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Writing with Rupi Kaur

In my last post I promised I would give a list of things to do during social distancing that didn’t involve screens. Top of my list would normally be: read. I read all the time, especially when I feel like I’ve had too much screen time. But I have found it extremely hard to concentrate on my current book lately. I have been reading a series at a pretty speedy rate this past month, but suddenly I find myself at a standstill. In these moments of discombobulation, I think reading might be out of reach for some people. In those cases, I suggest doing something actively creative.

The other day I took part in a writing workshop held on Instagram Live, with poet Rupi Kaur. It was a beautiful example of people coming together to create art during times of crisis. For anyone who missed Rupi’s workshop I will summarise the 3 exercises we went through. The emphasis on all 3 was really the idea of letting go of any prearranged ideas; free writing whatever came into your head, instead of spending a long time thinking about what to write.

The letter.

In the first exercise Rupi told us to start with “Dear (insert name here)” - write to anyone you want, alive or dead, yourself even, just pick a person and write to them. I chose a completely fictional person based on the first name that popped into my head. Then she told us to write “I have been dying to tell you” and from that point on you just free write anything you think of. At random intervals, Rupi would tell us to include a word she read aloud from a list. Whilst you could create your own list, I think finding a random word generator might be better for some people who would struggle with finding the “right” words – the whole point of the exercise is to let go of over thinking.

I can’t remember how long we had for this exercise, I believe it was roughly 15 minutes. I thought it might be worth including my own letter as an example. The words we had to include were: Lemon, Grass, Fingernails, Peanut, Clock, Cotton, Video, Blood, Horse and Envelope.

My letter

Dear Elizabeth,

I have been dying to tell you about the snow we’ve been having here lately. It comes in so fast and thick you cant see anything at all. Presently, I’m sitting in front of my window in my chair, with a small jewellery box next to me. I have been thinking about what to do with it for some time.

Do you remember the lemon tree? I haven’t spoken about it in a long time. We used to collect a punnet of strawberries from the farmer, then eat them whilst sitting in the green grass field. Our fingernails used to become dyed with strawberry juice. Peanut, the dog, would come running to us, begging us to play with him, do you remember? It was such fun!

The clock is ticking loudly in my room now. I have a cotton plant next to me, a gift from Mr Vidéo, a lovely man visiting from Spain. But the lemon tree! Do you remember us trying to steal the lemons? I had cut my finger on a rusty nail, you managed to pluck a lemon from the tree just before we both fell. I remember getting blood on the lemon, I felt as though I had ruined something so precious.

Oh Elizabeth! I see the mail man is here with his horse. I must finish this letter now. I will put this in a little envelope and give it to the mail man and when he returns next week I shall finish what I had intended to say.

The list poem.

This was meant to be the easier of the three exercises, but I actually found it the hardest. In this exercise you create a title which explains what all your points are about. In our example with Rupi, our title was A list of things I can share with the world. We then had 5 minutes to list 10 things. Whilst that seems easy, the idea was for it to be a poem, so it was difficult to write things in a somewhat poetic way, rather than just a basic list.

The sonnet.

The final exercise was a sonnet. At the end of the exercises, Rupi had a few people join her on live and read their chosen exercise. Some people wrote extremely beautiful, deep and heartfelt sonnets - I was not one of those people. This exercise was interesting (thought personally, not my favourite): you chose an object, and then you answered each question from the perspective of said object. In the spirit of not overthinking, I looked over and saw a book, so I chose a book. I think this exercise might have had a better outcome for me if I have chosen a more meaningful object, but I can always try it again another time. I think the most important thing to remember during this period of social distancing, is that you aren’t being marked for the creative work you do, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

For the sonnet you have to answer the following 14 questions, ideally as one line only, but I don’t think anyone followed that rule in our case:

What are you?

How are you feeling right now?

Where would you rather be?

What relationships do you have?

What do you dream of?

What worries you?

What would you like others to think of you?

What keeps you awake at night?

What is the best thing you’ve done?

What is the worst things you’ve done?

What makes you feel guilty?

What is your favourite time of day (or night)?

What is the point of your life?

How would you like to be remembered?

I hope you try these writing exercises, I found them to be really enjoyable. I tried similar exercises whilst at university and the writing that came from them ended up being in my final piece - a hand bound book with photos and words. The photos I’ve included in this post are all from one of the stories/poems I created for my final piece. This story was title The Mermaid Drowned, and included a poem of the same name. However, I am not including the poem in this post, but rather the text that I also used in my final piece. This text was created through a 10 minute free writing exercise. I used one photo from this series as a reference, and then wrote whatever came to my mind. If you are someone who creates visual art, this might be a fun exercise for you to try also.


All photos & text by Akua.

Originally published April 2020


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