The joy always
comes in colours.
I am a blank canvas
or a faded photograph
but today my love
I am a phulkari.
– Harman Kaur
Harman Kaur has a way of writing, where you can experience sadness, hope, longing and joy within seven short lines of evocative poetry.
Like many new writers and artists, Harman began her journey as a poet by sharing her writing on Instagram – and her words found a following around the world (including Alicia Keys). Intensely personal, observational and spiritual, there are quick comparisons to fellow Canadian writer Rupi Kaur, but Harman has her own voice and style that sets her apart from other Insta-poets – specifically her deep introspection and conversation around the complex facets of being Punjabi, Sikh and a woman.
Harman joins UK-based illustrator Baljinder Kaur and blogger Kiranjot Kaur on February 23 at GNA Talks, a TED-style evening featuring words from inspiring Sikhs. Harman spoke about her writing process, her book Phulkari, and her personal journey sharing her poetry on social media in an interview with Jugni Style.
Why did you choose Phulkari as the title for your first book?
The phulkari is something that represents Panjabiyat, sisterhood, and joy to me. I was determined to make sure that the name of my book represented who I am as a person, and the name Phulkari did just that!
Why was it important for you to publish a book of your poetry now?
We live in a world that is full of misconceptions and negativity, and I wanted this book to be a light in that darkness. I wanted to be able to tell my story instead of waiting for someone else to do it for me. Phulkari is essentially a love letter to my people, and by my people I mean anyone who identifies as Panjabi or Sikh.
How have people responded to your book?
The response has been amazing – people have been super supportive and lovely. I think one of the most beautiful responses I get is when people tell me they are so happy to be able to see themselves in the book.
What is your writing process?
I don’t really have a set process, I only write when I am overwhelmed with emotion or when I am feeling inspired. I feel I do my best work in these scenarios – I can’t write as well when I force myself to write.
How did you summon the courage to publish your writing publicly on social media?
It was not an easy decision posting my writing online as it’s a very vulnerable process, but some of my friends encouraged me to put myself out there and I did. I am very thankful that I took that step now because it has brought me so many amazing opportunities!
How do you deal with negative feedback and trolls?
I am always open to criticism but I understand that when someone is using a fake account or is writing horrible comments, it is more of a reflection of them than it is of me. I try not to take it to heart and try to use it to empower my writings.
Is it ever a burden to represent Punjabi Sikh women on social media and in the world?
Never. I feel it is a privilege to be able to represent my people everywhere I go.
I read in an interview about the frustrations you felt as an English student and the lack of writing by women of colour or people of colour. I’m happy to see that you created a work of writing that disrupts this space traditionally held by white men (and white women). What has the response been to Phulkari from the literary community?
The response has been amazing from the literary community. My university, SFU, has promoted me on National Poetry month, and local libraries and bookstores have hosted me for book readings!
Are you working on another book?
Yes! Another book is always in the works!
Can you share one or two poems from Phulkari that we can publish with this story?
Here are two of my favourites:
My father’s accent is enough
to make you wrinkle your nose
in disgust but you have never
had to balance a second language
on your tongue and even if you
think you could remember that my
mother tongue makes sounds that
leave english at a loss for letters.
from the systems
of the world
that you and I
I am not above you
or beneath you
I stand beside you
so if you know
of the name
leave all of you
where I left mine
at the feet of my guru
All photographs and poetry are reproduced here with permission from Harman Kaur.
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