At 25, Rupi Kaur is already an internet sensation, a New York Times bestselling author and a feminist poet, whose work resonates with people across diverse cultures, countries and boundaries. Yet it was only two years ago that she attended the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival as an audience member, eager to meet Margaret Atwood and Karan Johar. She revealed that at the time, she hoped she would come back to the Pink City one day, but next time as a speaker and performance artist: “I knew I needed to be on that stage one day.’
Dressed in a beautiful pink dress and silvery accessories, she began her session with a performance of the piece titled what love looks like, candidly discussing her experiences of falling in and out of love, and the therapy sessions that followed. Her second piece art of growing detailed her realisation of the objectification of women’s bodies, which began when she turned twelve, and her unfamiliarity and discomfort with her own breasts. Finally her poem broken english succinctly summarized the immigrant experience. In between, she read excerpts from her two poetry collections, and encouraged audience participation by bringing fans on stage to read along with her.
This was followed by a Q&A session with noted journalist Snigdha Poonam. When asked about the creative process involved in “a rupi kaur poem post,” Kaur confessed that she started out as a performance poet in 2009, but after being encouraged by friends, started uploading her longer pieces online. She experimented with different blogs and wrote under pseudonyms. Yet it was not until she crystallized the essence of her words into “short gems” on social media that she began to attract a real fan base.
Surprisingly enough, her first love was not poetry, but art. Writing poetry in high school did not let her focus on her drawing skills, so when she joined Instagram, she found the perfect platform to marry the two forms together. Kaur stated that she only shares a poem “when it makes her stomach turn.” When the final draft is ready, she visualizes her piece and draws the first thing that comes to mind. In this way, she pairs her lucid and accessible poetry with simple but often provocative line art.
Thus, for her, social media is a “beautiful vehicle to find readership.” As a woman of colour in an alien country, she neither had the resources nor the networking skills to find the right publishers for her work. So she decided to create a free account and share what was closest to her heart with like-minded readers online.
Nevertheless, Kaur said she still has a long way to go. Like other authors, she is familiar with the writer’s block. However, she insisted, “Your job as a writer is to show up at the desk and just write. Write shitty poems if you will. When you get them out of your system, the beautiful gems will present themselves.”
Even after all her success, she is still not sure if she is a “full time” writer. After milk and honey was published, she presumed it was only a “one time thing” and she would have to train to be a lawyer, with writing to remain just a hobby. But then the book made it to the New York Times bestselling list and sold over a million copies, and she finally accepted her “role as an author.”
As an artist who has worked with multiple art forms including poetry, art and photography, all of which share a strong personal, political and feminist streak, she remains doubtful about what she will create in the decades to come. All she is certain of is that it will be something she loves, and she will continue to take “huge risks,” experiment a lot, and trust that the universe always has our best interests at heart.
As the Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger, this piece about Rupi Kaur’s session titled “Rupi Kaur introduced by Snigdha Poonam” was previously published on the JLF website and can be viewed here.
Image Credit: JLF