Honestly, I think this blog post is LONG overdue.
Being a first-generation, Indian-American, twenty-something-year-old woman [and poet/author] myself, it’s probably at least a little odd that my affinity for Rupi Kaur’s poetry is little known by my friends, family, and followers.
Like me, Rupi Kaur is a first-generation, Indian-Canadian (not Indian-American, but still very similar), twenty-something-year-old woman [and poet].
This isn’t exactly a “concoction” a girl like myself, who didn’t know any other writers [or even about the #WritingCommunity] until just a few months ago], saw every day…. Or, any day, really [outside of myself].
In fact, I still don’t.
We’re minorities in more ways than one and, in that, I absolutely knew I had to check out Rupi’s poetry when she dropped her first book, Milk and honey.
Her poems were not just relatable for me [despite her being “sunflowers”, and me being “roses”]; they were also quite familiar in a sense. Even though her family is Sikh, and Punjabi, and mine is Hindu/Jain, and Gujarati/Marwari, our experiences generally fall under the same umbrella out here in the Western Hemisphere of the world, where there are far less of us (“us” referring to Indians, and people [women especially] of Indian descent), and we’re all facing such similar struggles.
Rupi’s poetry is a huge hit with young women in the western hemisphere [especially the United States, and Canada], and elsewhere in the world; that’s not especially shocking at all, seeing as most of her [well-written] poems reflect the experience of being a twenty-something-year-old, North American woman.
Rupi (I refer to her by her first name, as she feels like something of a big sister to me) doesn’t fit the mold of the “brooding artist” that so many people associate with poets either (I know, I’m so guilty of this). This makes her relatable to the “Starbucks-sipping, Uggs-wearing, “basic’ (ugh, I hate that term [and this entire stereotype])” young women who so many (read: too many) people like to assume lack depth.
Her minimalist style of writing also makes her work something that those who are not extremely well-versed in literature and poetry can wholly enjoy.
This is quite rare.
Nevertheless, I’m sad to say that these are the same things that make her looked down upon…
Of course, there are all those mock poems you may have seen floating around the Internet, which imitate her simplistic writing style to state pretty ridiculous things.
Despite my high regard for Rupi, and her poetry, I, too, can laugh at this light humor.
Regardless, the problem goes a bit (read: a lot) deeper. Most of the people who look down on Rupi [and her work], are men/masc-presenting people, “hipsters” (the crappy kind), intellectuals [and pseudo-intellectuals], and/or other writers themselves [or, so I’ve observed]. Rupi’s also frequently written off “just as another ‘Instapoet.'”
“Instapoets” get their share of push-back and mockery too (wrongly so), but that’s a topic for another day.
Why is this? Is this disdain a manifestation of internalized-misogyny, superiority complexes, anti-mainstream mentalities, or something else altogether?
My guess is it’s an embodiment of all these things… All these things mixed together.
As a poet myself, I have to insist that Rupi Kaur, and her poems, do not deserve to be looked down upon.
First and foremost, Rupi Kaur has not only changed the publishing industry [in regards to poetry] with her work, but she’s created more opportunities for poets in a world which doesn’t guarantee us success for our artistic medium.
This also applies to Indian and Indian-American/Canadian/etc., female authors. We’re not having the best time getting traditionally published, or paid properly for our hard work, out here in North America. We’re a marginalized group [with, and without, the author tag on us], and we’re still making our way in. Fortunately, Rupi’s already improving our prospects with her own success.
At the forefront of our movement is Mindy Kaling, Anchel Joseph, M.I.A., Lilly Singh, and… Well, I can’t really come up with any others (about half these women have only just come up on the scene in the past few years, which kind of says a lot… And no, Priyanka Chopra, as a Desi-born-and-raised woman, does not make the list [as much as I love her]).
However, in recent years, Rupi Kaur has become one more person on this short, but critical, list of ours.
These women are out there in the ‘creative-verse” making it and, in turn, opening doors, breaking ceilings, and increasing the odds of success for the rest of us. They’re really out there fighting the good fight.
And, that makes all the difference in the world for us.
Rupi Kaur’s poetry may not be overtly-“fancy,” or extravagantly-“layered,” but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy of our praise. And, this is coming from me: a primarily old-world contemporary, “fancy-smancy” poetry-loving poet.
How many of her critics have actually held, and cracked open, her books, whether that’s Milk and honey, or The Sun and Her Flowers? How many of them have taken the time to read those long and heavy poems hidden in the middle of her books, the ones which are complete, emotional spillages of her very soul?
Not many, it seems.
If they did, they might just understand a few, crucial things about Rupi, and her luminous work:
Her books represent important, personal journeys; they’re collections, and not singles, for a reason [the obvious publishing/marketing purposes aside]. Read them as such, and you’ll likely find yourself overwhelmed by emotion; you’ll discover that her poems [both the long and short ones] are successful in doing exactly what poetry is meant to do: Making you feel something intense and all-consuming.
- Her poems don’t only speak to the experience of being a young woman in our society [although they do so very well]. They also represent the young, modern-day, first generation, Indian-American/Canadian/etc. woman, and those similar to us, in a way we’ve never had the novelty of knowing before. For a highly-marginalized group of people who spend our entire lives dealing with the sentiment of not belonging to any one nation or culture, juggling our motherland’s traditions with those of the ones we grew up in, following religions which hardly exist in the eyes of our western peers, and trying to carve our own, hybrid culture [on top of already living with gender-oppression, and often even surviving domestic abuse and sexual assault], we never had anybody, or anything, to relate to. Then, Rupi came along, and became our big, brown sister who not only gave us the visibility we’ve so desperately sought, but extended her hand to us in a gesture of love, light, and sisterhood. Her writing brought thoughts and feelings to the surface I never even realized I had; she also shed a bright, and honest, light on the little-known, and hardly-appreciated, experiences of our parents [especially our mothers], who gave up and struggled through more than we, their children, or most people in this world, can ever really understand. The first time I read these specific poems [in The Sun and Her Flowers], I found myself straight-up sobbing into my beverage on some hot beach in the Dominican Republic. It was quite embarrassing, but I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.
- Just because her writing style is minimal doesn’t mean it’s less. Up until I read Milk and honey, I actually had little-to-no appreciation for contemporary-style poetry. Then, I read Rupi’s work and discovered that, much like the old-world stuff I read and write, it has plenty of merit. I couldn’t believe just how much she could do with so little. I don’t care what anyone else says: the woman is beyond talented. She actually inspired me to attempt writing contemporary poetry for the first time in my life (you can find some of it in my first and third poetry books: Amaranthine and Armageddon).
- Her grammatical style, which is frequently discredited by those who haven’t taken the time to examine the actual “why” behind it, imitates the Punjabi written tradition. The lowercase letters and occasional lack of standard, English punctuation are odes to her Punjabi heritage; they’re her way of preserving her “Indianness” in her work (her poetry being highly consumed by western audiences, her “ode” is essential in terms of both preservation, and representation). First-generation folks often struggle with the issue of keeping our culture(s) alive while growing up and living in nations with completely different ones. This is something we can’t manage without putting in actual care, and work; in turn, we all find our own, unique ways to keep our culture and traditions alive in our westernized lives. For some, this means watching Bollywood movies, and downloading the accompanying soundtracks. For others, this means cooking our mothers’ Indian dishes, or attending Garba/Raas in the fall during Navaratri. For Rupi, this means carrying over aspects of her parents’ and ancestors’ language into the one she writes in, one which thrives many worlds away from our motherland.
- The art featured in her books is all her own and, like her writing style, her sketches are very simplistic in nature; it is in this that they’re beautiful. No matter what anyone else says, her artwork is special to her, and her inclusion of it in her books only serves to further deepen the human being that is Rupi Kaur, highlight the underlying themes of her books, and add [even more] dimension and purpose to her poems.
All in all, poets [and artists, in general] come in many different shapes, sizes, nationalities, genders, aesthetics, and, most importantly, writing styles.
Rupi’s work is more than just valid; it’s exquisite.
And that, my friends, is why she gets ALL my X’s and O’s.