The Poetry of Rupi Kaur

There’s a poet that always inspires me; she has grace and eloquence, rawness and authenticity. Her name is Rupi Kaur. I first encountered Rupi through a controversial post a few years back. She had posted a picture of herself lying on her bed, and a spot of blood was visible on her backside as well as on her bed sheets. She had posted the picture on Instagram, with a description of her reasoning, saying that “my womb is home to the divine”. Instagram deleted the picture, saying that it violated their policies, but then after a huge backlash, it reversed its decision and permitted it.

I started reading Rupi’s poetry on Facebook, and fell madly in love. She truly has a gift with words – so true and straight from the heart and clearly from personal experience, from deeply held feelings that she courageously shares with the world. Rupi has suffered from sexual abuse, a lot of heartbreak, yet has also experienced a lot of joy and inner awakening, which shines through in her writing.

Now that she is super famous, I always forget that she is Canadian! Born in Punjab, her family eventually moved to Brampton, and she now lives in Toronto. And she even attended the same university as I did – the University of Waterloo! She did an arts major there, and it was actually her fourth year project that inspired the Instagram post.

The only person I know that loves her as much as I do is my friend Melinda. Over the years we have exchanged texts with her words, with cheesy responses like “YESSSS” and “so soulful”. When I discovered that Rupi would be reading her poetry at the Reference Library in T.O., I instantly messaged Melinda and asked if she was free. She couldn’t make it, but I took both of our copies of Milk and Honey, and went to get them signed.

When I first arrived, it was to a packed house. The most packed house I’d ever seen at the Reference Library. She was reading one of my favourite poems of hers.

Ahhhhh I could listen to those words over and over. Here they are in written form:

I do not want to have you
to fill the empty parts of me
I want to be full on my own
I want to feel so complete
I could light a whole city
and then
I want to have you
’cause the two of
us combined
could set
it on fire
— Rupi Kaur

As the reading was coming to an end, I saw a line forming and realized that it was for her book signing. I jumped into line, and I’m glad I did because it eventually grew and grew and winded around the entire first floor of the library. People waited for hours!

When I got to the front, Rupi greeted me with a beautiful smile and asked how I was doing and then signed my book with a personalized message. She was very warm, and I’m not sure how she managed to stay so calm and happy while signing literally hundreds of books. There are certain people that bring their full presence to whoever they come in contact with. It’s truly a gift.

Meeting Rupi Kaur, Toronto Reference Library, April 2016

Here are a few of my other favourite poems of hers:

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Some poets have been angered by Rupi’s success, possibly out of jealousy, but also because they think that the skill required for her type of work is not as involved, or as technical as ‘real poetry’. But that’s the thing about poetry — the best stuff comes from the heart yet is somehow also technically flawless – it has that magical quality that you can’t put your finger on. Although it can definitely be emulated. There are many poets now that use the same style, and they become instant hits on Instagram and get thousands of likes.

As for me, I’m not totally sure about my style yet – sometimes I use rhyme, sometimes prose, and sometimes I try and emulate a poet that inspires me, while bringing my own style to to the mix. Maybe one day I will also read to a packed house! ;-)

Let’s Talk

I just got home from Chapters – I spent the afternoon there reading. I have exactly three weeks before my next book club meeting on the 21st, and my goal is to read the whole book at Chapters (can’t buy them all!). The book selection for this month is “Stay With Me” by Ayobami Adebayo. It’s set in Nigeria and it’s about the consequences of wanting to have a child at any cost, and touches on the themes of betrayal, jealousy, and insanity.

What I look forward to most about Chapters is getting my tea/latte and a treat. Today I had an English breakfast tea and a Valentine’s Day heart cookie. The barista informed me that I had been missing out on free refills! I didn’t realize that with my gold card, I can get free refills on tea. She was really nice and gave me a couple tea bags to go.

Here are a few of my pics from the day:

While at I was sipping my tea, I read one of my favourite blogs, written by my old writing teacher, Beth Kaplan. She’s in New York City right now, where she is going to deliver a talk, and is touring the city and taking in its wonders. I love her writing style – she is so honest and funny, and not afraid to write about the rough parts. I especially love her commentary on Donald Trump, who (like most of us), she absolutely detests. Here is what she wrote about him today:

Another great thing was that we completely missed the State of the Union address by the orange blowhole.
– Beth Kaplan

Lol! The orange blowhole. I know exactly how she feels. I tried watching the State of the Union address yesterday, just to be informed, but couldn’t get through even five minutes of it – it’s like nails on a chalkboard. On a funnier note, why is he obsessed with celebrities these days? One of his latest tweets was directed at Jay-Z, and he said “Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!”.  Hopefully this is true, although even if it is, can it really be attributed to his policies? There is a big difference between correlation and causation (but that is a topic for another day).

While I was reading at the shared table near the back of the store, I met a woman named Alice who was very chatty and sweet. She said “When I was 80, ….”  Huh?! I couldn’t believe she was actually starting a sentence with “When I was 80”.  She didn’t look a day over seventy. Alice told me that she moved to Ottawa from Victoria Island over ten years ago, and loves it here because everyone is so friendly. She lives close by to Chapters, and comes often to read and meet new people. I hope I run into her again!

My Dad picked me up after a few hours, and we dropped off some books at the library before heading home. The roads were incredibly slippery and snowy – and when I got home I stepped into what must have been at least three inches of snow! It was beautiful. I had to resist jumping in it and making snow angels. Overall a fun excursion!

Hmmm what else is new with me? There are many things on my mind these days, some of which I’ll fill you in on in the near future (just send me your positive vibes in the meantime – there is something I am hoping for and the wait is killing me!).

Today is Bell Lets Talk Day, which was created to raise awareness about mental health and to stimulate conversation, reduce stigma, and improve dialogue. For every tweet or text that uses #BellLetsTalk, Bell donates 5 cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. It’s around 7 PM right now, and the website shows that there has been over 100 million interactions today (so that is a total of $5 million dollars – wow!). I talked to my friend Mandeep on the phone earlier, and we were discussing the importance of ‘talking’ – not just texting and tweeting and giving the elevator pitch on mental health, but actually striking conversations with strangers, and being friendly, open, and compassionate. I am always amazed that how in Toronto, a city of over 3 million people, it is possible to still feel lonely. No one that is surrounded by that many people should ever feel lonely!

Speaking of isolating experiences, this morning my sister sent me a video about a hypnosis experiment conducted in Netherlands that simulates the experience of being a refugee. In particular, it follows the journey of a female refugee and all that she endured in escaping her country. It was pretty tough watching it and seeing these ordinary people have to endure the torture of this plight, but it helps knowing that they will be relieved of their hardship in only a few minutes. The end of the video is very touching – definitely worth a watch if you have the time:

Well that’s all I have for now, will write some more soon I’m sure!

Hope you all have a great evening!

Books I Read and Loved in 2017

Here are the Top 10 books I read and loved in 2017! It was a wonderful year for reading, with lots of memorable stories, twists and turns, and inspiring prose.

1. The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin – I initially chose this book for my Toronto book club, long before it became a bestseller. I was intrigued after reading the first few pages at Chapters; at the time I thought that it was some type of dramatic romance novel. When I eventually got further into it, I was amazed to discover that it was actually about reincarnation and past lives. The three main characters, Janie, her son Noah, and psychiatrist Dr. Jerome Anderson are on a journey to uncover what is haunting young Noah, and to help prove the truth about reincarnation. The story is a page-turner, and makes you think about your own beliefs and encounters with the paranormal. I read this book mostly on my phone, nestled in my bed late at night.

2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – This startling memoir describes a man’s end of life journey with terminal lung cancer. I first read an excerpt from Paul’s book in a famous article, which included a poignant letter to his daughter. My friends got me this book as part of a care package before I moved to Ottawa. Reading about Paul’s gruelling days while his body was wracked with pain is astounding – I have no idea how he did it, other than that he was so immersed in his work that he literally forgot himself. Kalinithi writes: Every morning at 5:30, as the alarm clock goes off, and my dead body awakes, my wife asleep next to me, I think again to myself: ‘I can’t go on.’ And a minute later, I am in my scrubs, heading to the operating room, alive: ‘I’ll go on.’ I read this book mostly on my phone, while travelling with my Mom to a wedding in Boston. It’s a story that will stay with me for a long time.

3. The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami  This is a really beautiful book. It’s written as if the author is an artist painting a beautiful landscape. It’s about a man named Sripathi Rao, who undergoes a huge life shift when he discovers that his eldest daughter has been killed in a car accident, and him and his wife must care for their granddaughter Nandana, who arrives from Vancouver to Sripathi’s home in Toturpram, India, shy and scared. The characters in this book are memorable – Sripathi himself, his cantankerous mother, his loyal yet fed-up wife, and his son, who is a source of disappointment in his life. I first heard of this book when I attended the taping of Canada Reads at the CBC studios in Toronto, and watched in awe as actor Vinay Virmani defended it (it ended up losing out to Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal).

4. A Space Between by Ranjita Ghosh  Oh my ghosh this book was good. Haha, see what I did there. It’s not every day that you get a read a book written by a friend. This amazing book is a tale of romance, conflict, and the impacts of breaking societal norms, with a shocking twist. Daniel falls for Aahna, an Indian girl who works as a cleaner at his company in India. They fall in love but it is forbidden by society and their families. I read this book mostly at the kitchen table at home in Kanata, while having tea or eating breakfast. Being rebellious by nature myself, I found myself getting irritated every time that Daniel and Aahna ‘couldn’t’ do something because it was forbidden, and also very impressed by their courage to risk everything for true love. The twist made my jaw drop, and added to the depth of the story – it’s at this point that the story became a real page-turner for me; I couldn’t wait to find out how it ended! I was inspired not only by the story itself, but also how Ranjita found the time to write it, given her busy schedule! Definitely a sign that anything is possible.

5. The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh – This is a book for all of us math geeks and nerds, especially those that are fans of the Simpsons. Did you know that all the writers on the Simpsons are mathematical geniuses? Many of them chose a career of comedy writing over a path of academia. It’s because of this you will find hidden references to mathematics throughout episodes of the Simpsons, from Bart’s calculus equation in his first class at a private school, to Maggie’s blocks spelling out E = mc². I learned so many cool math tidbits in this book, many of which I shared with my students. The author, Simon Singh, manages to take us on an intriguing mathematical journey, with humour, insight, and creativity. You definitely don’t need to be a math whiz to enjoy this book.

6. The Buddha in Brooklyn by Martha Sherrill  I discovered this book in the Religion section of the Toronto Reference Library (a place that brings me great peace). I sunk into it immediately. It’s written as part journalism and part biography. Martha Sherrill follows the unlikely path of Jetsunma, a Jewish-Italian woman from Brooklyn who becomes a Bodhisattva after a high-ranking lama sees divinity and great leadership potential in her. In what begins as a journey to document the building of a stupa, Martha discovers shocking secrets about Jetsunma and how she treats those that believe in her. This book is well-written, informative, and provides an in-depth portrait of a complex person who in desperately seeking perfection, which paradoxically heightens her flaws.

7. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh  I read this book for my Ottawa book club. It is written by Clare Mackintosh, a former police officer who was greatly moved by a case in England where a child was killed in a hit-and-run accident. She used that incident as a basis for this fictional novel. The main character, Jenna Gray, is harbouring an awful secret, and hopes to rebuild her life anew in another town. Yet the memories of the accident cannot stop playing through her mind. I want to fix an image of him in my head, but all I can see when I close my eyes is his body, still and lifeless in my arms. I let him go, and I will never forgive myself for that”. Meanwhile, two police officers are investigating the case, and will stop at nothing to uncover the person responsible. The book touches on themes of mystery, betrayal, domestic abuse, and the quest to uncover the truth. Highly recommended.

8. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce  It’s a good thing I don’t list these books in order because this one might’ve been my favourite. Harold Fry is on a journey to save his friend Queenie, and he is going to do it by walking from his home in Queensbridge to her hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I read this in the summertime, mostly at home and outside near the Beaver Pond. One afternoon, I sat on a bench at a park and a man walking his dog saw me reading and said “that’s something I always want to do but I never get a chance to. Enjoy.” Another lady smiled and said “Good for you”. So friendly and nice!! Harold’s journey starts out as a one-man show, but eventually it becomes much larger than he anticipated. It is up to him to remember why he started and not get carried away by all the fanfare. One of the best parts of this book is Harold’s relationship with his wife, and how they both discover how much they mean to one another.

9. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh  I read this book in the fall, and it lingers with me still. It is about Victoria, a broken girl in the foster care system, who is trying to find purpose in her life through her love of flowers. Sometimes the flowers say things that are trapped inside of her, and at other times the flowers allow her to communicate with others, and say more than she could ever say in words. The book could be frustrating at times, because, as one reviewer put it, you continually find yourself wanting to shake Victoria and say, “Why can’t you just let yourself be happy?”  Time and again, she lets love slip because she feels unworthy. The book is extremely well-written, emotional, and beautiful.

10. The Girl With Seven Names by Hyenseo Lee – This book was selected as the November read for my Ottawa book club. I literally could not put it down. It’s a book about a girl who escapes North Korea and goes on a long, arduous path to reunite with her family and find her identity in a new country. We had a lively book club discussion about this book, and wondered how one person could possibly endure so much, and if she feels as though the pain was all worth it in the end. I posted a picture of all of us from the book club, and it was so cool when Hyenseo herself came across the photo on Instagram and liked my picture! (yep I am easily excited). Hyenseo Lee (her seventh name) is now a human rights advocate and has given one of the most-watched TED talks of all time. This book shook me to my core. It was equal parts inspiring, tormenting, and riveting. I highly recommend it.

Notable Mentions

  • Ruling Your World – Sakyong Mipham
  • Brain Rules – John Medina
  • Save Me – Kristyn Kusek Lewis
  • Proof of Heaven – Eben Alexander
  • The Path of the Dreamhealer – Adam McLeod
  • Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff