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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Three Calgary men make smart decision when lost in North Shuswap

Adventurers’ vehicle breaks down at night in Seymour Arm area

RCMP report that suspect in North Shuswap threatened to kill neighbours

Police say man was arrested with loaded weapons inside vehicle and residence

High water levels on Shuswap Lake may close popular Canoe Beach

Salmon Arm city staff say rain predicted could flood tunnel, causing beach closure

Sandbagging continues for flood-prone areas around Shuswap, Mara lakes

Shuswap Emergency Program closely monitoring water levels

Shuswap caregiver a hero in husband’s eyes

Night and day shifts leave little time for Tracy and Rick Duncan

VIDEO: A Vancouver Island black bear takes weekend nap in eagle tree

Videos captured by Terry Eissfeldt shows the bear arriving Saturday night and sleeping in on Sunday

189 homes in Grand Forks area given evacuation orders

Homes are in the Nursery, Grand Forks Airport, Gilpin Rd., Johnson Flats and Granby Rd. areas

Summerland man rescued following ATV accident

Helicopters used to transport injured man to Kelowna for treatment

Mother bear and two cubs spotted in West Kelowna

Residents of Shannon Lake are urged to be on the look out for three bears in the area

Social justice advocate yells at Kelowna council, demands presence at Black Lives Matter rally

Heather Friesen has again taken to council chambers to make her opinion heard

Youth filmmakers tackle technology addiction, relationships, cyber-bullying

The Kelowna couple won a grant from Telus STORYHIVE

Vernon videographer captures thunderstorm

See the ‘best bits’ of Saturday’s storm

Dyer: I left my heart in the desert

Kristy Dyer is a columnist for Black Press Media who writes about the environment

Most Read