Rupi Kaur is a Punjabi/Canadian poet and writer who has garnered fame and popularity over the past couple of years after her first book, “milk and honey”, sold over 1 million copies after just one year and remained at the top of the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list for 41 consecutive weeks. Kaur has now returned with her second book “the sun and her flowers” released on October 3rd, 2017. She is known for her short, simple, beautiful poetry often described as “insta-poetry.” It is addictive, lovely, thought-provoking, at times harsh and shocking, but absolutely important and influential in every aspect.
Throughout Kaur’s poems, she makes reference to the sun as an almost motherly figure, something beyond her, connecting to her ancestry and her roots. It is, to her, a sustaining life force that protects her and the rest of humanity. She says, “(the flowers) will teach you that people too must wilt, fall, root, rise, in order to bloom”. We are the flowers; ever changing, ever growing, mortal, beautiful and full of life.
She begins her story with “wilting.” This is a narrative of loss, heartbreak and everything that happens in the aftermath. She asks, “where do we go from here my love” as she recounts her hurting heart. Yet out of all of this, her independent and inspiring self-worth is evident. This isn’t poetry asking for pity. She writes about the importance of choosing herself in times of hurt, the strength she’s gained from heartbreak, and everything she’s learned along the way.
In her next section, “falling,” she begins to explore tougher issues such as mental health, rape and abuse. In her poem titled “home”, she tells a powerful and moving story about the dangers and the long term effects of rape. She does not tip-toe around the gruesome details but rather exposes rape and rape culture by diving deep into her story. By honestly and openly revealing a difficult and often not talked about aspect of life, she opens the door for other women in the same position to share their stories and begins to break down the stigma surrounding rape victims. Her writing is powerful and displays her raw courage and strength in embracing emotion and overcoming in her own ways. She says, “it takes monsters to steal souls and fighters to reclaim them.” Rupi is a fighter and she is fighting for us all.
In “Rooting” she takes on immigration, ancestry, and the nature of home as well as religion and culture. She dives into her family’s history with depictions of her mother’s life in India, her transition to Canada and moving narratives about her Punjabi culture and her family’s past. In her poem titled “boat,” she writes about the injustices of the immigration system. She says, “Perhaps the sea is your country. Perhaps the boat sinks because it is the only place that will take you.” This loss of a home, safety and stability is a topic she writes about genuinely and openly, proving her ability to extend herself beyond the limits of her life and empathize greatly with others. Writing that evokes powerful emotions and allows the reader to step into another life, is the kind of writing that has real potential to make a difference. It has the capacity to open eyes, shift rigid mindsets and soften hearts. In a time of dangerous politics and broken countries with closed minds and borders, this is powerful writing; this is crucial.
When she writes about her mother’s life, she reveals a soft and broken knowledge of sadness, a burden her mother has always carried. She writes with adoration and gratefulness for the sacrifices her mother made when coming to Canada for the first time. Breaking down the life of an immigrant in this personal way reshapes the idea from a statistic into a real human life. This propels the reader into a realm of greater understanding and empathy, paving the way for a genuine change of heart.
In this same sections she writes about her religion, another tough and often controversial topic. She says that her God is “not as unreachable as they’d like you to think” but instead, is present as a lifeline for the broken and is constantly at work in the world. Her God, she says, is not somewhere on a distant pedestal but is “beating inside us infinitely.”
Out of “Rooting” comes “Rising” and with it a change of pace and tone. The poems move from past to present, burdens to hope, sadness to love. This last half of the book greatly resembles her first series of poems about love, loss and healing. She shifts from a narrative beyond herself to a deep look at her own life, specifically her romantic relationships. She embraces every emotion, choosing vulnerability over distance. She explores love, sexuality, freedom and the future. This is classic poetry for the young and in love.
In “Blooming” she defines herself as a fearless, confident, independent woman ready to take on the world. This is the story of a woman resting in her confidence and self-worth. She says, “we need more love, not from men, but from ourselves and each other.” In this, she embraces her powerful femininity and encourages the growth of the female community in support and love. She ends on a note of hope and stability, providing the reader with a final sense of catharsis.
She finishes the book with a final poem, almost a letter to the reader, set distinctly apart from the rest. It is a connection to humanity, a plea for a better future. She writes, “for as long as there is breath in our lungs, we must keep dancing.” In this she encourages the simple act of living despite the burdens of life. Her writing is a reflection of that life: difficult and burdensome but beautiful and so worth living.
In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury wrote that “Good writers touch life often”. If this is truly the case, Rupi must touch life every time she picks up a pen. The key to her brilliance is her courage. She writes openly about the important things that are not talked about enough. She is not afraid of honesty. She is not afraid of the truth. In her writing she has found her identity as a strong, intelligent, open-minded woman who has inspired so many. In her poem titled “legacy,” she asks, “what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther?” In writing honestly and striving towards hope, life and a wonderful future, she has answered her own question; she has made this mountain taller and this view more spectacular.