In light of Rupi Kaur’s appearance at UW-Madison, I thought this was the perfect time to explore her newest collection, “the sun and her flowers.” An opportunity to dive into the world of poetry was not going to be passed up.
Her debut collection “milk and honey” liberated poetry from the archaism of convoluted subjects and strict meter. The fluidity of her style transforms the metaphors that encapsulate the struggle of life.
After self-publishing “milk and honey,” Kaur signed a two-book deal with publishing company Simon and Schuster. The long-awaited pseudo-sequel came Oct. 3, 2017. It is designed to be a more grown-up version that dives deeper into the complexity of human emotion.
“the sun and her flowers” touches on the various forms of love: “A vibrant and transcendent journey about growth and healing. Ancestry and honoring one’s roots. Expatriation and rising up to find a home within yourself.”
The themes center around love and loss, trauma and abuse, healing, femininity and the body. Certain topics of female infanticide, immigration and borders bring about the realization for Kaur’s mission: equality and love for all genders, races and backgrounds.
The origination for this titular collection arose from Kaur’s thought process on a difficult breakup. She disclosed, “We are all our own suns and flowers are the experiences and the people we got through in our entire lifetime, so the sun and her flowers.”
The stylization is similar to “milk and honey” by reflection of Kaur’s culture. This is done through the inclusion of Gurmukhi script, the use of only lower-case letters. She purposefully abstains from traditional punctuation to powerfully affirm each line.
There are a combination of short poems with longer narratives when recounting issues such as her parents’ broken English and its beauty or self-reclamation after sexual abuse. Her poems often lack titles and distinct boundaries between each piece; they can either be read as sequences or individually. The fluidity is an organic creation of poetry that is distinct from the formal constraints of the genre.
Originally, “the sun and her flowers” was intended to be a collection detailing the intricacies of unhealthy relationships and how toxic love distorts our view of the world. Due to the recent climate, Kaur was pulled to write about the political implications of diaspora and immigration. There is an evident shift from the repetition of love poems and healing shown in “milk and honey” to a distressed commentary on racial issues.
"Each section focuses on one thematic aspect that overarches the main message: a celebration of love in all its forms."
The book is split into five sections, designed to reflect the life cycle of flowers: “wilting,” “falling,” “rooting,” “rising” and “blooming.” Each section focuses on one thematic aspect that overarches the main message: a celebration of love in all its forms. Similar to the last collection, there are sketches and illustrations that are relevant to each flower cycle.
The first section, “wilting,” touches on the pervading distress of lost love and the struggle of waking up in bed alone. This is not simply lamentation of a breakup, but the affirmation of needing self-love. It demonstrates the early stages of a breakup and people getting in touch with their new selves.
In the poem “what love looks like,” she questions the definition of love and our unhealthy obsession with solely romantic affection. This is not a pitiful sob story but rather a candid expression of what it should be like. She writes, “i think love starts here/ everything else is just desire and projection.” Love is an act of giving: the love of selflessly hard-working parents or the fading love of a distant friend.
The arduous journey toward self-acceptance is not simplified or watered down, and the struggles of depression are disturbingly depicted. For example, “what draws you to her/ tell me what you like/ so I can practice” exposes a self-flagellating psyche. However, it’s crucial to note there is a defiant refusal to find validation in a lover’s approval.
The next section, “falling,” is the downfall of the first part with the overwhelming emotions of loneliness and sorrow. The focus is around the depressive feelings after a loss of an important relationship — that dark cloud which feels heavy.
The poem “depression is a shadow living in me” shows the evocation of dejection and utter hopelessness. It demonstrates the vivid imagery of a person trapped within their own thoughts.
“rooting” is the third section and shows a shift in its exploration of topics like female infanticide and immigration. This is the process of regaining strength and self-worth in life. The contemplation of life at its fullest and rumination. The soul is able to re-energize and begin again.
"it is a blessing/ to be the colour of the earth."
Rather than homogenize these experiences into collective trauma, Kaur focuses on the intimate moments of her mother’s longing for her native Punjab. This nuanced exploration of faces is shown through her guilt about her parents’ sacrifices and the desire to understand their cultural history, to have “pried their silence apart like a closed envelope.” This is not just grief, but a fierce pride of racial identity: “it is a blessing/ to be the colour of the earth.”
There is a demand for more representation in literature which is emphasized by her unapologetic poetic style that takes up space: “to be mouthy/ get as loud as we need/ to be heard.”
The fourth cycle is entitled “rising.” This is the transition into a more positive note after the sensation of being at rock bottom. It’s taking action and ascending from the lowest level. She notes this in the section’s first poem, “on the first day of love/ you wrapped me in the word special.” There is still love out there.
Kaur’s poem “celebration” illustrates nature’s creatures struggling through the blossoming process. There is an expression of hesitation to continue their lives. This hesitation connects with every person who has at one time in their life refused to turn the page and move on. In order to grow, people must leave behind the toxicity.
"You are able to realize that you do not need another person to be whole anymore. There is a recognition of self-worth and a lesson to love what matters most: yourself."
The collection ends on a note of pure hopefulness in “blooming.” This is the moment when the flower reaches full form and is able to stand alone. You are able to realize that you do not need another person to be whole anymore. There is a recognition of self-worth and a lesson to love what matters most: yourself.
Her first poem reads: “the universe took its time on you/ crafted you to offer the world/ something different from everyone else/ when you doubt/ how you were created/ you doubt an energy greater than us both — irreplaceable.” That last word truly resonates with you, because it is crucial to go through each cycle to get to where you are now. The blooming is the epitome of why you are here. You are worth it. This is the reward after all the pain and trauma.
Through the use of nature, Kaur expresses beauty and life by creating a sense of community in life’s inevitable pain. This collection of poetry has the capacity to mend and heal broken hearts. It proves the cliché that there is a light at the end of the tunnel by giving us hope when there seems to be none.
There is a significant departure from Kaur’s reputation as a mere Tumblr Girl to a voice of social justice. She is unafraid to speak her mind about taboo subjects and shows the unique power that her poems can hold.
Brevity is the soul of Instapoetry, as seen in her ability to condense our world into a short poem. Her words give a sense of relief by giving validation that pain is not a unique experience but something which is extremely relatable.
“the sun and her flowers” is candid, beautiful and succeeds in snagging the hearts of every reader. Kaur proves that feelings matter, and she understands the value of the human heart and the respect that a living, breathing, creating person deserves. The voice of her poetry provides a path of healing.
I encourage everyone to take time out of their day to give Rupi Kaur’s newest collection more than a cursory glance — I guarantee it will be worth it.
It’s the recipe of life.
Final Grade: A
Lauren Souza is the Daily Cardinal's literature columnist. To read more of her work, which includes a review of Rupi Kaur's "milk and honey," click here.