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

Abbotsford poet’s book reaches ‘far beyond anything I ever imagined’

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.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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