by Carmen Visser
Rupi Kaur is a 28-year-old poet that was born in Punjab, India. Her family immigrated to Canada before Kaur was four. They struggled to make ends meet, with her mother raising children and her father driving trucks. Rupi Kaur’s success story begins in 2014. While studying at the University of Waterloo, Kaur began releasing her poetry on Tumblr and Instagram. She quickly gained popularity for her honest and simplistic approach to writing.
Rupi Kaur self-published her first collection of poems and prose, called “Milk and Honey”. The book is divided into four sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. The main theme running through Kaur’s first published book is surviving. She gives an insight into the healing process from heartbreak and sexual trauma. Rupi Kaur also explores love, from a significant other, from family and from oneself.
After her first book reached number one on the New York bestsellers list, Kaur reached major success and fame. She carried on writing and in 2017 released her second collection of poetry and prose. “The Sun and Her Flowers” is divided into five different sections: wilting, falling, rooting, rising and blooming. The number one Sunday Times bestseller focuses on love, loss, abuse and the body.
Earlier this year, Rupi Kaur released her third collection of poetry and prose called “Home Body”. Currently sitting at number five on New York’s bestsellers list, it’s clear that Kaur’s third book is as loved by readers as her previous ones. Being split into four sections (mind, heart, rest and awake), “Home Body” dives into the themes of acceptance, family, community and change.
A little fun fact: the colour of “Home Body’s” cover was made to match Rupi Kaur’s skin tone.
Rupi Kaur’s writing is different from many others. She doesn’t follow the norms of poetry such as having a rhyming scheme. Instead, she focuses on making her writing simple and accessible. Kaur’s writing has a way of connecting thoughts together and creating powerful metaphors that keep you wondering for days. She aims to create work that starts conversations.
One of my favourite thought-provoking pieces from the Canadian poet is:
on the sacrifices
of a million women before me
what can i do
to make this mountain taller
so the women after me
can see farther
Part of Rupi Kaur’s success is due to her honesty. Her openness when it comes to periods, sex and mental health issues show that she is unafraid to be vulnerable. Furthermore, her activism shows her dedication to her community. For example, as one of her undergraduate projects, Kaur created visual poetry that showed periods for what they are – natural. In addition, Kaur has also created much awareness of the #FarmersProtest in India and continuously shows her support.
Kaur’s poetry style has become one of her trademarks. The lack of capitalisation and punctuation (other than a period) is a worldwide known trait of Kaur’s writing. While some might criticise her for being too basic, Kaur explains how the lowercase letters and periods she uses in her writing tie in with her heritage. Her mother tongue, Punjabi, written in the Gurmukhi script doesn’t have uppercase or lowercase letters. Neither does it make use of punctuation, other than periods.
The Punjabi poet often brings her heritage into her writing by explaining her background. After Rupi Kaur’s family moved to Canada, they struggled with a lack of money and a lack of acceptance. She opens up about the struggles of immigrants in her poems, for example:
“they have no idea what it is like
to lose home at the risk of
never finding home again
have your entire life
split between two lands and
become the bridge between two countries
first generation immigrant - Rupi Kaur”
While Rupi Kaur has reached great success within her writing career, she has also experienced severe backlash, including the accusation of plagiarism. Kaur’s poetry is undeniably similar to that of Nayyirah Waheed’s. As Distract explains, Waheed reached out to Kaur about the similarity regarding their work and was shot down. Later on, in an interview Rupi Kaur spoke about the accusations from Nayyirah Waheed and stated that, “It’s hard. Especially because you both come from communities that deal with a lot.”. The fact that Kaur will not address the plagiarism accusations and compares the issues that both her own community and Waheed’s community face leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth.
Plagiarism is incredibly difficult to prove in poetry, especially when several writers (Rupi Kaur, Nayyirah Waheed, Warsan Shire and Lang Leav) use the same style. Despite this situation, Rupi Kaur still has millions of dedicated fans, including myself. I think it is important that we acknowledge the mistakes that Kaur has made and use them as lessons. However, Kaur definitely could have handled this better. And she should have.
Aside from writing, Rupi Kaur interacts with her fans through her social media platforms. The young poet often hosts live writing workshops on her Instagram account and, with a following of 4.3 million, it’s unsurprising that many viewers join in. The writing workshops usually consist of some poetry reading, advice and writing prompts from Kaur.
Additionally, Kaur also sells tapestries, canvases, temporary tattoos and other merchandise. Each item with a little stamp from the poet herself, whether it be one of her poems or one of her line doodles.
One could say that Rupi Kaur lives her life according to a typical writer’s aesthetics. She burns candles, absorbing information from their scents. She drinks freshly brewed tea and coffee for energy. She even has an aesthetically pleasing Instagram theme – balancing her posts between images of herself and images of her poetry.
Rupi Kaur is simple and similar to many of us. That’s why we love her and crave so many more of her words crafted together. She transfers our thoughts onto paper in a way we never could.