Rupi Kaur’s impact on the world is undeniable, and she’s only getting started. The India-born, Brampton-bred sensation has spearheaded the merging of poetry and pop culture, and has used her platform to help others look within themselves and blossom. Within just seven years, the 28-year-old has published three books, including Milk and Honey, The Sun and Her Flowers, and Homebody. She’s also been dubbed “Queen of the Instapoets,” thanks to the wildly popular poems she shares on her Instagram account, which boasts over 4.3 million followers. After selling over eight million copies of her works, Kaur is now starring in her own live-recorded special streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime. Rupi Kaur Live features live readings of her poems, and gives us a glorious hour to connect deeper with her, and with ourselves.
The special offers viewers the opportunity to relish her words, while seeing more sides of her charming and fun personality come out to play with the audience. Relating to Kaur’s poetry and being moved by her words is nothing new, as her healing words have been shared over and over again on social media and adored by millions of fans.
A rockstar in her own right, Kaur has proven once again that the journey of life is beautiful in all its guts and glory, and that dreams come true with effort and self-love. We caught up with Rupi to learn more about what went into making her dream of creating her very own special come to life.
Firstly, congratulations on such a stunning and moving piece of art. It was an honour to watch, and I was left feeling emotional, empowered, and most of all in awe of your light. It was clear you were having fun the entire time you were up there. How was this experience touring? And how was it different from your previous ones?
I was so confident about just accepting everything, all of it. If I did mess up a line I would just laugh about it, and that helped filming the special. This is four years in the making, it took years and years to make it, but when we did, it was perfect timing. I was ready for this. Connecting with readers is such a pleasure.
Why did you choose Los Angeles as the city you recorded the special in?
We chose L.A. because most of the crew is based in L.A. When we first started this project I was like, “Is anyone even going to work with me?” because we’re not used to watching poetry specials. I knew I wanted it on a major platform, but I knew it was going to be hard. We watch movies, TV shows, and stand-up comedy, but we’ve never seen a poetry special on a major platform. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but we approached our dream list of who we wanted to work with in terms of producers, directors, and stage designers. They said yes, which I still can’t believe. They were all based in L.A., and I do love performing there. I feel like my audience in L.A. is a lot of fun, and it kind of feels like my second home.
What was it like travelling around North America, and did you experience different dynamics with your audiences in different cities?
The energy is definitely different [in different cities]. D.C. is one of my favourite places to perform. They’re so loud and so much fun. I love a rowdy audience. People don’t know what to expect when they come to one of my shows because most of them haven’t been to a poetry reading or a performance before. So, they come in with a question mark, and then they’re shocked when people are rowdy and interrupting, and I’m like shouting back and we’re having a great time. I love that, because I can only give the energy that I get. Every city is different. Canada is a little quieter than the States for sure, but I slowly warm them up and then get them going [too].
Something that surprised me was that there were actually some stand-up comedy elements in the special too—you were cracking jokes throughout it, and keeping an uplifted mood.
What happens when I’m on stage is that I’m sharing such personal things about serious issues, like abuse, and things that are hard to talk about. I think my defence mechanism is to make light of the situation. It’s my way of balancing it out, because I don’t want people to come in and just be sad the entire time, I want to be like, yes these things are horrible, but we have a lot to celebrate too.
“I think that as I grow and change there will be other topics that will come up that I never expected to talk about. I think I’m most excited about creating the poetry that I will write at 80 years old.”
The set was a thing of wonder. How did that come to fruition?
I can’t take credit for [the set]. That’s all LeRoy Bennet, who is a stage designer. I came to him with a vision, I said look at these photos, this is how my set usually looks. My usual tour set is very simple, it’s me standing in the middle of the stage with a microphone, a stool, and a little halo of flower petals, and then projection going on in the background in a rectangle. I said [to LeRoy], “What are we going to do?” And he said, “I know what we’re doing, we’re going to give you a platform, and we’re going to build these giant petals and surround you with them.” He took what I was already doing and then amplified it by a million percent. Which was really cool, it was the set of my dreams, and super magical, and [colourful]. When I walked in the day we were filming and I saw it, I was speechless.
Your poem giving advice to your mother was deeply impactful for me. We had similar upbringings; I’m an immigrant from Iran who moved here at 3.5, and my mother fulfilled every role imaginable except being her own best friend. This piece brought me to tears, perhaps because of how relatable it was to my own life. As you were writing it, what emotions were you hoping to convey?
I feel like when I entered my twenties and published my first book, I was travelling all the time and reflecting on my relationship with them. I missed them and there was that guilt—the eldest immigrant daughter guilt. I just want to give them comfort, I want to spend time with them, but I’m also out here trying to live my life. All of those emotions, like the guilt and the anxiety and wanting to want more for them… Wanting your mom to be her own best friend, that’s what inspired all that poetry. There’s a whole chapter in my second and it’s just about the immigrant experience, and everything our parents give up to come here.
“I love my heritage, and I think it’s so important to celebrate it and to own it, because if you can’t celebrate those parts of yourself then how can you love all of yourself?”
You don’t shy away from any topics, whether it be depression, break ups, body image, the immigrant experience, love, and sex. As you journey on through life, what topics have been standing out more to you in recent days?
I think writing about depression and anxiety are definitely new ones that I wasn’t expecting to share. I write about everything, but after I’ve written a bunch of stuff I decide what I want to share with the world; what I want to publish, and what I don’t want to publish. Sometimes I’m not ready to share certain things, so I was surprised [when] I was ready to share pieces about mental health and really accept that part of my journey. I think for a really long time I felt ashamed about it, because I felt like people would just not believe it. You know, they’re just like, “She gets to do all these cool things, there’s no way she could be depressed,” which is literally what I thought, and why I was in denial for so long. But then I realized, no, I have to share because it was other people sharing their experiences that made me feel seen. [I realized] this was my truth and I had to share it. I think that as I grow and change there will be other topics that will come up that I never expected to talk about. I think I’m most excited about creating the poetry that I will write at 80 years old.
You mentioned having an “accent” in both your spoken languages. This was another thing I deeply related to, and I understand how it can be confusing for your identity growing up. Now that you stand secure in yourself, your identity, your art, and both cultures you were brought up in, how do you use this power of two worlds within your day to day life?
I think that now I’m able to see how blessed I am. I am so blessed to be able to live here because I think about what my life would have been like back home. I wouldn’t be this way at all, and here I get to be free, and I get to have access to the entire world. Also, I embrace my Punjabi side, and my Sikh community because I am because of them. I love my heritage, and I think it’s so important to celebrate it and to own it, because if you can’t celebrate those parts of yourself then how can you love all of yourself?
We’re eagerly looking forward to seeing what you do next. In addition to your books, you’ve created prints, writing prompt card decks, and more. Can you tell me a little about what we can expect next from you?
Well, now that the special is on Amazon Prime, I’m really looking forward to diving deeper into the film industry. So I’m doing a little bit of that, and you’ll see more to come. [There are also] definitely more books on the way… Sooner than people think.