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Poet Rupi Kaur: 'Art Should Be Accessible To The Masses'

Rupi Kaur has been called the "pop star of poetry." She's 24; she emigrated from India to Canada when she was 4. And she's famous for the raw, minimalist poems she posts on Instagram for her 1.6 million followers.

But social media and poetry don't always seem to go together — Kaur's been criticized for skimping on depth in favor of reaching the widest possible Internet audience. "I think the issue is because we have a form of art that is highly, highly traditional — meaning poetry — and then you have this other thing which is new and quite non-traditional, which is of course social media," Kaur says. "And so the gate-keepers of these two things are kind of confused at this moment."

That confusion didn't stop Kaur's first book, milk and honey, from hitting the best-seller lists. Now she's out with her second collection, called the sun and her flowers.

Interview Highlights

On deciding to share her poetry

I've always been writing poetry to get it out on paper, but there was an open mic night, and I had this wild and ridiculous idea of writing a terrible poem. And I showed up there, and I got up on stage and I performed it, and there was just something amazing that happened while I was on stage, and it was the way the mic picked up my voice, and how I had all of these eyes looking up at me, and I'd never felt that sort of exhilaration and those many people attentive towards an idea that I have.

On why she decided to write a bad poem

At the moment, I thought it was fabulous ... I thought it was amazing, everybody was super kind and super supportive, but years later, when I realized it was really bad was when one of the guys ... he came up to me and he was like, "I'm not gonna lie, the first time I saw you perform, the poem was awful. But now you're really really great!"

On the criticisms of her style

I don't respond, because I think there's no problem with my poetry being too accessible. Art should be accessible to the masses, and when we start to tailor it in a way that keeps people out, then there's an issue with that. Like, who are we really creating art for? And so I think about who I was creating art for from the beginning — it was for myself, and for people that didn't have access to certain types of English language. I couldn't speak English until I was way into elementary school, and so my choice of diction, all the accessible choices that I make, it's to make sure that it's tailored to the person that I was when I was growing up.

This story was edited for radio by Jacob Conrad and Alyssa Edes, and adapted for the web by Petra Mayer

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