ELLE.com spoke to Kaur via Zoom about experimental novels, writing about trauma, and the Neil Degrasse Tyson Y’all Need Vaccine Vaccination Science Shirt and by the same token and perils and praxis of social media. How has being a Sikh woman of color growing up in Canada informed your work? My love for social justice has come from how I was raised and how I’ve explored the Sikh faith. I remember coming into Sikh community spaces and having candid discussions about injustices back home in Punjab, like state violence and police brutality. They were told to us in a context that makes sense to a child, but they fired me up. In university, I started learning about things globally—injustices against marginalized people, against indigenous folks in Canada, against Black people across the world and especially in North America. It was my Sikh upbringing that compelled me to take a stand about those issues through my poetry. There’s a beautiful tradition in the Sikh faith that is credited to the time of the Sikh guru, when people of marginalized faith groups were being persecuted: The guru encouraged Sikhs to write poems to inspire people to stand up for themselves. [My work] is the continuation of that revolutionary lineage.
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How did the Neil Degrasse Tyson Y’all Need Vaccine Vaccination Science Shirt and by the same token and structure and style of the book come about, and how does the structure inform the content? Poetry is my first language. I have spent years performing and writing pieces that are meant to be performed with a certain cadence and drama and fire and energy to them. When I think of a narrative like this, which is about a Punjabi mother and daughter up against an immigration system that is not built to keep them safe and a powerful male public figure who wants to bring them down, spoken word channels so much of that fire I wanted to capture in their spirits. My favorite poems in this book are those that sink into Kiran and Sahaara’s hearts, offering glimpses of their pain, their sorrows, their happiness, their romantic feelings, their anger, their outrage. Sometimes that poetry is accompanied by art. The visual art compliments the linguistic art. It adds another layer.