A girl lies curled up on her side next to a yellow blanket, hair in a bun, facing away from the camera. The eye, however, is not drawn to the soft curves of her back or the gentleness of the sunlight streaming into the room, but to her grey sweatpants and her bedsheets, both stained with the red hue of menstrual blood. This was the Instagram picture that started an uprising and brought Canadian-Punjabi poet Rupi Kaur into the limelight.
When Instagram removed the image, deeming it “inappropriate,” it angered the young poet. Kaur re-posted the image and wrote in the caption: “I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be okay with a small leak [...] we menstruate and they see it as dirty. attention seeking. sick. a burden. as if this process is less natural than breathing. […] as if this process is not love. labour. life. selfless and strikingly beautiful.” Thousands of Instagram users flocked to Kaur in support. She did something few women have dared to do; she challenged those around her to rethink the stigma around menstruation.
Since then, Kaur has gained 2.5 million followers on Instagram and uses her social media platform to talk about not only love, sex, rejection and relationships, but also about abuse, beauty standards and racism. Born in Punjab, India and immigrating to Canada at the age of four, Rupi Kaur speaks out about the adversities she has overcome as an immigrant and Asian woman in her poems. Not only do her performances of her poems set her apart from other poets, but so do her illustrations that accompany each poem. Inspired by her mother, Rupi Kaur began painting and drawing at the young age of five. Art helped her transform herself and communicate with those around her despite her inability to speak English at the time. Kaur’s poems are brought to life and made memorable through these illustrations.
Because of the abundant support from her followers, Kaur has written and published Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers. Her first book, Milk and Honey, sold over three million copies and has been translated into 25 different languages, leading her to become a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author. Her second book, The Sun and Her Flowers, sold over a million copies within the first couple weeks and also topped the New York Times bestseller list. Her rapid success through social media has led her to become one of the most well known female poets of this generation.
Milk and Honey is divided into four chapters—The Hurting, The Loving, The Breaking and The Healing. Each chapter serves a different purpose and conveys different pains and heartaches, but ends with healing and rejuvenation. Readers often find shared experiences in Kaur’s words about violence, abuse, love, loss and femininity. Kaur ultimately steps outside the frame women are placed in through her poetry by speaking about subjects such as menstruation, natural hair growth and a woman’s true worth. In one of her most famous poems in Milk and Honey, Kaur reminds women that “the next time he points out/the hair on your legs is growing back/remind that boy/your body is not his home/he is a guest/warn him to never/outstep his welcome/again.”
Throughout 2017 and into 2018, Rupi Kaur toured worldwide to perform her poetry. Unlike other poets, she does not merely recite her poetry but breathes life into her poems through invigorating performances. When she initially started performing in Brampton, Ontario, where the crowd was filled with Punjabi people, she relayed in an interview with The Guardian that saw them as “very timid” and believed that “poetry and this form of expression is still kind of new [to them] and there’s a lot of hiding happening.” However, she highlights moments during shows that have pushed her to continue her tour: “When you see someone who looks like your mom there and she’s like ‘This puts so much of my pain into something that I can hold,’ that’s when I’m like ‘Okay, I’m doing something right,’ and I just want to keep doing it.”
Photo credit: Nabil Shash