“I Didn’t Want to Hear the Word Poetry.” Rupi Kaur on Life After milk & honey
This Week on the Talk Easy Podcast with Sam Fragoso
Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.
Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso is a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists, authors, and politicians. It’s a podcast where people sound like people. New episodes air every Sunday, distributed by Pushkin Industries.
In this conversation from 2022, our guest is poet Rupi Kaur. Ahead of her international tour (4:44), we sat to discuss her childhood in Canada (13:05), how she processes trauma through writing (22:13), her college photo series on menstruation that went viral (23:33), and the self-published poetry collection (milk & honey) that followed (29:20). In the aftermath of this unexpected attention, Rupi speaks candidly on the emotional toll of the last decade (30:43) and how she reckons with her critics today (32:35), before reading a poem written in response to their harassment (41:09).
On the back-half, Rupi describes her powerful connection to her heritage (42:41), understanding her mother’s sacrifices (43:15), which she recounts in Broken English (45:52), and the ways in which her work has evolved (54:08). To close, she performs two personal pieces from home body (56:17) and shares why she’s ready to get back on the stage, doing what she loves to do (58:43).
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From the episode:
Rupi Kaur: As I was writing Milk and Honey, I went from girl to woman through that book. Then, writing became a very scary and triggering thing. I couldn’t walk into bookstores. I didn’t want to hear the word “poetry.” I didn’t even want to hear the word “book.”
I was given two months to write the second book, and of course I did not meet that deadline. But then all of a sudden everyone’s like, “if you don’t hurry up and you take a break, you’re just here today, gone tomorrow.” This ambitious part of me—who self-published at 21—was like, “Wait a minute, I did work really hard, and I don’t want to be here today, gone tomorrow, so I have to keep doing it.” It’s a very hard balance.
Home Body, my third book, is about me trying to actually write the book that I need to write. Because The Sun and Her Flowers was the book that I thought the world wanted me to write.
Sam Fragoso: So, after pouring yourself onto the pages of Milk and Honey, this thing of writing that you fell in love with, that was your vessel to communicate all the complex emotions you couldn’t quite in your childhood, it got corrupted to the point where you had a physical response to the word “poetry”?
Rupi Kaur: Oh, yeah. It would make me sick. When I was writing that second book, I couldn’t digest food. The migraines were so bad for long periods of time. That was me trying to keep pushing it all down, just so I could make the deadline.
Part of me is glad that I did it, because if the deadline wasn’t there, perhaps I would have never done it. Because it is very difficult to write the second book—nobody told me that. The people I grew up with are all factory workers and people who work labor jobs. Nobody in my community could guide me or support me, so I was figuring it out alone.
Sam Fragoso: You’ve said before that Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers are for the 17-year-old Brown woman in Brampton, who’s not even thinking about the literary space—who’s just trying to live, survive, get through her day. And the girl who wrote Milk and Honey is not the same woman who wrote The Sun in Her Flowers and is not the person who wrote Home Body. So, I’m curious about how you’re thinking about the evolution of both you and the potential person reading the work you’re putting into the world?
Rupi Kaur: In Milk and Honey, the first one, I was just writing. And in the second one, The Sun and Her Flowers, I got confused about who I was writing for. Now, I feel very clear that I’ve always been writing for me, and it’s such a freeing thing to accept that.
I always used to wonder, what was the recipe of Milk and Honey? The recipe was that I was only writing for me. There’s such a freedom in that, because then the poetry just sort of comes by itself. When you are honest and you dig into the most vulnerable parts of you, that is the feeling that’s most universal.
A breakout literary phenomenon and #1 New York Times bestselling author, Rupi Kaur wrote, illustrated, and self-published her first poetry collection, milk and honey (2014). Next came its artistic siblings, the sun and her flowers (2017) and home body (2020), both debuting at #1 on bestseller lists across the world. These collections have sold over 11 million copies and have been translated into over 43 languages, with milk and honey surpassing Homer’s Odyssey as the best-selling poetry of all time. She was also regarded as “writer of the decade” by the New Republic and recognized on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. In 2022, Kaur released her fourth book, Healing Through Words, another bestseller and a journey of guided writing exercises to help readers explore their creativity.
Sam Fragoso is the host of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso, a weekly series of conversations with artists, activists, and politicians. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and NPR. After conducting seminal interviews with icons like Spike Lee, Werner Herzog, and Noam Chomsky, he independently founded Talk Easy in 2016.