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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

‘Instapoet’ Rupi Kaur weaves Punjab into her poems

Second anthology, ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’, to be released on October 3.

punjab Updated: Oct 02, 2017 18:11 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
The poet with almond eyes and long raven hair shot to fame in 2015, a year after she self-published her first anthology, ‘Milk and Honey’.
The poet with almond eyes and long raven hair shot to fame in 2015, a year after she self-published her first anthology, ‘Milk and Honey’.(Photo: Twitter)

She is hailed as a popular “instapoet” of the West. Rupi Kaur, 24, the Canadian immigrant with roots in Punjab — she was four when her parents migrated — is set to release her second anthology, ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’, on Tuesday.

The poet with almond eyes and long raven hair shot to fame in 2015, a year after she self-published her first anthology, ‘Milk and Honey’, on Amazon. The rather prosaic poesy is accompanied by pencil illustrations made by Rupi herself. The poetess says her mother encouraged her to draw to express herself when she joined school in Canada and was unable to converse fluently in English with classmates.

A student of Rhetoric and Professional Writing at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Rupi first began by sharing her poetry on Tumblr and Instagram, where she has more than 1.6 million followers (and she follows no one). Her anthology was finally picked up by Andrews McMeel Publishing of Canada in 2015. Soon enough, it hit the stands in the US where it remained on the bestseller list of New York Times for 52 weeks. It’s sold over a million copies and has been translated into 25 languages, including Spanish.

‘Milk and Honey’ dealt with subjects as varied as child molestation, rape, growing up, and male misogyny. The new book is about refugees, immigration, revolution and the pain of losing the love of your life.

Sikh heritage

Rupi Kaur often refers to her Sikh heritage. Last month, her Twitter account was full of references to Jaswant Singh Khalra, a human rights activist who disappeared from Amritsar after his revelations about the cremation of scores of unidentified bodies by Punjab Police during militancy in the state.

She explains the absence of uppercase letters in her poems to Gurmukhi script. “As a diasporic Punjabi Sikh woman, it is less about breaking the rules of English (though that’s pretty fun) but more about tying in my own history and heritage within my work.”

She attributes the title of her book ‘Milk and Honey’ to “a poem about the women who lived through 1984 riots in India... the survivors of betrayal. rape. torture. i write that they come out of that terror as smooth as milk and as thick as honey (sic).”

In the foreword, she writes, “In 1992, I am born in a village called Munak Kalan in Punjab.” She writes that her father was one of the tens of thousands of Sikhs who “fled Punjab because of the genocide”.

Courting controversy

Rupi has been facing allegations of plagiarism. Many on Twitter have accused her of plagiarising poet Nayyirah Waheed, who published an anthology, ‘Salt’, in 2013 and had been posting her poems on Tumblr. They claim Rupi’s poems are similar to Waheed with lack of punctuations, and the use of honey as a metaphor. Rupi is mum on the issue.

Her publishers don’t seem to care. Just yesterday Simon & Schuster posted a video curtain-raiser to her new book and tweeted, “A thousand kind words vs 1 insult. @rupikaur_’s poetry speaks to all of us. #thesunandherflowers is out next week. .” HTC

First Published: Oct 02, 2017 18:10 IST

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