Rupi Kaur Wants To Give You Hope
In an exclusive interview with V, the artist discussed inspirations, online haters, and her upcoming poetry special, “Rupi Kaur Live.”
Standing alone at the center of an ample yellow flower-shaped stage, with a matching oval screen making up a halo behind her, Rupi Kaur looks, in one word, celestial. Barefoot, dressed in a long, flowy cream dress and adorned with golden jewelry (including a crown-like headpiece that enhances the heavenly air), the famed poet welcomes the audience in “Rupi Kaur Live,” her live special premiering this Friday – and that promises to give fans around the world a unique way of experiencing her work.
“I write [my poetry] to perform it,” Kaur said over a Zoom call from Toronto. “The books have been a blessing and an amazing experience. But the stage is really where I can make sure that the words come to life in the most amplified way possible.”
The live show is a theatrical mix of spoken word performances with music, humor, and a little touch of motivational speeches. Kaur presents poetry from her first two best-selling books, milk and honey (2014) and the sun and her flowers (2017), with the latter being the main inspiration for the set’s ethereal nature-driven aesthetics. “I’m inspired so much by love, the [ideas of] universe and nature in my community, within the Sikh culture,” she said. “There’s this concept of ‘God is nature,’ and so I’ve always been fascinated by the beauty of that, and using that as a teaching to really honor the Earth and the place where we are.”
For the uninitiated, Kaur’s work touches on themes such as femininity, trauma, abuse, mental health, and her experience growing up as an immigrant woman of color – she was born in Punjab, India, and moved to Canada with her family shortly before turning four. However, her live performance looks and feels the complete opposite of grim, with the poet throwing in jokes and quirky one-liners that result in waves of laughter from the audience.
“I think that I started to use humor to sort of balance it out because I’d be like, ‘I cannot believe that I just got on stage and said all of those things,’” she said. “I think it’s really important to talk about the tough things. But I always, always, always want to leave myself and my readers off with hope.”
The hour-long show was originally filmed at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles in late February 2020, just a couple of weeks before the pandemic turned the world as we knew it upside down. Some of the poetry presented at the event was later featured in Kaur’s book home body, published in November (and which debuted as a best-seller, naturally).
“I think all of us were all going through so much anxiety but then a month or two into it, things started to settle, I found my routine, and actually, within that stillness, I felt really empowered because I was writing,” she recalled. “I have so much FOMO when I have to lock myself up and write a book, but at this point, everyone was kind of experiencing that.”
Over a year later, the limited-time poetry special will finally be available for her fans and readers worldwide to enjoy for the modest fee of $15; for an additional $85, you can also take home an exclusive sweater, available in mustard and navy. But the path to the release wasn’t as straightforward as Kaur had hoped. She and her team spent around eight months pitching it to various streaming platforms and were turned down by all of them – a very familiar story to the author, who self-published milk and honey before it was picked up by Andrews McMeel Publishing in 2015.
“[The platforms] were like, ‘Well, we love it, but we don’t understand what genre this is and where it fits on our platform, we’ve never done anything like this before.’ And then immediately when we got that response I was like, ‘Alright, cool, so we’re doing it ourselves,’” she said. “It was such a déjà vu.”
At 28, Kaur has spent most of her adult life under online scrutiny. Her writing first gained popularity through platforms like Tumblr and Instagram, where she regularly shares her poetry with over four million followers (she’s recently joined TikTok, too). For years, she’s also been the subject of memes and overall surface-level criticism of her work – at one point in the live special, she even jokes about how it only takes one bad comment for her to spiral into self-doubt. But how does she deal with that kind of attention nowadays?
“No, oh my God, if I read comments, I would not have three books published and have this show releasing this Friday because it would just drive me insane,” she laughed. “What I realized very early is that I have no responsibility to interact and hold other people’s opinions of me. My responsibility is to focus on the artwork and that’s the journey I’m on.”
“Rupi Kaur Live” premieres Friday, April 30 at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT and will be accessible for 48 hours only. Tickets and information available at RupiKaur.com.