We meet the ‘Instapoet’ in her New York hotel room about the struggle she endured writing ‘the sun and her flowers’ and getting emotional about her parents
In 2014 Rupi Kaur ushered in a new literary era. With her New York Times bestseller milk and honey, a collection of poetry and a manifesto of self-discovery, she broke up the long tradition of women of colour not being afforded space on the bookshelf.
All fans can remember where they were when first reading the book and almost all of them can pinpoint which life stage the book carried them through. For me, it acted as a point of reference that guided me through a depression; a periodic table of poems that offered guidance. milk and honey told the story of finding yourself, but her second book the sun and her flowers deals with the question we all ask ourselves: what’s next?
We met Rupi two days ago in her hotel room. Sick and exhausted from her performance the night before, she rolls out of bed, sits up, and we chat about the process of growth, representation and life.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO BOOKS
“I think the way I describe it, milk and honey is like a walk into yourself but the sun and her flowers is like a walk out into the world. I think after that walk inside yourself that feels so comfortable in milk and honey I thought ‘Oh I have it all figured out’ you know? But I think the sun and her flowers and all the different things that happen in that book taught me that nobody ever comes to a point where they have it figured out.”
ON THE WRITING PROCESS
“It was a lot different than the first. I love writing and it’s the thing that makes me most happiest and makes me feel closest to myself but I went into it with this concept of ‘OK, I have to write another book’, and it’s like the language I was using to talk about things I was doing was really self-destructive. ‘The Falling’ is about, literally everything that’s been happening for the last two years, like me just basically becoming my worst enemy and treating myself so awfully, and I did that throughout the sun and her flowers.
“There was the pressure of, ‘I have to not only write a book but also one that sells as many copies as milk and honey did but then also I have to be on the bestsellers list for like 75 weeks in a row” – Rupi Kaur
There was the pressure of, ‘I have to not only write a book but also one that sells as many copies as milk and honey did but then also I have to be on the bestsellers list for like 75 weeks in a row and if I do anything less than that then I don’t deserve this’. And it was like ‘Oh my god it’s going to be so embarrassing, all these people, and all these publishers.’ And I have such a wonderful team around me, I’d be letting them down, so that kind of pressure was very debilitating and I couldn’t even write for like weeks and months. Or I would write and I would be so hard on myself like ‘oh you got to write the most epic thing in the world.’
Then I would start and everything would stop, because when you go into it like that, you’re not allowing yourself to be free, so I had to really work on just telling myself: ‘Just keep writing it’s going to be shit and then you have to write that shittiness out really, and you’ll eventually get somewhere’. It’s like trusting something greater than yourself because the entire time, even up to the end of February this year, I was like ‘I can’t do it’.
WHAT IS MOST CRIPPLING FOR CREATIVES?
“This was like the first time I trusted something way larger and outside myself. There’s something so freeing about when no-one sees it, and when it’s not your career there’s this brilliance that happens and this freeness, and it’s so fun. And when it turns into your career I think you really have to work hard on maintaining a good balance and figuring out ‘OK what are the five, six, seven things I’m going to do to still feel free?’”
WHICH SECTIONS FELT MOST IMPACTFUL TO WRITE?
“The stuff about my family for sure. You know, I live away from my parents and I still have access to them when I’m in Toronto, we talk on the phone often, and I can go see them every weekend – we’re just really close like that which is super funny because we’re super close like that but we’ll never have any deep emotional conversations. When I was away from everyone for like four months, it was like ‘Oh my god I miss home but wait a minute I have an entire Ted talk about how I usually never get homesick, I’m a liar now!’
But I was really homesick because I was also reflecting on them, they’re getting older by the day and it was just so scary. I think it’s so weird that our relationship between parent and child is like the most intimate in the world, but we also never talk about it like that. We talk about love and heartache and all these other things that are so important. And also I think it’s so important now – I’m looking for movies and media and things I can see my parents in. I’m seeing my mom become a child because she’s growing older and getting sick so often.
“Our relationship between parent and child is like the most intimate in the world, but we also never talk about it like that. We talk about love and heartache” – Rupi Kaur
I come from a culture where we always stick together, like you just take care of your parents and when you get married, you stay, and you always take care of your parents. But we’re like the first generation that’s confused, we’re like ‘yeah that’s right and that’s what we should do and those are our values’ but also living in this Western world where capitalism doesn’t allow us the time, really, to give to them and the way we could back home. We don’t know how to really care and navigate and take care of them and us at the same time. And it’s a fear that my Dad totally has he’ll be like ‘oh you guys are just going to throw us in a home’.
That’s normal and acceptable for some, but for that specific community it’s terrifying. I think one time my sister was joking like ‘haha yeah’, totally joking, and he was traumatised and panicked like ‘Oh my god should we have saved money for ourselves instead of putting it toward their education, are we going to have to go back?’ And hearing them, when they talk like that it reminds me of when I was a teenager and life was slipping away and you just didn’t know what to make of it. And so writing that chapter was so great because having those photos and illustrations of my mom, and then realising that they’re going to be gone soon and there will never be a moment where I feel like ‘OK I spent enough time with you and I’m OK with you going’, but at least they’re immortalised in that way.”