Hopefully you’ve heard of Rupi Kaur. If you haven’t, then it’s cool. But you’re about to be enlightened.
Now I know poetry, spoken word, stanzas and verse isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone can get it or understand it or enjoy it and that’s perfectly fine. However, when it’s a young, intelligent, trail-blazing South Asian woman, I try to jump on board. Which was no problem since Rupi Kaur and her kick-ass poetry is right up my alley.
The phrase ‘#1 New York Times best-selling author’ definitely carries some weight, and considering her first release made the best-sellers list for 52 consecutive weeks, it’s fair to say Rupi has definitely earned it. The Punjab born, Canadian poet and artist released her first anthology, ‘milk and honey’ in 2015. With designated sections following themes of ‘the hurting’, ‘the loving’, ‘the breaking’, and ‘the healing’, it’s no surprise that Rupi’s simplistic, short sentenced stanzas have reached a translation of over 25 different languages, with over a million copies having been sold as of last year.
However, what made me really stand to attention and take notice of the poetry, was the fact that it was written…by an Indian girl.
Now that’s not to say that young Indian girls aren’t capable of penning such poignant words and stanzas, and feeling things so vividly and explicitly. It’s more so that, culturally, we’re expected not to. We’re expected to roll with the punches, take what is given to us, and remain ‘seen, not heard’. So for a young Indian woman, to release not one, but two anthologies, following the release of ‘the sun and her flowers’ in 2017, filled me with not only a sense of pride, but a sense of belief.
However, Rupi’s success has not been without it’s controversies and downfalls. While Kaur’s poetry and spoken word holds a significant amount of the attention she has received, it was one of her photography works, that garnered the most backlash.
In a photo series created entirely to ‘challenge the taboo’ surrounding menstruation, Rupi succeeded in proving her point entirely, when the photo she posted on Instagram was removed for ‘violating’ the platform’s guidelines. She later reposted the same photo on FaceBook, critiquing the move and Instagram issued an apology, however the photo has yet to make a reappearance on her account.
Another topic of debate, and sometimes ridicule, is the style with which Rupi Kaur writes. While she credits her short sentenced, simplified stanzas to her own upbringing, one where English was a second language, learnt brokenly and her want for accessibility for her readers, others have used it against her. Parody Twitter accounts tweet using her broken, lower case sentence style, while a New York magazine diminished the entirety of her audience to a “realm of college freshwomen who have recently been or may soon go through breakups”, aiming to discredit the nature and depth of her work. However ‘simple’ her poems may be, they are resonating with a huge audience, on an international scale, meaning she’s obviously speaking out about things that hundreds of people are experiencing. Finally seeing/reading/hearing your thoughts, feelings and emotions in words can do incredible things for a person, which is the movement that has taken Rupi as far as she has already come. The fame she has found proves that there is a genuine audience who was waiting for words and verses like her’s.
Nonetheless, despite the backlash and criticism, Rupi has maintained her status as one of the most followed ‘instapoets’ ever, amassing over 2 million followers, who all hold onto every word they read, about love, sex, rejection, race, abuse, gender, domestic violence, immigration, mental health and beauty standards, which she pairs with her own sketches, reminiscent of childish doodles that somehow tie all her verses together into one giant sketchpad.
First of all, to even put thoughts about such deep, personal, yet widespread feelings and emotions and experiences into words and down on paper is certainly brave. To be a young woman and be open to sharing those words with the audience Rupi has, is courageous. But being a young woman, from a culture that historically and politically prefers you stay quiet, yet still choosing to speak out, is the bravest act of all. While Rupi’s writing is a success for women all over the world, it holds especially triumphant when recognised by other young South Asian women.
While other male ‘instapoets’, namely the popular Gregson and Atticus commodify on the romance and star crossed love affair with the unwavering focus of the male gaze, the sense of empowerment that Kaur releases each time she posts her self-assured, affirmative stanzas on her Instagram and Twitter is enough to fill me with the courage to even think about some of the topics she’s covered.