the sun and her flowers is the second book of poetry from superstar and Instagram sensation Rupi Kaur, the Canadian poet, writer, illustrator, and performer who changed the modern landscape of poetry with her debut, the New York Times best selling in 2014. And like its predecessor, Kaur’s newest collection also explores big themes including loss and love and identity in a way that is heartfelt, relatable, and beautifully raw. The poems range in length from as short as one line to several pages, but the majority are in what has come to be Kaur’s signature style: short and uncomplicated lines that seem to say so much more in sum than the total of their parts.
The five sections of the book correspond with a poem that compares the process of personal growth to the life cycle of a flower. The poem is based on a lesson Kaur credits to her mother.
this is the recipe of life
said my mother
as she held me in her arms as i wept
think of those flowers you plant
in the garden each year
they will teach you
that people too
in order to bloom
Through those sections (“wilting,” “falling,” “rooting,” “rising,” and “blooming”) Kaur takes the reader along on what could be interpreted as an individual journey of loss and renewal, but because of the accessibility of her story, ends up being a testament to the universal resilience of the human heart. It is, in many ways, a unique echo of every beautiful death and resurrection story ever told.
In “wilting,” Kaur laments the loss of a love, writing shamelessly from her most vulnerable place. “i think my body knew you would not stay,” she admits. In the second section, “falling,” her focus moves from the outward loss of love to what is missing inward: “a lot of times/ we are angry at other people/ for not doing what we should have done for ourselves” she writes, and this is a journey that further extends into her past, her family, and her cultural identity in the third section. Kaur, who was born in India and emigrated with her parents to Canada when she was four years old, explores in “rooting” her own roots and the sacrifices her parents made for her family in moving. She writes, “my mother sacrificed her dreams / so i could dream.”
And dream she does. While Kaur is able to speak and often stun from her scars in a way that might make the average person blush, she has a way of doing so where she never comes across as weak. On the contrary, her quiet strength shines through even her darkest words, as she writes, “there is god in you / can you feel her dancing,” foreshadowing the rise she makes through the last two sections of the anthology, “rising” and “blooming.” In fact by “blooming,” Kaur is unapologetically in love with herself and her life and already thinking forward to the next cycle of life that will occur when she gives birth to her own children, perhaps best exemplified in this poem and its accompanying drawing, which Kaur signs as an “ode to raymond douillet’s a short tour and farewell”:
when my daughter is living in my belly
i will speak to her like
she’s already changed the world
she will walk out of me on a red carpet
fully equipped with the knowledge
that she’s capable of
anything she sets her mind to
It is a message that will resonate with anyone who has read through the sun and her flowers, because I suspect Kaur is not only speaking of her unborn daughter, but of the rebirth she is encouraging in each of her readers by laying bare her own.
Kaur herself is no stranger to scrutiny. Her style of poetry and perhaps even more so, her preferred medium of publishing it—Instagram—has garnered her a fair amount of literary criticism even as she amassed an enormous number of fans. Her writing is sometimes chided for being too Tumblr-esque, a ding on the very thing that makes her work as popular as it has become: its simplicity. In a nod to her mother tongue (Punjabi), Kaur avoids capitalization and the use of any punctuation other than the period. When paired with her ability to cut into the heart of a message in few words, her style does lend itself to poems that mimic in writing her accompanying drawings: short and simple lines, little embellishment, leaving much to be filled in by the reader. If a picture is worth a thousand words, Kaur’s are worth much less, but I think that is by design. After all, what is poetry if not a mechanism to allow the reader to see inside their own heart? Kaur’s easy to read poems and simple illustrations leave room for her fans to impart on the pages their own stories and, maybe, eventually, join Kaur’s baby girl on the red carpet, arms outstretched in their own personal rising.