“In moments of tragedy, art is the core,” Rupi Kaur told Bust Magazine. She wasn’t lying. In fact, when you hold her debut book, Milk and Honey, in yours hands, you’ll feel the truth of words she’s drawn together spinning into gold. Her poems, no matter their length, touch on multiple pressure points. She can hit you with one sentence, and for the rest of the day, you’ll find yourself mending wounds you thought were once healed. But they never were. They were only forgotten. And so, when this happens Rupi has fulfilled her goal. She wants to be a voice for women who’ve silenced their pain, especially those of color.
“When you see someone who looks like your mom there and she’s like ‘this puts so much of my pain into something concrete that I can hold,’” Rupi shared with The Guardian. “That’s when I’m like okay, I’m doing something right and I just want to keep doing it.”
I stumbled upon Rupi Kaur’s creative work on a day that looked as ugly as my energy felt. Grey, windy and below zero, the air had a bite to it and was only getting worse as snow began to fall. Winter blues took me as its prisoner. So, I ventured to the one place that always manages to revive the deflated parts of me, my local bookstore. Her cover, matte black with simple font and a pair of bees pictured on its lower half, reeled me in immediately. Its minimalism looked elegant and classic and from the first page, those thoughts were confirmed.
I bought it after reading the fourth poem, then cozied up in an upholstered olive chair to scarf down all of its contents. In that space of time–gosh knows how long I sat–I cried, laughed and even caught myself nodding and proudly holding my fist in the air. Someone finally translated what was in my heart and soul. There it was on paper, spurring such a cathartic experience. After that day, I wasn’t the same. I moved on lighter, oblivious to what I lost and from where, but I assume it was only emotional baggage as I was able to properly address lingering issues once left behind.
If Rupi Kaur’s work does this for the reader, one can only imagine what it does for the writer.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
Comfort and peace. I want it to be something they always refer back to. Something they read when they need a hug or some understanding and no one is around to understand them. Something they can carry around with them. I want the book to be what I needed around me when I was growing up. -Rupi Kaur, Huffington Post
Born in Punjab, India, Rupi and her parents migrated to Canada when she was four. After moving numerous times, they eventually settled in Brampton, Ontario. Finally, stability was able to assist Rupi in fostering her creativity, along with the encouragement of her mother. She developed great skill in the arena of drawing and painting and wrote poetry for her friend’s birthdays. Little did she know, both of her talents would offer her a thriving career in the future.
In college, Rupi began sharing her poetry via social media, which also consisted of a photo essay based on destroying taboos circling menstruation. They begged the question: Why are women’s bodies only visually accepted for sexual content?
Many of her posts went viral and things even got rocky for a bit. Rupi’s photo essay, images of her with spots of blood leaking through her pants and onto her bed sheet, brought controversy to Instagram. It was then she found herself as the topic of both headlines and death threats.
Per her interview with BBC Newsbeat: “I wasn’t being provocative. […] When I initially put it up I knew there would be some controversy and some hate comments and then it would go away. Never in a million years did I expect it to be on every major headline everywhere.”
“It was interesting the way people were belittling the experience and the struggle of the period.
“You won’t go on vacation because of your period, you change your wedding date, it goes everywhere with you and you are in so much pain. Women are hospitalized.”
Your work is often called feminist poetry. Do you identify with that label?
Definitely. I’ve identified myself as a feminist for as long as I can remember. Feminism is so interesting because people get so offended when people call themselves feminists, but they have no idea what feminism means. I’ve seen so many people debate between themselves, “I don’t think it should be called feminist poetry because it’s for everybody,” but I’m like, that’s what feminist poetry means, though, it is for everybody. We are including everybody, and that’s why it’s feminist, and it’s beautiful.–Rupi Kaur, Bust Magazine
You also work with photography, and you do the drawings you do for your poems as well. How do you see these mediums connecting?
I started drawing when I was four or five years old, so it was kind of my first love. I found writing later, in middle school, and by the time high school came around, I was drawing pictures and writing words on top of them. And then university came and I stopped drawing altogether and focused on writing. Then one day in 2013, I kind of felt guilty, like I was cheating on art. That was really the night that I was like, “How do I bring it back?” It was 4 a.m. and I couldn’t go to sleep until i figured out how to bring it back.
With photography, it’s a little bit different, but I’ve always been a visual person. The day after I self-published Milk and Honey, I woke up and I designed the cover of my second book, the photography and the color palette and all the visuals. I want to do more photography work. I don’t necessarily connect to words on top of photos, but if you look at the photos I post, it’s always in the captions. The words are like, “This is what I’m thinking in my head” and the photos are, “This is what I see in my head.”–Rupi Kaur, Bust Magazine
Milk and Honey reads like a very coherent whole. Did you write it that way?
Kind of, but without knowing it. When I first started writing, I was really dissecting rape and sexual abuse and domestic violence. That is and always has been what first got me into writing. So, when I first started to share my work, it was really those pieces. Honestly, I never thought I could write love poetry.
I was sharing my work on the internet, and then it was the readers who were like, “Hey, where can I purchase my book?” And I was like, “Oh, I guess I should do that then.” I printed out hundreds of pieces, and then I cut them all up and I laid them in little squares across my living room floor. And I was like, “How the heck am I going to organize this? What are the common patterns, what are the common themes?” and I came up with labels like “abuse” and “love” and “family,” and then I limited it down into four groups. I realized there was this one subject, who starts out as a child, and she goes through all of this and then she ends up healing.–Rupi Kaur, Bust Magazine
So much of what you write about is seen as young women’s topics. Do you get a negative response from men about your work?
No, actually. At most shows and readings, Toronto will probably have 75% women, but then I was in Washington, DC, and there were so many dudes. They’ll come up to me in line and go, “Thank you, you’ve helped me understand what it’s like to live in my sister’s shoes, my girlfriend’s shoes, my mom’s shoes.” There was one article that was written that said, “Rupi Kaur is the poet every woman needs to read,” and there were guys commenting that were like, “Yeah, we get it, that’s cool, but that’s preaching to the choir, she’s a poet that men need to read.” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s really true,” because these are issues that affect men, too. We all sit at the same table and we all want to move forward, and we’re not going to do that without the other.–Rupi Kaur, Bust Magazine
To purchase your copy of Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, click here.