By Kendall Silwonuk
On Tuesday, October 18th, the Lecture Fund partnered with the South Asian Society, Georgetown Women of Color, the Department of Women and Gender Studies, the Georgetown University India Initiative, and the BSFS Dean’s Undergraduate Fund to host poet and artist Rupi Kaur.
My copy of Kaur’s book, milk and honey, arrived the afternoon of the 18th, and I hurried up to my room to read it. This is not a book you can rush. The poems are intimate and brutally honest; there is so much to absorb from her very few words. The first chapter is about childhood and abuse; the second about love and sex; the third, loss and breakup; and the fourth, empowerment and self-love. Reading the book feels like reading Kaur’s diary and your own diary at the same time. It is emotional.
This is why I was a little surprised when Kaur stood in front of a few hundred students, in a small room in White Gravenor, and performed her poems out loud. She was able to speak these powerful topics more easily than I was able to read them in the privacy of my room. Kaur performed beautifully and confidently, even when speaking of rape, abuse, heartbreak, and orgasm. Her favorite chapter, she said, is the second, because it gets her in the most trouble. Kaur had no shame, and the strength she showed in publicly performing on these topics is something she claims to have learned from self-reflection.
That is a term which gets thrown around a lot at Georgetown, but I never have seen the effects of it so apparent. Rupi Kaur was only twenty one when this book was published in 2014. She related to students at the event as a peer would. Yet we admired her honesty, and asked her serious and important questions about race relations, womanhood, and love. How did this accomplished young woman display so much intelligence and confidence?
Kaur’s family immigrated to Canada from India when she was young. She writes of her parents, hard-working and supportive. She embraces her Punjabi heritage (it is the reason her book is written in lowercase letters). But she also writes of the negative aspects of her south Asian heritage: the frequency of female feticide, the teaching of conservatism to women, and the high rates of sexual violence. Kaur uses this history throughout her poems. She reflects on it, and this reflection allows her to embrace every part of her self.
Her fourth chapter is about this self love: “When being a woman has caused you so much trauma, you spend an entire project trying to own that again.” Kaur’s performance of this chapter focused on embracing every facet of womanhood, of ethnicity, of beauty, every aspect of ourselves, but also of others. She adamantly supports every woman, and encouraged the audience to love others in this same way. Kaur’s confidence seemed to grow from this acceptance and love of all other women. This is something all women can learn. She leaves readers with this poem from her collection:
i want to apologize to all the women
i have called pretty.
before i've called them intelligent or brave.
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you're born with
is the most you have to be proud of
when your spirit has crushed mountains
from now on i will say things like, you are resilient
or, you are extraordinary.
not because i don't think you're pretty.
but because you are so much more than that