Rupi Kaur is not merely a modern poet. She is the modern woman. She is the mother, the daughter, the sister and friend. With a simultaneously haunted and exalted prose, she encompasses the tragedies and triumphs of the female experience.
This October, the 24 year-old writer published her second book of poems, The Sun and Her Flowers. Composed of five chapters, the book is paced to reflect the life cycle of a plant through constant revolutions of wilting and rebirth. The sunflowers that grace the cover are interwoven through the collection as an extended metaphor of the coexistent fragility and strength of human intimacy, whether with another person or with oneself.
Like her first book, Milk & Honey which was an instant bestseller and translated into over thirty different languages, Rupi’s new poetry centers around themes of love, self-care, abuse and grieving. The author writes vulnerably and unapologetically of her experiences, representing matters of her sex with a fresh and honest voice.
In the past, Kaur’s candor has earned her respect as well as provoked controversy. In 2015, her name swept headlines when Instagram took down a photograph of her bedsheets stained with menstrual blood. Outraged, Kaur responded that the social media site should be concerning themselves with the staggering amount of pornographic and objectifying photographs being published, rather than furthering the mystification of the natural process of female menstruation.
This event quickly established Kaur as a bold and unabashed activist for women’s rights and female empowerment. Like the photograph, her poetry is direct and compelling. It does not attempt to soften any lines or hold anything back for the sake of society’s baseless and outdated discretions.
Kaur’s language is honest and accessible and doesn’t work to overwhelm the reader with embellishments or convoluted analogies. Most of the poetry in the new book consists only of four or five lines, reading similarly to private devotionals intended to begin one’s day in quiet meditation. This effect is heavily influenced by Kaur’s childhood experiences of performing Sikh traditions in which holy texts are composed in poetic verse.
The brevity and the prayer-like nature of the poetry also caters to Kaur’s primary platform: social media. The poet has over one million followers on Instagram. Her most recent post from The Sun and Her Flowers begins: “you tell me / I am not like most girls / and learn to kiss me with your eyes closed.” The poem received over 100,000 likes and many comments along the likes of “this speaks to my soul.”
Kaur has endured a fair amount of criticism for being a so-called “instapoet.” Some claim her poetry is too consumer-driven and doesn’t pay enough respect to the literary tradition. Yet, she is clearly writing for the modern young woman, so why should she not reach out to them through their own forum?
Kaur’s poem titled “when it goes too soon” consists of three lines that read, “loving you was breathing / but that breath disappearing / before it filled my lungs.” These words were not written for the canon of English Poetry. They were written with the hopes of making someone, somewhere feel less alone in their pain. And for this, millions are grateful.