bold | raw poet | authentic | performer | feminist | intensely personal | woman |
Early Years & Childhood
Rupi’s father was a truck driver, who brought his family to Canada from India when Rupi was four years old. They had to leave their home in Punjab to avoid the persecution of Sikhs in India. The first years in Canada weren’t easy and the family had to move around and live together in small spaces, until they finally settled down in Brampton, a neighbourhood in Toronto.
Growing up Rupi would find herself embarrassed whenever she was out with her mother because of her accent and tried to not to be seen with her. Today Rupi shares this story with her audience, not afraid of being fully honest about all sides of herself in her poetry and while on stage.
“With immigrant parents, they’ve had to sacrifice so much to survive, and they’re trying to preserve the culture they lost, so there are just so many boundaries”
There were arguments over cutting her hair, wearing t-shirts to class, going to the movies; Rupi Kaur recalls months-long fights to get what she wanted. As an adult, she realises what lay behind all the rules:
“A lot of Indian fathers don’t know how to show affection. My parents really do love me, even though my dad has never been able to say those words to me.”
During high school, when Rupi started writing poetry, she took on the artist name “Kaur”.
“Kaur is the name of every Sikh woman – brought in to eradicate the caste system in India – and I thought, wouldn’t it be empowering if a young Kaur saw her name in a book store?”
She says herself that she was shy as a child, coming from a strict Indian family with lots of rules. When she was in grade 12, she took all her courage and went on her first poetry slam, feeling empowered by performing her words in front of an audience.
After high school, her parents wanted Rupi to study science, but she resisted the pressure and studied Rhetoric and Professional Writing at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
Rupi self-published her first book Milk and Honey at 21, when she was still a University student, even though her professor told her that self-publishing a book full of poetry was not something she could succeed with.
Her poems are often short, some might call them simple, but Rupi herself doesn’t think that they are. She describes them as accessible.
“People will understand and they’ll feel it because it all just goes back to the human emotion. Sadness looks the same across all cultures, races, and communities. So does happiness and joy.”
The poems also have a recognisable style, as Rupi doesn’t use any uppercase letters in her writing. She takes inspiration from her mother tongue Punjabi, which is often written in Gurmukhi script. No upper or lowercase letter are used and all letters are treated the same. They also only use one punctuation, a period, which is represented through the following symbol: |
“I enjoy this symplicity. It’s symmetrical and straightforward. I also feel there is a level of equality this visuality brings to the work. A visual representation of what I want to see more of within the world: equallness.”
Her roots are a very important subject in her poems, especially in her second book The Sun and Her Flowers, where she dedicates a whole section to them. In Roots she is getting closer to the core of who she is, exploring and deepening her relationship with her South Asian Identity.
But she doesn’t solely write about her own experience, also about those of her friends, her family and other Asian women. She doesn’t want to see these stories go untold. Even though she is sometimes criticised about the content of her poems, Rupi knows that what she writes about is important to her and to all the people reading her poetry.
Her Asian heritage isn’t the only difficult subject Rupi talks about in her poems. In her latest book home body she talks about her own battle with anxiety and depression. It was released during the pandemic in November 2021.
While Instagram is one of her main platforms now, she didn’t gain recognition there through her words. In 2017 she posted a self portrait of herself with period stains. Instagram deleted this picture, but that didn’t silence Rupi. She is a very outspoken woman and uses her platform to talk openly about the subjects she is passionate about. Recently in the beginning of 2021, she was speaking up about farmers’ protest in her home country India. She also talks about the Sikh genocide. Not topic is a taboo for Rupi, because she wants to make a change.
“we have so much work to do. books to write. stories to document. and generations of women to lift to the mountaintops.”