Pressure Cooker Love Bomb

By Christine Wiesenthal

by Sharanpal Ruprai
Frontenac House
2019/$19.95/80 pp.

With a title like Pressure Cooker Love Bomb, this collection makes the reader both eager and a bit hesitant to crack the book open (will it explode in our hands?). Sharanpal Ruprai’s new poems excel at creating precisely this sort of edgy tension—a mood that makes you want to laugh while also holding your breath. Billed as “poems masquerading as recipes, poems masquerading as survival guides,… [a] woman of colour’s manifesto with instructions,” the work offers a sharp take on rituals of all kinds, as tradition collides with “#newrules” for a millennial generation that spurns the old, internalized “racism rules/ cooking rules, body hair removal rules,/ religious rules, a pressure cooker.”

In its exploration of the “pressure cooker” of heteronormative expectations faced by women, especially young women of colour and of Sikh heritage, Ruprai continues themes from her previous work but adds a confident new level of parody, deploying everyday genres of recipes, lists, self-help and hashtag culture as the lens for addressing serious issues of identity and belonging. Instructional modes of the sort associated with cookbooks offer Ruprai the means to handle even sensitive and painful subjects such as gender discrimination and racism at an ironic distance. The opening “poems not recipes,” sets the tone: “poems pressure cooked/ marinated set on love// poems instant pot famous/ small bites/ #lovebombs.”

Ruprai’s poems navigate “the highs and lows” of life as a queer South Asian adolescent coming of age “in the middle of the prairies” with thoughtful humor (cue girlfriends acting out a “bollywood aesthetic/ before it was cool”). The “bollywood cowgirl” who emerges here is a survivor with the advice of a seasoned “autyji” to pass along. In “#eatingforone,” she suggests having cake for dinner (“have carrot cake, it’s a good idea/ to get a vegetable in there”). There are poems on how to cook rotis, be a feminist, and find love—or not—on the internet (“seeking love on sikhnet matrimonials”). “Instructions on how to love yourself” strikes a comically poignant note in a collection that is so steeped in the abbreviated digital efficiencies that fuel our distant “connections” in the age of social media. Perhaps as a deliberate counterbalance to this awareness of a self dispersed across various platforms, the volume rounds out with some smoking hot erotic love poems inspired by evidently unmediated “f2f IRL” relationships. You don’t need to be either BIPOC or LGBTQ2S to appreciate the punchy, affirmative energy of these poems, bravely lobbed as “love bombs” in an angry world. Just come hungry—for a refreshingly audacious dish of “small bites.”

—Christine Wiesenthal is a professor at the University of Alberta.

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