rupi Kaur has gone from in­stapoet to hel­lafa­mous

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Last month, the Toronto poet Rupi Kaur was at New York Fash­ion Week, at a Pra­bal Gu­rung show, seated next to none other than Glo­ria Steinem. “It was ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble,” she said.

“She was telling me it was her first ever fash­ion show. I was like, ‘Well, me too.’” Kaur adds with a laugh: “Then I was like, ‘We’re do­ing a pretty OK job. We’re here, we’re front row and we look great!’”

The trendy Nepalese-amer­i­can de­signer had closed a show last fall with a black suit em­bla­zoned with one of Kaur’s lines — “our backs tell sto­ries no books have the spine to carry” — and the pair had kept in touch as Kaur’s fame ex­ploded. These days, it’s not out of the or­di­nary for Kaur to be an hon­oured guest at a glitzy pop cul­ture event or to find her­self hob­nob­bing with fem­i­nist icons. All of this is em­blem­atic of a new gen­er­a­tion of on­line po­ets, of which the 25-year-old is at the fore­front.

In­deed, the “In­stapoet” phe­nom­e­non ar­guably orig­i­nated with Kaur, whose 2014 de­but Milk and Honey spent a stag­ger- ing 70 weeks on the New York Times best­seller list, was trans­lated into 30 lan­guages and sold in ex­cess of two mil­lion copies, her pub­lisher con­firmed. Ac­cord­ing to Booknet Canada, po­etry sales in Canada jumped 79 per cent in 2016 and this can “al­most en­tirely be at­trib­uted” to Kaur. Her sec­ond col­lec­tion, The Sun and Her Flow­ers, was re­leased this week to much fan­fare.

Kaur’s stream­lined fem­i­nist of­fer­ings tackle sub­jects such as loss, trauma, vi­o­lence and sex­ual abuse. The line draw­ings that ac­com­pany her po­ems are raw, evoca­tive and ut­terly strik­ing.

Add to that, her tra­jec­tory is noth­ing short of re­mark­able. Kaur was born in India to a Pun­jabi-sikh fam­ily and moved to Canada at the age of four. Drawn to po­etry as a child, a com­mu­nity open mic night even­tu­ally in­tro­duced her to per­form­ing, which she did for sev­eral years be­fore re­al­iz­ing the medium was called spoken word.

Sev­eral years ago, Kaur — then a de­sign stu­dent — con­densed her po­ems, paired them with draw­ings, took them on­line and swiftly be­came an In­sta­gram sen­sa­tion. (At press time, she had 1.6 mil­lion fol­low­ers.) Kaur ini­tially self-pub­lished Milk and Honey; it did so well it was picked up by An­drews Mcmeel Pub­lish­ing and Si­mon & Schus­ter Canada.

Still, in spite of over­whelm­ing fame and for­tune, the Bramp­ton, Ont., na­tive says she bat­tles self­doubt. “There’s so much love,” she re­flects. “Why am I some­times only fo­cus­ing on that one per cent that’s not that much love?”

In fact, this ten­sion — be­tween so­cial me­dia celebrity and a some­times chilly re­cep­tion from the lit­er­ary es­tab­lish­ment — is at the heart of the In­sta­gram po­etry trend.

“There’s these two dif­fer­ent worlds and they don’t re­ally un­der­stand one an­other,” Kaur says. “Now peo­ple like me, and so many other artists across the world, are bridg­ing these two things and not wor­ry­ing about the gate­keep­ers of ei­ther form. That’s con­fus­ing for a lot of peo­ple.”

There’s no deny­ing that In­sta­gram has cre­ated a surge of in­ter­est in po­etry and many — inside and out­side lit­er­ary cir­cles — see that as a good thing. In a genre no­to­ri­ous for its slim read­er­ship and in­sanely broke au­thors, there’s now a pub­lish­ing ap­pa­ra­tus throw­ing its weight be­hind young tal­ent, hop­ing to discover the next Kaur. And a whole new gen­er­a­tion is get­ting in­tro­duced to the art form.

Dina Del Buc­chia, a Van­cou­ver poet and in­struc­tor in the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia’s cre­ative writ­ing depart­ment says the in­ter­net has dra­mat­i­cally widened the scope of voices in po­etry, once a bas­tion of straight white males. Kaur’s ex­am­ple, in par­tic­u­lar, has in­spired a whole lot of new peo­ple to ex­plore po­etry, pub­lish chap­books and start read­ing se­ries.

“Rupi Kaur is a best­selling poet,” she says. “When was the last time any­one could say that?”torstar

The bot­tom line is that it’s in­cred­i­ble to see po­etry hav­ing a resur­gence in our gen­er­a­tion. b.c.-born poet At­ti­cus


Rupi Kaur has spawned a new gen­er­a­tion of on­line po­ets.

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