Aug. 28, 2019

Calgary Distinguished Writers Program welcomes Sharanpal Ruprai

Rising poet and 2019-2020 Writer-in-Residence set to appear at annual Hello/Goodbye event

Despite the description supplied by her publisher, Frontenac House, that her new book Pressure Cooker Love Bomb consists of “poems masquerading as recipes,” Sharanpal Ruprai offers a playful clarification. “There’s really no recipes in there,” says the author, who begins her position as the University of Calgary’s 2019-2020 Writer-in-Residence with the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program (CDWP) next month.

“If you’re reading it looking for recipes, I’m pretty sure it will be a food fail.”

That said, the poems within were often inspired by the recipes she grew up with in her Punjabi-Canadian home on the prairies, raised in Winnipeg circa the '80s and '90s.

“I wanted to write love poetry, but you can’t anymore, you just can’t, because there’s so many poems about love,” says Ruprai, a University of Calgary alumna and assistant professor in the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Women and Gender Studies. “But I was thinking of all these recipes and funny little mishaps that have happened to me while making dhal and roti and whatnot. Chilis and pressure cookers. Things exploding! I thought, how do you marry love poems and food together in a way that’s not cheesy or kitschy?

“So, I ran with the concept, and allowed it to evolve.”

Its lighthearted inspiration notwithstanding, Pressure Cooker Love Bomb is a work of much depth, infused with issues of sexuality, racial tension and questions of gender conformity.

“What does it mean to be a Sikh person, a brown person on the prairies?” says Ruprai. “What does it mean to have a desire for the same sex, to be bi, when you don’t really have the parents or the community or even the vocabulary to understand it? It is like living in a pressure cooker. You’re trying to sort all of these things out and you have this crazy explosion of feelings. These are the themes that sort of bubble within the collection.”

She adds: “The poems express love in many different ways. Between women, between women and men. It shows the growth of relationships with representation on all levels. I think we need to see more of that in literature.”

Ruprai who will be formally introduced as the 2019-2020 Writer-in-Residence with a reading at the CDWP’s annual Hello/Goodbye event Sept. 16 at Lunchbox Theatre is looking forward to working on her first collection of short stories during her residency.

Entitled Blue Kara, the collection is inspired in part by Calgary’s controversial public art instillation Travelling Light, the giant blue ring on the overpass at Deerfoot Trail and 96th Avenue N.E. which, to the chagrin of many, cost the city $470,000. 

Ruprai says that the city’s Punjabi populace often jokingly refer to the public art instillation as “the blue kara,” a kara being an iron bracelet and one of the Five K’s of the Sikh religion, symbolizing the commitment of devotees to the Sikh rehni (Sikh way of life).

Blue Kara is about a young person from the Punjabi community exploring the public artworks in Calgary,” says Ruprai. “How do they interact with it and what does it mean to them? So, it’s a look at Calgary from a perspective we’re not used to. It’s just thinking about these public art spaces and the idea of who gets to belong in these spaces. This is a theme I often return to.”

In addition to Blue Kara, Ruprai is also planning to develop her first play and, of course, she’ll also be focusing on her poems.

“Plays, short stories, poems, these are different genres, but, for me, they’re all about storytelling,” says Ruprai. “I know I have the creativity to delve into all of these areas, but I haven’t always had the time or opportunity to develop the work. Now, with this residency, I do, and I’m very excited about that. It’s an honour to have this prestigious position.”

Register for the Sept. 16 Hello/Goodbye event featuring Sharanpal Ruprai and outgoing Writer-in-Residence Liz Howard.