This month we're inspired by the #1 New York Times bestselling poet and illustrator, Rupi Kaur.
For a 25 year old, Rupi Kaur is one talented woman. Born in 1992, in Punjab (India) to a Sikh family, she emigrated with her parents and three siblings to Canada when she was just five years old. After completing her degree in Rhetoric Studies, she published her first collection of poems, Milk and Honey, in 2014 which went on to sell over a million copies and graced the New York Times bestsellers list every week for over a year. The collection has since been translated into over thirty languages and her long-awaited second collection The Sun and Her Flowers’ was published in 2017.
Kaur has performed her poetry to her millions of adorning fans across the world receiving a reception akin to a Rockstar. Common themes found throughout her works include abuse, femininity, love, race and heartbreak. She is also influenced by Sikh scriptures and honours her native language of Punjabi by using only lowercase letters in her poems. Alongside her poems, she also creates the simple drawings that beautifully elevate her words, the doodles similar to something you'd find in a high school note book. She started drawing at the age of five when her mother handed her a paintbrush and said "draw your heart out!".
Kaur's rise to fame is a story typically appropriate within our digital age; it’s a tale of viral and savvy capitalisation. What’s most compelling about Kaur's work is that she has achieved a rare feat for a modern poet, she's reached mainstream popularity by becoming part of a new generation called "instapoets" (young poets publishing verse primarily on social media). She currently has an astonishing number of 2.6 million followers on Instagram and her most-liked poem, which is just six lines and begins "how is it so easy for you/ to be kind to people, he asked," earned her over 240,000 likes. The bite-sized, accessible poems with their free verse poetry avoid difficult metaphors in favour of clear, plain language, and this accessibility is precisely what has garnered the new wave of "Instapoets" such a large and dedicated following. The 25 year old’s themes of love, sex, rejection and relationships are all topics common on social media, but she also deals with darker material: abuse, beauty standards, racism.
Though she's made a name for herself through her words, Kaur's initial rise to fame had nothing to do with her poetry. She accomplished international stardom with her photo essay on menstruation, described as a piece of visual poetry intended to challenge societal menstrual taboos. At the time of this work, Kaur was still a student at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. She had a modest following when she uploaded a photo to Instagram of herself lying in bed, menstruation bloodstains on her clothes and sheets. The photo was removed twice, seemingly for violating the site’s "Community Guidelines". She hit back on Tumblr and Facebook, saying "I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak. when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified. pornified. and treated less than human".
Speaking out "controversially", her story went viral, gaining attention from media sites across the world, with some enthusiastically praising her for breaking down the stigma surrounding menstruation. Encouraged by her new fan base, Kaur released an updated edition of ‘milk and honey’ with new poems and illustrations later that year. As a creative, Kaur views her life as an exploration of an artistic journey.
To follow that journey, why not follow her on Instagram and Facebook for continuous updates. Or even better, look away from your screens and pick up a copy of her books. They really are a collection of poetry that everyone needs on their nightstand.