1. how did you self publish?
2. how did you find a publisher willing to take milk and honey on?
3. when did you get started in writing poetry?
4. why did you start writing?
5. why do you only use lowercase and periods in your poetry?
6. where did the title of your book ‘milk and honey’ come from?
7. where did milk and honey begin?
8. what prompted you to write about sexuality and abuse?
1. how did you self publish?
after writing poetry for years i knew i wanted to see my work published in literary spaces. so i began to figure out how. i took courses. i was in writing workshops- that whole deal. i asked a creative writing professor once how to get published but i was told it was too difficult. poetry basically never got published. i was better off spending my time submitting pieces to literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. when i asked about the self publishing route- i was told no: to surpass the gatekeeper would be looked down upon by my literary peers.
and so i began to pick and choose from my collection- submit individual pieces to anthologies, magazines, and journals, and it was just rejection after rejection. however i came upon this realization in the middle of picking and choosing which pieces to submit. it felt like i was cheating on my work- i was doing a disservice to the entire body of work by plucking an eyelash there and a nail there. i realized that my writing- all the dozens of poem together were themselves one poem. All the parts/poems came together to make one body. to pick off pieces wasn’t right. the reader would only fully understand the emotion of it if they read all the pieces in the order i had put them in. and that’s when i got set on self publishing.
in november 2014 i self published using amazon’s createspace platform. it gave me full creative control. it didn’t occur to me to even reach out to publishers to submit unsolicited manuscripts because of years of being told “there was no market for my poetry”. creative control was most important. i didn’t want a publisher to come in and control the art. i wanted to design the cover. i wanted to lay the book out. it was my heart on paper. i wanted to pick the size. font. and colours. years of study in visual rhetoric and design lead me to fall in love with print and graphic art.
once the collection was complete the entire process took about a month to a month and a half to set up. i signed up for a createspace account. downloaded the instructions pdf which was really easy to understand and began to go through the task list. i didn’t have the money to pay someone else to market or lay out the pages. so I learnt it myself.
i youtube’d “how to lay out a book in adobe indesign”. and began. i would lay it out. start over cause i’d decide i wanted a diff book size. spent 72 hours on 6 hours sleep to do 50 illustrations at one point. submit the book into the system. ordered the proof copy.
it arrived and i hated it.
back to the drawing board. i resized the entire cover and book again. it took a week. i submitted. ordered. it came back and the size was perfect. then i decided something was missing from the cover. i added the bees. submitted. ordered. approved. put it out online.
i was very blessed and fortunate to have a publisher contact me 4-5 months into the self published process. they got in touch through email and told me they wanted to take on publishing milk and honey. we spent a few months working out the kinks of the contract and a year later the book was re-released.
i was a big reader growing up but didn’t begin writing seriously until middle school. at first it was essays. i won an essay and speech competition in grade 7 and i see that as my first performance. me- a shy introverted bullied 12 year old now standing in front of a hundred students reading my work out loud and accepting an award. It was my first step toward becoming the person I always wanted to be.
i was writing birthday poems for friends and love poetry for crushes. I took journal writing very seriously. this carried on until highschool where i began to pair my visual art with my writing. i’d been drawing since I was 5 so this was the first time I began to pair the two forms of expression.
in 2010 or 2011 i published all of my highschool work on a blog. it was my first year in university. i went through many many blogs. a few of them quite embarrassing until i landed on something i liked in 2013. i had the courage to use my own name this time rather than a pseudonym.
i made a rupi kaur tumblr and began posting my writing from throughout the years. in 2014 after feeling quite sad that i had stopped practicing visual art for the past few years i decided i needed to figure out how to mix it in with the poetry. i had to bring it back. and so looking at my highschool work i realized i had always been mixing art and words. and so the idea of the simple line illustrations came to life and i went that route.
our trauma escapes the confines of our own times. we’re not just healing from what’s been inflicted onto us as children. my experiences have happened to my mother and her mother and her mother before that. it is generations of pain embedded into our souls.
i read hundreds of books growing up. but none can explain this torment to me. i need access to words written by people who look like me writing about the things i am going through. at that moment i realize the importance of representation and know this must be different for my children. they must have access to their own literature. i write to document we were here.
although i can read and understand my mother tongue (punjabi) i do not have the skillset to write poetry in it. to write punjabi means to use gurmukhi script. and within this script there are no uppercase or lowercase letters. all letters are treated the same. i enjoy how simple that is. how symmetrical and how absolutely straightforward. i also feel there is a level of equality this visuality brings to the work. a visual representation of what i want to see more of within the world: equalness.
and the only punctuation that exists within gurmukhi script is a period. which is represented through the following symbol: |
so in order to preserve these small details of my mother language I include them within this language. no case distinction and only periods. a world within a world. which is what i am as an immigrant. as a diasporic punjabi sikh woman. it is less about breaking the rules of english (although that’s pretty fun) but more about tying in my own history and heritage within my work.
years ago i wrote a poem about the 1984 genocide of sikhs in india. in it there is a line about the women who lived through that terrible time. their resilience is breathtaking. they are the enduring survivors to the murders of their husbands and children. the survivors of betrayal. rape. torture. i write that they come out of that terror as smooth as milk and as thick as honey. i performed that piece around my hometown. but it didn’t feel right in my heart to leave those words right there. in the confines of a single line in a single poem. that day a higher power was at play because i opened up a brand new journal and on the front page wrote those words. something inside me said ‘this will be more one day’. and here we are. this is how the title ‘milk and honey’ is born.
i later discovered that ‘milk and honey’ was also used in a lot of poetry by baba farid. it was mentioned in many religious texts across the world. not only this but both milk and honey were ingredients used in my family and community as healing tools. they were used as cold and flu medicine’s. tools to heal wounds. repair the insides.
i like to think milk and honey began the day i was born. the reason for this is that i take from my lifelong experiences for this collection. i take from a lot of pain i’ve experienced or my family has experienced. Or my community has experienced. Or the larger South Asian community and diaspora. an example of this is in the opening of my foreword:
“in 1992 i am born in a village called munak kalan in the state of punjab. right below kashmir in northern india. the month of october. barsaat—monsoon season.
accompanying my mother to the hospital is a long row of relatives. grandparents aunts sisters uncles brothers. missing from this bouquet of flowering faces is my father. he is at a friend’s apartment in delhi preparing to flee for canada as a refugee.
for my father opportunity and time align a month after i am born. he takes his chance. knowing if he does not leave now he will end up imprisoned like his friends. tortured. dead. or perhaps all three in that same sequence. for the sake of survival my family becomes a footnote in history. one of those tens of thousands of punjabi sikhs fleeing punjab because of genocide.”
by the time i am born i have already survived the first battle of my life. against female feticide. i am one of the lucky ones who has been allowed to live while millions of other girls are killed at or before birth. simply for being born girls.
our bodies are not our property. we are told we must be conservative. a good south asian girl is quiet. does as she is told. sex does not belong to her. it is something that happens to her on her wedding night. it is for him.
we know sexual violence intimately. we experience alarming rates of rape. from thousands of years of shame and oppression. from the community and from colonizer after colonizer.
but we also challenge that narrative every single day. and this poetry is just one route for doing that.