By: Patricja Okuniewska
Photos by: Julia Hyacinthe
Poetry has come a long way since its days of domination by old, white men. In the 21st century, the literary form has become a haven for all sorts of previously overlooked demographics, including women and people of color. Rupi Kaur, a Canadian poet of Indian descent, has settled comfortably within the genre’s extensive cannon, but has done so in a rather unconventional way.
Kaur, now 24 years old, drastically rose in popularity after her first collection of self-published poetry milk and honey debuted in 2014. The 200 short poems deal with deeply personal topics Kaur herself has struggled with, including loss and trauma. Her second collection titled the sun and her flowers was published a few weeks ago, and fans of the poet were anxiously awaiting its release, hoping for more succinct, relatable content.
A large portion of Kaur’s fame stems from her savvy use of social media to boost her recognizability. In fact, she first shared her work on Tumblr. Now she boasts nearly 1.7 million followers on Instagram—a true feat for any writer—and often posts portions of her poems accompanied by drawn line art to her social media accounts. The brevity of the poems is perfectly suited for social media platforms; they’re just short enough to pique people’s interest as they scroll endlessly through their feeds. In this way, Kaur is a quintessential millennial poet and her popularity (along with others who use technology as a primary means of branding) has the world questioning if this is the future of poetry. While some praise her work for its universality in addressing themes related to the female experience and trauma, others deem her work shallow, lacking talent, and only popular due to its online virality.
Kaur herself has defended her work in light of these criticisms, claiming it is raw and authentic. She has expressed her desire to speak for South Asian womanhood as an immigrant, Punjabi-Sikh woman herself, but has also conveniently left her poems general enough for all audiences—including white, Western ones—to identify with. Her sharing of work on social media in small bits and snippets has become a marketably smart way to tap into these vastly different audiences.
Kaur has used this same tactic to promote the sun and her flowers, teasing readers with sections here and there from the collection in the weeks leading up to its publication. The posts receive up to 100,000 likes and the comment section is littered with praise for Kaur’s ability to verbalize the feelings readers could never find words for. She is ushering in a new wave of millennial writers, of those who have direct access to their audience and their unfiltered thoughts. If you want to get your message out, why not just Instagram it? Kaur isn’t responsible for this trend nor did she start it. She is simply building on the tradition of willingness to experiment with medium, to question whether literature can really consist of clean, safe sentences and be confined within a page.