Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017: Maximum Shelf: the sun and her flowers

Andrews McMeel Publishing: The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

Andrews McMeel Publishing: The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

Andrews McMeel Publishing: The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

the sun and her flowers

by Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur's debut collection, milk and honey, was an unexpected cross-generational sensation, catapulting the young poet to well-deserved stardom far beyond her social media fame. Kaur is a true artist in every sense of the word; the drawings that accompany her poetry are often startling and brave. Her new collection, the sun and her flowers, is an illustrated book of poetry brimming with inspiration that invites the reader to love deeper and purer, to boldly articulate one's needs and desires, to look at the world anew and to question everything. Kaur cleverly uses the life cycle of a sunflower--wilting, falling, rooting, rising, blooming--to illustrate the different stages of a relationship and the merciful release that accompanies self-acceptance and self-love.

A truly remarkable accomplishment of the sun and her flowers is its scope. With simple words and truths written in her trademark lowercase style, Kaur explores the relationships that are most important in life. In the chapter titled "wilting," Kaur writes of the last days of love, of casting spells to bring love back and the regret of abandoning the construction site of a relationship: "it isn't what we left behind/ that breaks me/ it's what we could've built/ had we stayed." In the poem "hunger," Kaur writes, "the hummingbirds tell me/ you've changed your hair/ i tell them i don't care/ while listening to them/ describe every detail." Botanical imagery features throughout the collection: "the dandelions on the lawn/ are rolling their eyes in disappointment/ the grass has declared you yesterday's news."

Kaur begins the next chapter, "falling," with the words "i notice everything i do not have/ and decide it is beautiful." This is a journey of understanding our own failings and our inability to appreciate what is in front of us, and the realization that waiting is not the same as living. Kaur's wisdom, remarkable in someone so young, is on full display in her poem "focusing on the negative": "i hear a thousand kind words about me/ and it makes no difference/ yet i hear one insult/ and all confidence shatters." On her thematic sunflowers, Kaur reflects with admiration, "despite knowing/ they won't be here for long/ they still choose to live/ their brightest lives." We are encouraged to banish self-hatred and focus on the sweetness of self-acceptance.

It is in the chapter "rooting" that Kaur's ambitions soar. She tackles head-on the topic of female infanticide in her family's native India. She draws poetry out of the immigrant experience, of migrants desperate for a better life, the isolation of foreign accents ("what does it matter if my mouth carries two worlds") and the futility of borders that make us enemies. In "colonize," Kaur writes: "you split the world/ into pieces and/ called them countries/ declared ownership on/ what never belonged to you/ and left the rest with nothing." It is a devastating accusation from a woman whose family legacy is greatly shaped by the brutal reality of colonization. Kaur then turns to her mother, wishing she could give her back all the lost years she spent taking care of her family at the expense of her own identity. She wonders if there will be enough time to make it up to her, to show gratitude for the life her mother sacrificed for her children.

The chapter "rising" is light and musical, full of wonder at the gift of fresh love and a balm for damaged souls. Kaur cross-pollinates her poems in "Rising" with words of joy and excitement, and the uncertainty of moving forward in life. The beauty industry does not escape the simple honesty of this poet's artistic reach. In the final chapter, "Blooming," Kaur writes, "it is a trillion-dollar industry that would collapse/ if we believed we were beautiful enough already." Kaur brings humor to the page with her poem "unibrow," a dedication to all the women and girls with eyebrows so thick that, no matter how much they are plucked and pulled, always "find their way/ back to each other." She compares the unibrow to lovers destined for each other who, "even if they are separated/ they'll end up together."

At her rawest, Kaur peers into our hearts and distills complicated and intertwined emotions into a perfectly simple sentence, much the way a magician with a hat full of individual scarves waves his magic wand and pulls out one long string of colored handkerchiefs linked together. Kaur guides readers toward a better version of themselves. She takes hopes, fears and yearnings and brings forth words of such beauty and grace that readers are left stunned, shaking our heads and wondering, "How did she know I felt that way?" --Shahina Piyarali

Andrews McMeel, $16.99, paperback, 256p., 9781449486792, October 3, 2017

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur: Transforming Relationships

photo: Nabil Shash

Rupi Kaur is a young woman of remarkable talent and artistry; her second collection of poetry, the sun and her flowers, follows the sensational success of her debut, milk and honey. the sun and her flowers explores healthy and unhealthy relationships between lovers and friends, between parents and children, the roots that keep us grounded and the gifts of love we share with one another.

Could you say a few words about the inspiration for the sun and her flowers?

The sun and her flowers has been my most challenging creative work. Inspiration for the collection came mainly from conversations with people, whether strangers I met on my trips, or my best friends and family. A lot of inspiration came from being away from those who are closest to me. There was the election in the U.S.--I would think about my parents and would wonder if I was doing enough for them. That guilt, pain and reflection inspired the sun and her flowers.

Is it accurate to say that milk and honey dealt far more with individual pain, whereas the sun and her flowers is broader in its reach?

Yes, it is. milk and honey almost wrote itself. It was a byproduct of me just writing because I love to do it so much. With the sun and her flowers, I explored themes I never thought I would address. I was a little timid to write about my parents and topics like immigration and female infanticide. the sun and her flowers is not a follow-up to milk and honey. It's supposed to be its own body of work and stand on its own two feet.

How did the title the sun and her flowers come about?

I am fascinated with sunflowers and their powerful connection to the sun--the way they rise and fall each morning and evening. I like to think that we are our own suns and the flowers are different situations, experiences or people that we encounter in our lives.

You are generous with fans of your work, posting poems from the sun and her flowers on social media before the book's release. Tell us about your motivation to do that.

I started my career by sharing my writing on a free platform. Accessibility is very important to me. I want my work to reach all my readers whether or not they can afford my books. Even the decision to publish in paperback before hardcover was all about accessibility. I come from the kind of family where, growing up, the only books we bought were from thrift stores. It's only recently that I allowed myself to buy a new, full-price book.

Also, I wanted to prepare the reader, to inform them that my themes have evolved, because I don't want them to pick up the sun and her flowers and say "Oh no, it's nothing like milk and honey."

There is some chatter out there about a Rupi Kaur novel. Is there any truth to this?

I've written about 10 chapters' worth of scenes for my novel, but I still have to figure out the plot. Novels are a completely different genre, and I want to work on refining my skills.

To that end, do you wish you could slow things down, the expectation that you will keep producing your art "on demand"?

Yes! We live in an age where everything moves so quickly. There is this running fear that if you don't put something out, you'll be forgotten. And to combat that I've been repeatedly telling myself, "This isn't content, this is art." So, it doesn't matter if I don't publish for a while. I want to give myself the space and tools to be an artist, to be creative.

What are some of your favorite types of books?

A genre I am currently in love with and revisiting is children's books--Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. For me, these aren't even children's books. Adults need them perhaps even more than children! I've decided to re-read the Harry Potter series for the 100th time. Harry Potter is a place of comfort for me. I started the series in fourth grade and I constantly re-read them just to feel "at home." I travel with a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in my backpack if I am anxious about traveling or meeting someone on a particular day.

What is your advice for that young (or not-so-young) person out there who wishes to express themselves through their art?

A few rare people are born with talent. But most folks, like me, are not. Practice is everything. Whichever successful artist you look up to, they didn't just get there randomly. It takes years and years of dedication and discipline. You have to put in the time, it's really the only way. --Shahina Piyarali

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