Q&A: Poet Jasmin Kaur talks new book

Jasmin Kaur aims to share personal experience, perspective with new book.

Jasmin Kaur is happy to see her heartfelt poems shared around on social media.

On her Instagram account, @jusmun, Kaur regularly shares her words for her more than 33,600 followers to devour. And this month, she’s also put many of them into her new book, When You Ask Me Where I’m Going (HarperTeen Hardcover).

But what’s much more important for the Vancouver-based writer, illustrator and spoken word artist than likes and reposts is that the people she had in mind when she put pen to paper — women who are eager to see themselves reflected in a space where she says there is little to no representation — know that, her words, are for them.

Shortly before the book launch, we caught up with Kaur to learn more about her poetry, why she thinks her words resonate with so many people, and what’s next.

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Q. When did you first start writing poetry? 

A. My foray into poetry-writing began in the 12th grade when I started reading Sufi spiritual poetry by Rumi. At the time, I was journaling strictly for myself, usually writing after I would meditate. This blossomed into a passion for spoken-word poetry. I would spend hours on YouTube, distracted from my homework, listening to spellbinding spoken word poetry. In my first year of university, I jumped at the opportunity to take a creative writing course — and the rest is history.

Q. And what led you to share it on social media?

A. I began sharing my work on my public Instagram account in 2016, but I wanted to share long before that. I’d been sharing my poems on my private Instagram account with a small group of friends since 2012. Fear of scrutiny and public gaze stopped me from going public. I was super nervous about how strangers would react to my book. Looking back, I wish I had taken the leap earlier. Although the internet can be overwhelming — and cruel, at times — the opportunity to connect with readers worldwide makes it worthwhile.

Q. Your poems have been shared countless times — and have even been used by celebrities for performances. What has that been like to see this happen?

A. It’s been interesting and affirming but it hasn’t been everything. I try to remain conscientious of who I write for and why I began writing in the first place. I write for girls and women like me who never saw themselves on the pages of books. I write to ink myself into the world of storytelling and public discourse. I hope that my work continues to reach girls who, like me, have been searching for their reflections in books.

Q. Why do you think the poem about “Scream” has resonated so strongly with people?

A. When I wrote this poem, I had something very specific in mind, related to the erasure of Sikh women’s voices from history. So, when women of very diverse backgrounds resonated with it for reasons that weren’t even part of my original intention, I was very surprised.

This poem has been read by survivors of sexual assault as part of victim-impact statements in court and has been displayed at Women’s Marches around the world. Although my original intention was very specific, I think the need for women to raise their voices and “scream” speaks to the political climate of a world that wishes to silence us.

Q. And what drives you to share such powerful words and emotions online?

A. I think that there is immense healing power in vulnerability. I think that so much of social media is carefully curated to only display our “highlight reel” and never our difficult emotions. I think that through sharing work that deals with the entire spectrum of emotion — including the not-so-pleasant stuff —  poetry can insert a bit of “humanity” into social media.

Q. You’ve released a new book of poems. What made this the right time to do so?

A. People have been asking me about a book since I was in my early twenties. I think it took time for me to hone my craft to the point where I felt comfortable with my words being solidified into a book. The passion has always been there but I needed the writing skills and the perspectives that these past years have given me.

Q. And what do you hope people take away from the book?

A. Sikh women are not a monolith. Our experiences are complex and nuanced. No single book can speak for all of us. My book cannot speak for all of us. What it can do is provide a unique insight into the experiences of a Sikh woman navigating a society that, so often, refuses to see her.

I hope readers leave this book with deeper empathy and a stronger understanding of what it’s like to be a visibly Sikh woman in Canada.

Q. Lastly, what’s next?

A. In October and November I’ll be on tour across several cities in the U.S. and Canada. I can’t wait to connect with readers and perform poems from the book. After that, I come home to continue working on the next book.

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