Harman Kaur, a 21-year-old writer from Abbotsford, reads from her new book, Phulkari, a 150-page collection of her poems, which she says is a reflection of her identity as a Punjabi Sikh woman living in Canada. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Poet’s new book looks at her identity as a Punjabi Sikh woman living in B.C.

Harman Kaur’s self-published book speaks volumes to Punjabi Sikh women, underrepresented in media

“Mother / allow me to grow / and do not worry / about spoiled fruit.”

That is the closing verse of one of Harman Kaur’s poems, recently published in Phulkari: The Book, a 150-page collection of the 21-year-old Abbotsford native’s poems – and grow she has.

Kaur has developed a large online following of nearly 40,000 on Instagram, where she posts some of her poems, and that following has largely gathered over two-and-a-half years, since she began posting her works publicly.

“It wasn’t until it really took off that I realized that this could be a book, and that people would buy it, which they are,” Kaur said.

Phulkari was self-published in May and officially released in July, though she had originally intended to go through a publisher.

“But there were too many changes they wanted to make, and I felt like it kind of compromised my artistic integrity in a way,” Kaur said.

“[Self-publishing] is a lot of work because you’re doing the marketing, the editing, the designing, everything by yourself. … It’s a big investment as well, and there’s a lot of risk involved.”

But that risk appears to have paid off.

“The response is really, really good. I had a successful book signing a few weeks ago at the Abbotsford mall, and since then I’ve been offered book signings in Burnaby and Vancouver,” she said.

“When I first put out pre-orders, I put out 250 copies minimum, and the pre-order was sold out in less than two weeks. It was amazing, and it was far beyond anything I ever imagined.”

Part of that payoff – beside her strong writing abilities and the extensive work spent on marketing – likely comes from Kaur’s identity, one she says isn’t well-represented in media but which influences her writing.

“I get so many messages online, as well, after people read my book, especially from Punjabi Sikh women, who say that it’s really refreshing to even just be able to hold the work in their hands of a Punjabi Sikh woman,” Kaur said.

“I talk about universal themes as well, such as heartbreak and love and all that universal stuff, but with an added complexity of my identity.”

That’s also reflected in the name of the book; “phulkari” is the name for a type of flower work or embroidery in Punjabi culture, which appears in the design of the cover of the book. Each of the six chapters in Kaur’s book also comes back to that theme.

Read our sidebar to this story, Kaur pushing bast stereotypes in gang violence dialogue, below. If attachment does not work, please click here to go to that story.

She takes the name Kaur, which is given to all Sikh women – whereas all Sikh men are given the name Singh – and one of her poems defines her perspective of the name.

“I’ve had these girls that have messaged me and say that it is so surreal to be seeing a book with the name Kaur on it. It drives people absolutely nuts. They love it,” she said, also pointing to one of her own favourite writers, Rupi Kaur. “When I first held her book in my hands, I felt like crying, that I saw ‘Kaur’ on a bookshelf.”

Harman Kaur in a promotional photo for Chapter 1: The Fraying,
Harman Kaur in a promotional photo for Chapter 1: The Fraying, “an exploration of that which tears us apart,” in Phulkari, her recently published book of poetry.

(Preet Sanghera photo/Instagram)

Kaur didn’t always write for herself, saying she specifically wrote on universal terms, speaking in a broad voice to be identifiable with anyone who read her work. But that changed when she started her English degree at Simon Fraser University.

“I was such an English enthusiast, and then all of a sudden I hated it. And I just had to look back and say, ‘Why? Why do I hate this so much?’ And it’s because I was literally reading works of dead white people from the Renaissance, and I didn’t care about dead white men from the Renaissance. … I guess that encouraged me to even write more. I felt this void from not being able to read what I wanted to, and I just filled that void by writing my own stuff,” Kaur said.

“There are so many stories out there already for different types of people, and I just don’t think there are enough stories out there for people like me, so I’m just adding to that story.”

Writing in a way that expresses herself – penning poems that fit her rather than a generic one-size-fits-all poetry for the broader culture – feels and looks better, too, Kaur says.

“I think that when you’re writing, especially in forms like this, if you’re not writing what the truth is, it’s not satisfying. … I just had this urge to tell my story, and when you’re telling your story, you tell the truth,” she said.

The book can be found online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and signed copies of the book are available on Kaur’s website. Phulkari is also being sold at Chapters and Indigo in B.C., as well as the Coles bookstore in the Sevenoaks Shopping Centre.

“I made sure that was the first place it was available.”

Report an error or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

Send Dustin an email.
Like the Abbotsford News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

River Monsters attract nearly 300 swimmers to their two-day meet

This was the third year for the now-annual event

‘This was my baby’: Music teacher to retire after 29 years at Kent Elementary

Brenda Di Rezze will be saying goodbye to her music room at the end of this school year

New Farmer’s Market coming to downtown Hope

Markets will be hosted every Friday on 3rd Avenue

SD78 growth plan to focus on inclusive learning, reading

Data collection and collaboration will help schools meet goals, superintendent says

UPDATE: Two-year-old in critical condition after fall in Chilliwack pool

Two-year-old child was reported to not be breathing as air ambulance called out Thursday afternoon

VIDEO: First Nations, developer call for return and protection of sacred B.C. burial site

Dozens of First Nations leaders gather on grassy plateau to call on action by provincial government

Teen stabbed after end-of-night limo dispute in downtown Vancouver

A young man, 19, is in serious condition following a dispute between two groups

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

No business case for Trans Mountain expansion, says former environment minister

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday

LETTER: British Columbia’s forest industry crisis being made worse

Andrew Wilkinson warns of regulatory overload by John Horgan’s NDP

Convicted B.C. child abductor Randall Hopley back in custody 6 months after release

Correctional Services Canada could not provide further details due to privacy concerns

Alleged driver of semi-truck in fatal Burnaby hit-and-run identified

No charges have been laid and police say the driver is cooperating with the investigation

Bears have killed 17 people in B.C. since 1986

Number of bear complaints and bears killed rose sharply during same period

Most Read