At 25 years of age, she has published two poetry books, Milk and Honey and The Sun and her Flowers, which sold over a million copies. Canadian poet of Punjabi descent Rupi Kaur tells Smitha Verma at JLF what it means to be an immigrant writing about women’s issues. Edited excerpts:
Your writing is mostly about women, love and loss. Why so?
These are my own experiences. I reflect on the conversations that I have with people and then turn them into poems. So many people become artists because they come from a space of sadness. You feel loss and grief intensely and sometimes you don’t appreciate happy moments, which is why pain is written about more.
Does being an immigrant impact your writing?
Yes, 100%. So much of my writing deals with my identity. At home, they tell you that you aren’t a westerner. But outside, you see another world. Your entire life is a question mark.
How has social media created Rupi Kaur, the poet?
I have been writing much before the social media boom, but never got published. It helped to get my poetry out there. Before social media, people told me nobody reads poetry any more. But, it was only when my poems started getting posted on Instagram and other social media platforms that people started noticing me.
Your session at JLF was crowded. What is it about you that resonates with a younger audience?
I think I speak their voice, am their age and, honestly, am writing about my experiences. That reflects on other young people also.
A few years back, you posted on Instagram about menstruation (a photograph with stained bottoms). The post went viral, but Instagram deleted it.
It was a college project on women’s hygiene issues. The woman was fully clothed and I could never understand why they removed it. On social media, verified porn accounts flourish and no one has any problem. When they removed it, it became a form of protest for me. How are you going to silence something natural, which happens to women? So many people wrote to me and Instagram revoked my account.
What do you think of the #MeToo campaign?
The first thing that I ever wrote passionately about is sexual abuse. In middle school, so many girls talked about the abuse they faced and, now, when I see this campaign, we realise it’s everywhere. I hope it leads to a world where future generations look back at this campaign and think whether #MeToo was necessary, because in that world all these issues won’t exist.
What do you have to say about the plagiarism charges against you?
It may be possible that living in the same world and seeing similar issues, people write about similar things. Just because a poet uses words like ‘water’ and ‘honey’ doesn’t mean someone else can’t use them. I think that just because I am a brown girl and doing this thing well, people think they should bring me down. But the magic for me comes from being honest to myself.