Here come the Twenties, armed with poetry
Tumblr-bred and Instagram famous poet Rupi Kaur was back in Portland Wednesday night and killed it. She didn't fill the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with people — a third of the seats were occupied — but with her words. Standing on the big, rose petal-strewn stage in a champagne colored satin gown, it looked set to be an evening of heart hands and "I love you toos."
But Kaur worked her material into a weapon to break down cynicism and the default numbness of the screen life.
Waving her arms and grooving on the spot like a back-up singer, she spoke mainly from her second volume of poems, 2017's "The Sun and her Flowers." (She only uses periods and lower-case letters to simulate Punjabi, the language of the part of India she was born in but fled with her family for a safer life in Toronto). Eyes closed, often reciting from memory, Kaur used her poetry voice — languid, swooping, always heavy stresses on the word "I" — for everything from accounts of booty calls to genocide.
"Milk and Honey" (2014), her breakout slim volume, was more of an afterthought. Toward the end of the two-hour set she read from a gold notebook containing drafts of her next work, due out in January 2020. That deals further with the dark matter of depression, but the crowd stayed with her, finger snapping as enthusiastically at her admission that she had made her life look "glossy and sparkly for the Gram" as when she used the priceless phrase "extra-celestial earthling."
Kaur started with the ominous "I stuffed a towel at the foot of every door" and ended with the triumphant "Broken English," a hymn to her mother's strength and creativity. At the show's start it felt self-absorbed and first-personal. Somewhere along the way she transformed everything into a we statement. It's impossible to not get with the pronouns, get into listicle mode and to give oneself over to Kaurism.
So I do:
1. Having only read "Milk and Honey," I was surprised how much of "Flowers" was about college roommates and Kashmiri genocide. Good on you!
2. You name-dropped Drake, another brown artist from Toronto, so lightly, he barely made a sound. Did I hear right?
3. I was braced for the more talk about sleepovers, manipedis and eyebrow plucking, but with "Unibrow" you broke the spa experience wide open.
4. In "Wilting", you moved the crowd of mostly women in their twenties with the line "i could take the abuse/i could not take the absence," and waited an hour to explain that you are here to reclaim the abused body for pleasure.
5. Your one-way banter never flagged. "Finding a therapist is like dating, you soon learn and all the best ones are taken." How does that make you feel?
6. You talked both about your clothes coming off so easily and the "battle to get out of bed" when depressed.
7. You still get triggered when a 12-year-old boy with an egg avatar comments "Your poems suck." Good to know.
8. The new poems from your gold notebook were like thick log slabs, dark as the earth. Are you sure we're ready for that?
9. People keep telling you you're manifesting your depression and you should think positive. I'm glad you call BS on that IG advice.
10. You speak the abstract language of connectedness, reenergizing, gratitude, self-love, self-help, self-talk and feeling blessed every single day, but your poems are like concrete and silk.
11. The climax, "Broken English," drew everything together. It would be hard to find a better Mother's Day poem in English.
12. A schoolgirl with a name that sounded like Dejweeny got up on stage for a duet on "To Do List (after the break up)." She killed it, too. In her thick Indian accent, like your mum's, she added her own observations about the power of the mic, the pen and the hand, and earned her (Taylor) Swiftian hug.
13. We are all special. You put the "Ooh" in Boomer, the "Ex-" in Gen X, the "Ill" in Millennial and the "Xe" in Gen Z. Who's next?
14. The spoken bits between your poems are almost as good, and we can all agree, that's the mark of a true entertainer.
For more on Rupi: www.rupikaur.com
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.