The poem “broken english” by Rupi Kaur is a piece that was written in honor of the poet’s parents, who originate from India but moved to Canada so that her and her siblings could have a better life. Like the rest of her work, the poem is written exclusively in lowercase, in honor of the Gurmukhi script and her Punjabi descent, where there is only one case and only periods are used. This is important, as it shows to what lengths Kaur values her culture and thus her identity even though she was raised with a different first language and immersed in Western culture. Perhaps her free verse poetry avoids difficult metaphors in favor of clear, plain language, but it is with this accessibility that allowed a voice of diversity to prevail in an overwhelmingly white literary scene. The collection remains relatable — and, crucially, marketable — to a wider audience, while still retaining an element of culturally informed authenticity that forms much of Kaur’s brand. While conceivably an interlude in poetry that appeals to all audiences, “broken english” brings a new narrative regarding the importance of preserving and loving one’s identity to the widest possible demographic.
One of the main things that helps Kaur’s audience understand identity is the warmth in the poet’s tone. When speaking to showing love and acceptance of her parents, Kaur speaks to kissing her mother’s tender cheek (5th stanza). She does not reject her parents’ identity as immigrants. She seeks to appreciate them, even if she’s part of the world that they can’t possibly understand. She understands that her parents wanted to give her what they believed would be the best life she could have and thus they wanted her to be in the world that mocks their accents. Kaur sees that part of them loving her unconditionally is accepting that they have released her to be someone they can’t understand and it’s important for her to return that care. To further support this, literary devices can be extracted from the poem too. In the last stanza there is some usage of a simile in which Kaur says that her mother’s accent is “thick like honey.” This implies that it’s something precious and golden, something born from labour. It carries a certain richness that demonstrates how the author feels about her parents’ Punjabi identity in a country that has not quite let them call it home. In a country where their university degrees meant nothing, they worked hard to start anew so that their children would not be bitterly stuck in a country with few opportunities. Being an immigrant in some places around the world is about assimilating — losing one’s roots in the great melting pot. Kaur rejects this notion of conformity and urges that holding on to one’s way of life is art, especially when you’re trying to rebuild an entire world for yourself.
The tone of this poem is one of both wisdom and tragedy, within a display of both the privileged outcome of Kaur’s parents immigrating to another country with more opportunity, but also the unfortunate occurrence of her parent’s degrees not affording any acknowledgement, but instead a broken dialectal with broken words. Several themes also emerge that could be discussed in depth, such as starting over, not belonging, isolation, and the immigrant experience. When referring to the tragic experiences of her parents and their sacrifice, she refers to images of eyes begging for sleep and overworked hands (3rd stanza). Words like visitor and warrior are also used in the same stanza (2nd) to counterbalance the themes of both struggling, and overcoming that appear regarding her parents trying to navigate their new lives, doing the best they could with what little they had. It is clear to the reader that they have made the ultimate sacrifice: giving up their home, friends, family, traditions, customs, familiarity, community and so much more in the hopes of a better tomorrow for their family. There is also some usage of personification, such as implying that a country could swallow people (2nd stanza). Reference is also made to Canada as a land of immigrants who then makes fun of newer immigrants, which could lead to an interesting discussion on what truly is an immigrant? When does one lose this label? Does it go away once you’re white enough? These thoughts are delivered deliberately by Kaur, with a pondering white audience in mind.
Rupi Kaur can write in a way where the colours of her background provide a representation that makes the reader question identity in relation to cultures, specifically as a minority culture. There is a dissonance between the immigrant identity and mainstream culture, especially when it comes to values and experience. Connecting with her roots is an essential thing for Kaur, and she suggests that a large part of that means coming to love your immigrant parents and the sacrifices they made for you to be able to have your identity.