By Jessica Valeny
Toronto-based author and poet Rupi Kaur was the featured guest speaker at Ryerson University this Tuesday to celebrate International Women’s Day.
The event was hosted by the Ryerson Sociology Students’ Union (RSSU) to raise proceeds for the South Asian Women Centre. The union chose Kaur as the event’s speaker because her work ties into the message behind International Women’s Day.
“Rupi Kaur speaks on intersectional feminism, women’s issues in general, immigration, love and healing,” said RSSU president Kristin Walcott-Dass. “Her subject matter is personal and speaks to the struggles many women face on a daily basis.”
Kaur’s appearance was so highly anticipated that tickets for the event were sold out online in two minutes according to Walcott-Dass. The talk was held in the Ted Rogers School of Management where a lecture hall of 500 people came to listen to her read excerpts from her book Milk and Honey, which was published in October 2015.
“It’s one of those books that just grabs you and rips you open,” says Sheena Ramsurn, a part-time student at Ryerson.
Kaur first thought of the title for her book when writing for an event in 2012 about the Sikh genocide of 1984. Milk and honey are often used in different religious texts. The combination represents equalizers, which drew Kaur to the title.
“I opened up a Word document and wrote it down,” she explained to the audience. “I knew it was going to be useful someday.”
The first poem read was a piece entitled “The Art of Growing,” in which Kaur discusses male tokenization of the female body and her experiences dealing with boys during puberty. She also brought up the topic of rape in her poem “Liberation” telling the story of a young woman driven into depression after experiencing assault.
“His actions should have never turned into your guilt,” she recites. “And I want to hold the coldest parts of her mind to remind her what warmness feels like.”
Poems about love, sex, break-ups, self-reflection and healing were also recited to the audience, who snapped their fingers in applause after each poem. Kaur even recited poems about menstruation and female body hair.
“It’s stuff that women are ashamed of,” says Ramsurn. “She brings those topics to the table, and she makes you feel comfortable and womanly. She makes you feel proud to be a woman.”
Kaur concluded her readings with a poem called “Broken English” where she talked about her parents leaving India to start a new life in Canada and the struggles they faced to build a new life.
“I think about the way my father pulled the family out of poverty without knowing what a vowel was,” she begins her poem. “And my mother raised four children without being able to construct a perfect sentence in English.”
For audience members like Naaj Karim, who visited Ryerson just to attend the event, Kaur’s pieces affect her readers so much because they’re easy to relate to.
“She’s a woman of colour, and there aren’t that many poets out there that are gaining a lot of traction from that diaspora,” says Karim. “Seeing somebody who looks like you be successful is really inspirational to me.”
The event ended with a meet-and-greet for Kaur’s fans to get copies of their book signed.
Correction: A previous version of this article, published online on March 10, incorrectly identified Sheena Ramsurn as Sheena Ramsum, and Naaj Karim as Naaj Nasim. The Eyeopener regrets these errors.