Kazim Ali at the Poetry Foundation:
Rupi Kaur isn’t just Instagram-famous, she’s famous-famous. Apparently outselling Homer, this young woman of color from the suburbs of Toronto has become a global phenomenon in two short years. Like anyone who is popular, she has her share of detractors. Some critics decry the quality of the verse, others question the means by which “fame” arrives, still others critique the politics of Kaur’s narrative, including the extent to which an exoticizing orientalism may be at more sinister work in commodifying narratives of marginalization and suffering. Regardless of those criticisms, no one can deny the immensity of her audience, both virtual and at the live readings she gives.
So one question I get from my friends and relatives who aren’t poets and who aren’t interested in poetry or in my unlikely life as a poet is, “what do you think of Rupi Kaur?” And how to answer the question? What do I think of Rupi Kaur? Well on the surface of it I’m mildly annoyed that I gave so many years to learning craft, reading deeply, doing everything I could to become a better poet, because it seems that all it takes is some superficial musings, some pretty okay (honestly) drawings, and one (admitted awesome) photo to go viral and make you the most famous poet in the world, and maybe of all time.
But you know what, on the surface of it I’m all right with a young woman of color putting the canon of Western civilization off its pedestal for once. Is it interesting as poetry? Not to me. But neither are Hallmark cards and I still buy and send those.