Author Rupi Kaur on Ignoring the “No One Will Marry You” Jibes

In an exclusive interview, the author of ‘milk and honey’ talks about unabashedly discussing sexuality, femininity.

Published29 Aug 2017, 08:47 AM IST
5 min read

For one whose book of poetry was rejected by all major publishers, Rupi Kaur’s labour of love, milk and honey, released in 2015, has spent over a year on the NYT bestsellers list. As the interest in her writing continues to grow unabated – not just in India, but across the world – this Canadian poet, writer and illustrator of Indian origin is ready with her latest book, the sun and her flowers, to be released on October 3 this year.

And while she wrote about love, loss, trauma, abuse, healing and femininity in her first book, she has explored the themes of self, family, and community in her second, in addition to many others.

A page from Rupi’s first book.
A page from Rupi’s first book.
(Photo Courtesy: Vani)

In an exclusive interview to Vani, a former business journalist and author of The Recession Groom, Rupi talked about her publishing journey and her upcoming book.

Excerpts from an email exchange between the two authors:

Vani: Congratulations on the stupendous success of your book, Rupi!

Rupi: Thank you! It’s a joy to talk.

Vani: What is the one reason you think your poetry has resonated with people across the world?

Rupi: I feel that within my work, I’m dissecting emotion and in doing so, there’s a tremendous amount of self-reflection. When a reader reads that reflection, it allows them to do the same. The work is also accessible and I’m writing in a form that I would like to read.

A page from <i>milk and honey</i>.
A page from milk and honey.
(Photo Courtesy: Vani)

Vani: Not the first time anyone has asked you this, but were you scared to express yourself so openly? Scared of your community or your parents or future in-laws?

Rupi: Yes. Before I began to put out my work, no one had ever seen that side of me. Even though that was me, I was quiet and kind of blended into a background.

I had years and years of people telling me, “No one is going to marry you if you do this or that.” But when I began to express myself, my mind went to – “Oh well, it’s out there... this is the real me – whatever happens, happens.” I think it’s important to know that while those trepidations exist and are natural, it’s vital to document and share our experiences – whatever the consequences might be.
A page from <i>milk and honey</i>.
A page from milk and honey.
(Photo Courtesy: Vani)

And I also feel that for so many younger authors and poets looking to put their work “out there”, the world can be extremely harsh. There will be a million detractors hoping to cut and tear at every word that is released. I think that scares so many young writers. So much of the room for error a young individual might need to grow into themselves is simply non-existent.

Vani: About your style of poetry – micro poetry, as we know it – was it a conscious effort because you probably understood that people don’t have a great attention span? Or is it just the way poetry comes to you, in short verses?

Rupi: Poetry comes to me in this way.

Growing up in a Sikh household, we’re imbued with poetry from the moment we are born. This poetry is sung through shabads and becomes ever-present in our lives. Our names come from poetry, when I get married it will be verse which rings in the ceremony and when I pass, it will be to the sounds of poetry once again. These experiences and the poetry and music of my youth became a source for my stylistic inspirations. Later, I would discover the work of contemporary and historical poets who wrote in a similar short verse that my inner minimalist gravitated towards.
A page from <i>milk and honey</i>.
A page from milk and honey.
(Photo Courtesy: Vani)

Vani: You self-published your book. Were you disappointed with the publishers and how they perceived the value of a book? Have your views changed over a period of time?

Rupi: I’m so glad I self-published initially. I mean, it was as much out of necessity as anything else.

There was no one willing to publish my work. There was no market for it. So, self-publishing enabled me to make the work I wanted to create. It was just me – so I had complete creative freedom and control! This creative control was most important. I didn’t want a publisher to come in and control the art. I wanted to design the cover. I wanted to lay the book out. It was my heart on paper. I wanted to pick the size, font and colours.

Years of study in visual rhetoric and design led me to fall in love with print and graphic art and I wanted to be involved in every part of that process. When I was eventually contacted by Andrews Mcmeel Publishing, they worked with the creative vision that was already there. They respected my work as a writer and an artist and I was extremely lucky to have a seamless transition into that world as well.

Vani: A few words about your latest book that releases on the 3rd of October, the sun and her flowers. What can the readers expect? Also, having dealt with love, loss, trauma, healing and femininity in milk and honey, what are the other themes that you are willing to explore?

A page from <i>milk and honey</i>.
A page from milk and honey.
(Photo Courtesy: Vani)

Rupi: I’m so excited for the sun and her flowers to be out there! I feel like it is a sibling to milk and honey. It’s taken so much work. Years of writing and editing and creating. I think there’s been a natural growth in my writing which I’m excited about and I’ve been able to delve deeper not only in the themes of milk and honey, but also begin to explore themes of love, self, family, and community.

I also speak a bit about my mother and her journey. Also, of the immigrant experiences and the rooting of yourself in a space. At its heart, it is the story of a young girl trying to find her way. The loss of a love, the loss of your own love. The rooting of oneself within a place. The search for hope. The blossoming of an empowering love.

Vani: A few words for young writers out there…

Rupi: Write. Write and Write. And when and if you’re ready, let the world know of the beautiful thoughts of your beautiful mind. Also, always create for yourself.

(Vani has worked as a business journalist and is the author of ‘The Recession Groom’. She can be reached @Vani_Author)

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