Rupi Kaur was like a singing siren, captivating the youth at the Jaipur Literature Festival with her brutal honesty and poetry in a world where ‘being perfect’ is what most strive for, and where keeping quiet about your pain becomes an inescapable price. In the sincerest way, Rupi Kaur reminds, both adults and adolescents, of the power of sharing your heart with the world, even if it means to share the displeasing marks on it. Read on to glimpse at the magic of her honest words.
Last evening, I was a witness to something amazing.
The Front Lawn of JLF is customarily reserved for the Grand Poobahs of the literary world. These are usually some combination of the three: old, white or male. And the audiences that assemble to watch them similarly reflect the sort of monolithic approach to literature in general; that it must be the preserve of the academic, something to be considered at a remove from oneself, almost in a dry, analytical way.
All that changed when Rupi Kaur took to the Front Lawn stage to read from her poetry. The 25 year old Punjabi-Canadian poet is both celebrated and vilified in the literary community for popularizing the easy-to-digest genre of “Insta-poetry”, but if you were looking at the audience packed wall to wall for her session, most of them were teenage girls clutching copies of her best-seller books ‘the sun and her flowers’ and ‘milk and honey’, all eagerly hanging on every word that Rupi spoke in her breathy, sighing manner.
The fact that Rupi’s poems aren’t what you might typically call ‘poetic’, having neither form nor meter or even capitalisation, did not matter to that audience.
Rupi spoke to those girls in the audience in an intimately personal way, engaging them on topics that ranged from breakups to personal empowerment and even a sort of anthem to #MeToo, as in her poem ‘the art of growing up’,
let me see yours
there is nothing worth seeing here
but guilt and shame
i try to rot into the earth below my feet
but i am still standing 1 foot across from his hooked fingers
and when he charges to feast on my half moons
i bite into his forearm
and decide that i hate this body
that i must have done something terrible
to deserve it
In an age when traditional publishing is wringing its hands over how to boost sales, Rupi has tapped into the unspoken urgencies of young adults who just want to hear someone who talks to them, in the language of their peer group and about the subjects that matter most to their emerging adulthood. All this with the broadest of poetic metaphors, so that the words hit home stark and direct, and with some being a couple of lines each, easily committed to memory or texted via social media. In the audience, young girls screamed out page numbers of poems they wanted her to read, and when Rupi picked an audience member to come read with her on stage, the entire Front Lawns erupted in loud cheers and howls, more reminiscent of a rock concert than a staid literary event.
Afterwards, the line to sign her books stretched all the way across the width of the Front Lawns, so it was just as well that Rupi’s session was the last of the day. The lights were being switched off and still, people kept joining the queue, including girls who bought up 10 copies of her books to give to all their friends.
A bunch of schoolgirls, squealing with the kind of high-pitched energy I have only witnessed at One Direction concerts, exclaimed with great fervour, “She’s absolutely the best writer ya!” When someone in the audience asked her, “How do I write like you?”, she urged them to discover their own style of writing, rather than trying to imitate hers. And just as well, because Rupi’s imitators abound, which is to be expected given her simplistic style, and parodies of her work find expression in everything from social media to lyrical songs formatted to resemble her ‘aesthetic’.
Perhaps this is what it means to witness the birth of a new era. In an earlier session on the same day, there was talk of how newspaper editorials would condemn the music and style of the Beatles, wondering when they would cut their hair. It’s hard to picture a time when the Beatles were equally detested by the establishment, even though their contribution to music is now considered almost sacred, the Beatles themselves positioned as the holiest of the holy rock star icons. In the current age of teens seeking the ‘relatable’, Rupi Kaur has become the new patron saint of poets. Move over Shakespeare.
This article is written by Sharon Irani as a Correspondent for Dysco’s Jaipur Literature Festival Campaign, and has been edited by Dysco. Sharon is a full-time writer who’s passionate about poetry and has presented her writing at various literary events such as Kala Ghoda Festival, Celebrate Bandra Festival, etc. She is also an experienced dancer, aerialist and pole dancer. Being a literary enthusiast, Sharon follows the scent of books and stories, and attends literary festival all around. You can connect with Sharon via her Dysco profile, or you could also follow her on Instagram here.
The images used in this article have been sourced from external websites. The featured image is from New York Times, the second image is from http://www.atouchofstarlight.com/ and the final image is from https://rupikaur.com.