fulltime secondary school teacher at an inner London comprehensive school (and a Spoken Word Artist by night – I like to think this makes me sound like a superhero – ha!) I teach History and Sociology from ages 11 to 18. I have always been extremely passionate about the education system, working with young people and the teaching of history. I absolutely love what I do and consider myself one of the lucky people that are able to wake up every day ready for a new adventure and help change lives. I am also the Sikh Interfaith Advisor for Westminster schools. The way that I juggle all this alongside my writing, performances and public speaking is by being organised, maintaining a consistent and healthy balance and having a strong support network.”
Have you participated in any recent spoken poetry event and if so where and how was it?
“Over the last year, I have performed at different shows around London including Box Park Shoreditch (BOXed In), Theatre Royal London and Oxford University. More recently I performed at the NHS annual conference and spoke at TEDxUCLWomen’s event on Intersect. It was an absolute honour to be able to speak and perform at a TEDxevent; it’s always been a dream of mine. Fortunately, it has led to more opportunities to perform at TEDx events coming up in this next year.”
What made you decide to go into spoken poetry and do you ever get nervous?
“After writing poems solely for myself for so many years, it was at the moment I wrote ‘Queens and Corpses’ that I knew I had to begin to share them with the world in a spoken form. I had written the poem after I completed my MA thesis entitled ‘The Lost Daughters of Panjab: Female Infanticide, Imperial Claims and Contemporary Discourse’ and I knew not everyone had the time to read a 20,000-word thesis but they might listen to a poem about it.
The thing that I love about spoken word is the adrenaline that I feel once I am on stage. In that moment, I feel so empowered. I also love hearing how people have connected to my poetry or discussing how they have interpreted it.”
What are some of your favourite poetry that you have written?
“Ah! Now this is definitely one of the hardest questions. Your poems become your babies; it’s so difficult to choose a favourite! I love different poems for different reasons. ‘Queens and Corpses’ on female infanticide is very close to my heart. as it’s the very first poem that I performed publically and the poem that first went viral. The poem ‘Fingertips’ has a soft spot in my heart as it was the first poem I wrote for the man that I love and the poem which I created my first stop motion film for. ‘Cultural Appropriation’ is my absolute favourite poem to perform; it is powerful, funny and gets the audience thinking about a very important current issue in relation to race. And finally, ‘Recovery’ is a very powerful poem for me as it describes how I survived my battle with depression and anxiety.”
Which poets influence your work and who are some of your favourites?
“My favourite poetic inspirations would firstly have to be Lauryn Hill as she has always been a huge inspiration for me growing up. She made me realise that hip-hop and poetry aren’t separate entities. For me, they are synonymous. Kate Tempest, Rumi and a number of Sufi poets have also played a huge role in my poetic journey.”
How long does it normally take to write a poem and how do you know where and when to begin?
“Some poems I like to write in one sitting, this could take ten minutes or it could take a couple of hours! Some poems I write in pieces, I come back to them and let them grow with my thoughts.”
Tell us more about your mental health poetry workshop, what made you wanted to start this and what do you hope to achieve from this?
“One of my greatest struggles would have to be my battle with depression and anxiety, and thankfully, poetry was one of the things that saved my life. I started the mental health workshops in hope that it could help others in the same way. My mission is to empower those that sometimes feel voiceless and provide them with a safe space to share their thoughts. I am extremely passionate about creating awareness about mental health, especially within the South Asian community, so that one-day we can rid the stigma attached to it.”
Also any spoken poetry events that are coming up which you will participate in?
“As mentioned before I have some exciting TEDx events that you will be hearing about soon! I’ll be performing at a charity event for the Make a Wish Foundation and there are a few more exciting events in the pipeline that I have to keep quiet about for a little longer…”
What are the main messages in your work and do you have a particular audience you aim your work to?
“KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT! To me, this means that every individual should always keep fighting for what they believe in. This could be ending prejudices, tackling sexism, fighting racism, ending LGBT discrimination, stopping mental health stigma, humanitarian work or even just understanding more about YOU. Keep fighting for your cause no matter what and feel valid and powerful in doing so! Due to the diverse themes I write about, I also have a diverse demographic amongst my audience, but I’d say that my work is aimed at anyone that is willing to learn, grow and give.”
Any upcoming projects that you will be involved in?
“One of my main projects at this point in time are my weekly YouTube videos! It’s been an exciting step in my journey as Behind the Netra. It requires a lot of commitment, time and energy but I’m really enjoying it. My second main project would be working on my book!”
To see more of Jaspreet’s work and find out more about the upcoming events she is participating then you can follow her on her social media sites-www.behindthenetra.com www.youtube.com/behindthenetra https://www.instagram.com/behindthenetra/