We sat down with poet Rupinder Kaur to talk about Rooh, her debut poetry collection. She shared with us her history, inspiration, and advice for young Kaur poets.
“In Rooh, her debut poetry collection, she takes us on a poetic journey that transcends borders and arbitrary boundaries. Her work straddles English and Punjabi culture – fusing words from Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu and English. They look at love, religion, identity, politics, history, taboos, society – often questioning orthodox views, particularly around the roles that different genders are expected to adopt. Rooh has a grand scope and stares unblinkingly at the world. It is a stunning first collection from this young, intelligent poet,”-Verve Poetry Press
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in a very close knit community surrounded by South Asians in Handsworth, known as the “ghetto ends” of Birmingham in England. I lived there till I was 10 years old, till I moved houses not too far away, but to another part of Birmingham known as West Bromwich.
My average day constants of trying to fit in writing, reading, and researching, along with studying. Currently, I am final year biomedical science student and I am also working on my next collection which will be anthology of Panjabi female poets looking at classical, contemporary and diaspora.
When did you start writing poetry? What inspired you to start?
I started writing poetry when I was around 17 years old. I was really into Sufi music and poetry, and the works of Rumi, Hafiz, and Bulleh Shah initially inspired to write in order to connect to the depth of my soul and the Divine. I was going through a lot of depression during my A-levels which I never really spoke about to anyone but writing really helped me release my inner emotions and overcome my depression.
Why do you create poetry? What drives you? What inspires you?
My greatest inspiration is my mother, who used also write poetry when she was younger but in Hindi. Sadly, she never got the opportunity to openly express herself the way that I can today. Mum always tells me listen to the voice of your heart and it will write for you itself. Writing poetry gives my soul such a beautiful feeling. Most of my poetry stems from my connection with Panjab along with looking at culture, gender, and identity. I use my poetry as a way of telling stories – a way of voicing what is not heard or is often ignored – from what so many women experience. What I see in society from the ends of Handsworth to Panjab makes way to the ink of my pen.
Tell us about the creation of Rooh.
“Rooh” means “soul” or “essence”. I describe Rooh as a journey for me; it is not a book but it is like a river that flows and flows. It is azaad – free, free from barriers and borders it is simply just the rooh. I started putting together my poems for a potential collection together around September of 2017. The poems range from many different things from being in the diaspora to Panjab across to India and beyond man-made borders with history, politics, taboos, and love with an emphasis on the roles of genders.
In most of my poems I always use words from – Panjabi-Hindi-Urdu, this is something that just comes natural being a lover of poetry that comes from India more so before its partition. The poetry in Panjabi/ Hindi/Urdu is just so beautiful and full of so much language. I hope one day I can write fully and properly in each language as I love them all.
I want the audience to connect to my rooh and take what they want from Rooh as it is river of poems which has no titles or even a contents page. Each poem just flows onto the next one.
Initially, I wasn’t sure if I should publish this work or not as my work isn’t typical poetry; I cover predominantly South Asian issues and I thought about self-publishing. But, I was very lucky to be approached by Verve Poetry Press, a publishing company based in Birmingham who were super understanding and allowed my work to be simply me- be my rooh.
What Sikh values are embodied in your poetry?
Speaking the truth, fearlessly wanting to make a change in society, bringing peace, but also awakening society with truths that need to be heard.
Our Gurus were poets and revolutionaries, Guru Nanak Sahib to Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
There’s a tuk from Guru Nanak Sahib on Ang 16 in Guru Granth Sahib:
ਜਾਲਿ ਮੋਹੁ ਘਸਿ ਮਸੁ ਕਰਿ ਮਤਿ ਕਾਗਦੁ ਕਰਿ ਸਾਰੁ ॥
jaal moh ghas mas kar mat kaagad kar saar –
Burn emotional attachment, and grind it into ink. Transform your intelligence into the purest of paper.
This tuk really makes me think what is purpose of truly writing. How can I follow my Guru through poetry? Then I remember Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is way to Waheguru – the Divine through poetry and there isn’t anything more beautiful than that, in my opinion.
Writing has made me want to read more about Sikhi and understand it on a deeper and spiritual level which, is why I try and read and much as I can.
What’s your advice for young Kaurs who wish to pursue poetry and may be nervous?
My advice would be follow your heart – follow your soul and do what makes YOU happy. Let your passion be heard the world needs more poetry and poets! Especially Sikh poets, we come from a legacy of poetry and now it is up to us to follow and maintain this beautiful legacy of poetry.
Do you have any last thoughts?
I will just end on a poem from Rooh –
Who am I?
I am the winds of Lahore
that my Nanaji brought
across the border of Wagah
I am the soil of Amritsar
where my father was born
I am mixed with the air coming from Delhi
where my mother was born
Who am I?
is a question I am yet to solve
I am divided into names and culture
I sit oceans away from Panjab
yet I write about Panjab
I am somewhat British
yet more Panjabi
I write in English
wishing I wrote more in Panjabi…
– Rupinder Kaur
Rooh is available for purchase:
Verve Poetry press website – https://vervepoetrypress.com/product/rupinder-kaur-rooh-pre-order-numbered-and-signed-by-the-author-postage-free/
Book Depository – https://www.bookdepository.com/Rooh-Rupinder-Kaur/9781912565085