Instapoet Rupi Kaur, an internet sensation

"He only whispers I love you as he slips his hands down the waistband of your pants," Rupi Kaur writes.

"This is where you must understand the difference between want and need/you may want that boy but you certainly don't need him."

The short verse is one of the least confronting of Kaur's lines from her debut poetry collection, Milk and Honey, which shouts of femininity and body image, draws a rigid line between consensual sex and abuse and smashes taboos around female menstruation.

The young poet from Toronto comes to the Sydney Writers' Festival this week from the literary backblocks of social media - via a storm that broke out in 2015 when Instagram banned a photo of her, published in her last year of university.

The photo of her in pyjamas with a small menstruation stain was posted as part of a visual arts project looking at how public reaction is shaped by the physical space in which art is shown.

"The photo became a viral sensation overnight," Kaur recalls. "It was everywhere, ever country; countries I'd never heard of were writing articles and ringing me for interviews. It was on the front page of Reddit, BuzzFeed, absolutely everywhere, even the small radio station my mum listened to back in Toronto."

Incensed when Instagram took down the photo twice, Kaur hit back calling out the sites' failure to censor other sexualised images of women it carried.

"I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be okay with a small leak," she posted.

Kaur carried on with her day, and when she came home that night and went back on online found her post had received 4 million hits. "That's when I went, 'Oh ohh!'. I had never got such attention and it has never gone away."

Kaur now sits in the vanguard of what has been classified as #instapoetry, an "Instapoet" who shares her creative work online and has amassed more than one million Instagram followers and sold a staggering 1.3 million books.

In 2015 she re-released Milk and Honey, the collection she had self-published the previous year after being told, "A traditional publisher is not going to pick up your book, there's no market for poetry".

She's staggered by her readership: ranging in age from 12 to 60 plus, from all races and mixed gender. Milk and Honey has appeared in the newspapers her cousins in India read though old boyfriends have kept a low profile.

???Kaur's poetry is raw and intense, transparent rather than opaque on a first reading and dispenses with punctuation and traditional poetic form.

"You have been taught your legs are a pit stop for men," she opens a verse which is positioned between a sketch of two open legs.

Milk and Honey is split into four chapters, each serving a "different purpose, dealing with a different pain and healing a different heartache".

Kaur draws from the experiences of her mother's generation as well as friends and wrote most of it while flatting with her best friend at university while "talking every single day for hours at a time".

"Milk and Honey was written with me being honest to myself, kind of pulling at the things that I hear the most and saying that out loud and you know that thing that we hear the most is most universal and so that rings true with all folks. The language used in the poetry is extremely, extremely accessible.

"For me the power of the poetry in Milk and Honey is the feeling you get after finished reading the poem. It's the emotion you feel once you've read the last word and that is only possible when the diction is easy and you don't get stuck on every other word, you don't know what the word means. Whether you are reading it or writing it, it's cathartic both ways." ???

That's not to say that Kaur feels completely at ease with her global profile. As her audience has grown, she feels more eyes upon her as she tackles the emotional and political terrain of womanhood.

A second book is close to being finalised. "I want to create a collection, almost like a trilogy of sorts. Whereas Milk and Honey was very much like holding a mirror up to yourself, the second book is turning that mirror around and fixing it on the world. The book is a reflection of the times we are in."

The Best of the Festival: Poetry and Performance: Readings from Hera Lindsay Bird, Ali Cobby Eckmann, Ivan Coyote, Carol Ann Duffy and Rupi Kaur. Thursday, 3pm, Roslyn Packer Theatre, $30, 92501988, swf.org.au

Sex, Blood and Death: Rupi Kaur, Brit Bennett and Viola Di Grado take on taboos. Sunday, 1.30pm, Pier 2/3 The Loft, $20, 92501988.

Origin Story: Robert Dessaix, Hannah Kent, Hisham Matar, Ian Rankin and Joy Williams name the books that made them want to become writers. Wednesday, 6pm, ???City Recital Hall Angel Place, city, ???$45, 8256 2222, swf.org.au

Through the Wardrobe: Durga Chew-Bose, Eliza Henry-Jones and C. S. Pacat discuss the fictional worlds to which they would escape. Thursday, 10am, Pier 2/3 Club Stage, Hickson Rd, The Rocks, ???$20, 9250 1988, swf.org.au

A Murderer in the Family: ???Susan Faludi, Hisham Matar and Nadja Spiegelman reveal what happens when writing gets personal. Friday, 10am, Roslyn Packer Theatre???, $30, 9250 1988, swf.org.au

This story Instapoet Rupi Kaur, an internet sensation first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.