Writer Rupi Kaur on Pushing the Boundaries of Social Media

Best-selling Canadian poet Rupi Kaur is one of the hottest tickets at this year's Auckland Writers Festival

Poet Rupi Kaur is in Auckland this weekend at the Writers Festival. Picture / Supplied

From a contentious Instagram post to booming international literary recognition, Rupi Kaur is one of the hottest tickets at this year’s Auckland Writers Festival. Through her poetry, photography and illustrations, the writer creatively reframes the boundaries enforced on social media by embracing the role of womanhood and serving up a reminder to woman — and men — that the fertility cycle is a cue to be unselfconscious.

The Canadian’s work grapples with issues of femininity and resilience, love and loss, healing and the struggle of pulling through. Her self-published poetry book, milk and honey, was a New York Times’ bestseller and sold one million copies  her personal tales mingled with raw experiences capture what it means to be a young woman today. Rupi's next collection of prose, out later this year, will continue her trademark style of finding resolution in the tumult of life’s ups and downs.

Working under the modern appellation of an ‘Instapoet’, the accessibility of Rupi’s work is one of the keys to her success, but such prevalence isn’t without its struggles. One image, one tweet or one comment can spread like wildfire, as she discovered in March 2015 after she uploaded an image of herself to Instagram lying fully clothed in bed with a small crimson-red stain on the back seam of her trousers. The picture, taken as part of her ‘Period’ project for her visual rhetoric course at the University of Waterloo, was flagged as inappropriate and removed by the social media site. 

It was uploaded a second time — and removed once more. On March 25, 2015, it was restored by Instagram and has received over 97 thousand likes and over 15,000 comments. The company apologised, igniting a worldwide debate about the taboos that surround menstruation.

“When it first happened, I was so anxious,” Rupi explains. “When I started getting all the negative comments, I was pulled into this state of anxiety. Honestly, I went into a state of numbness. I didn’t feel like a person anymore. By the time the period thing calmed down I was at 200,000 [followers]. It comes with so much anxiety attached to it.”

“Being a writer, I started picking up on the language I was using to describe myself around this time [of her periods],” she says of the project. “I would be like 'I hate this' or 'I’m so unlucky' or 'why does this have to happen?'. Then in 2014, I started picking up on these habits. I realised that I needed to seriously start thinking positively about this process. I needed to learn to celebrate it and so, for me, the photo series was it.”

In the face of the social media censorship she’s experienced, is she hopeful that things will change? “I see it changing especially after what happened,” she says. “Instagram has been changing guidelines since then. It’s not just me, it’s all artists and thinkers and creators coming together. It’s like a domino effect. It’s one person but it’s a group of one persons coming together and making a difference."

• Rupi Kaur is part of the Auckland Writers Festival. Her milk and honey and pop-up events on Friday May 19 are sold out, but there are still tickets available to the Best of the Best: Spoken Word Showcase on Saturday May 20 ($20) at Ticketmaster.

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New Zealand Herald

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