Is it read-worth? I hate to say that I completely and utterly don’t recommend a book or an author to anyone, but that’s honestly how I feel about Rupi Kaur’s work. It is just so disappointing to read an author that is so highly acclaimed and be so disappointed by their writing. I don’t buy books to instagram caption their one liners. I buy them so I can read them. The fact that her writing consistently lacks any substance is emotionally grating. Add in the fact that they’re supposed to be empowering for women and their lack of development is almost offensive.
I first read Rupi Kaur poetry after visiting a local bookstore. I was picking up a couple of collections of poetry to read in a nearby park. It was nice out and I wanted something that would really move me. The clerk recommended her new collection, Milk and Honey. Without even reading the first page, I just added it to my over-growing pile. It had to be good if it was someone’s first and only recommendation to me, right?
I didn’t get a chance to start reading it that day. I think my pile of books was ten to fifteen books high and I was particularly excited to read something else I had grabbed. When I got home, I decided to look more into Milk and Honey. It was my only real impulse buy that day and I was curious as to why the clerk had recommended it to me. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people were absolutely raving about it. They said her work was powerful and thought provoking, a true testament to the inner strength of women around the world. Wow! I was so excited to read it.
And then I did.
What a total disappointment Milk and Honey was. The words were more evocative of a self-pitying teenage girl writing Facebook statuses about her jerk of an ex boyfriend than a powerful woman standing up to her oppressors. Not a single poem in the entire collection came across as powerful. The language used, the writing style, the poorly drawn illustrations on each page… It was heart-breaking to have such high expectations of a book just to be so completely let down.
I honestly put the book down and thought I read the work of a first grader. Literally anyone can write in Rupi Kaur’s style as long as they
write a sentence and
down into parts
with a sketch at the bottom. It felt like something her grade school teacher had told her she did a great job on and she had never improved from there. Her topics just changed a little bit.
I don’t personally understand the allure of a poetry collection full of writing that can barely be labeled as poetry. Rupi Kaur writes sentences and just places line breaks somewhere in them so that they vaguely resemble a stream of consciousness poem. There is absolutely nothing poetic about the majority of her poetry. They may be aesthetically pleasing to look upon (for some readers), but there is so little substance behind the words. Most of the “poetry” sounds more like tweets and Facebook statuses than they do poetry. It is absolutely shocking that her writing is so highly acclaimed and yet adds so little to the literary world.
It is also shocking that people have such deep reactions to them. I can’t explain it.
I watched a video on Youtube the other day, one made by Raphael Gomes. It’s titled “I tried foods people ONLY PRETEND to LIKE.” It includes food like candy corn and La Croix seltzers. How people feel about those foods is exactly how I feel about Rupi Kaur’s poetry. Because she writes so vaguely about such important and poignant topics, people pretend to like her writing. It’s easy for them to take a picture of one of her poems, caption it, upload it to Instagram, and say that they’re woke. I think I even did it the first time I read Milk and Honey. They let you feel more educated about real world problems because you shared an easy understood poem about it. Look at you! Fighting for women’s rights.
It is such a cop out to the complexity of women’s issues and the actual emotions women feel to reduce them to the level of Kaur’s writing. What is so wounding about this is that there are thousands of poets who deserve more acclaim for their writing. People who write provoking and powerful work should be receiving the acclaim that Kaur has wrongfully received.
Propulsion by Felicia Zamora immediately comes to mind for me. That poem resonates with such strong emotion and really calls attention to a specific problem women of color face. The writing doesn’t use overly complicated words or phrases, but it has so much meaning and depth to it. It doesn’t resort to vague half statements and illusions. It is possibly one of my favorite pieces of writing. You can absolutely say something profound about women’s issues (and racial issues) in an interesting and well-developed way. It is possible. You do not need to reduce them to the standards of Rupi Kaur’s writing.
What also comes to mind to me are a couple of spoken word poems by Bianca Phipps that are available right now on Youtube. Her work is just outstanding. Her poetry is beautiful and sad and strong. The Heartbreaker Poem in particular perfectly captures the actual emotions of women. It does not rely on overly complicated language in order to do so, similar in nature to Rupi Kaur’s writing, but it says so much more than hers. Of course, it is delivered vocally instead of in writing, but it is such an outstanding poem that I definitely recommend you give it a listen.
Some people might infer, based on those two poems, that I do prefer slightly more advanced linguistics in my poetry. You might think that it’s just the simple words Kaur uses that turn me off to her writing. Maybe I’m one of those people who want my poetry to be absolutely littered with overly complicated phrases and long words. But I’m not. It’s absolutely possible to write amazing poetry with simple words. Most of the time, I actually prefer poetry that does so. But Rupi Kaur does not write amazing poetry. While sometimes saying more with less can be powerful, her version of saying more with less is actually less. Words strung together that look like poetry are not always fully capable of being poetry.
At this point, you may be asking yourself why I even bothered to read The Sun and Her Flowers then? And the answer is simple: the book is free with my Kindle Unlimited subscription. I wouldn’t lose anything except for time. I remembered from the first book of hers I read that it would also be barely anytime lost. I think I read the entire book in under an hour, with pauses to try to add value to each poem with mixed success. I am a very quick reader, but anyone could read this book in an hour.
I also hoped that, because she had been greeted with such high praises from readers, she would add more value to her work. The poems would be longer and more developed upon. She had had great success with her first collection. Why not improve upon her poetry to gain more success?
I’m not sure she followed that path, however, and I don’t completely blame her. Why would you bother to write good poetry when what you’ve written before sells?
I should have listened to my gut instinct when I read the first poem in the collection and was shocked by how utterly underwhelming it was:
on the last day of love
my heart cracked inside my body
Are you kidding me? This is what we give praise to? I had forgotten the extent to which I was disappointed by the first book.
It’s also kind of a shame because sometimes she is so close to writing good poetry that I want to scream. I can see where she’s going. But I’m always left wanting more from her writing. This collection, The Sun and Her Flowers, includes so many pieces that I wish she had improved or elaborated upon. It’s very frustrating for me. Because of how they are written, even her longer pieces just come across more as sentences or conversations that she removed the punctuation from and inserted line breaks in. It’s ridiculous. I don’t want to read poetry that makes me dislike poetry.
It is especially disappointing because her books are supposed to be all about empowering women. Instead, they’re reductive. The majority of her poetry comes across as poorly written, emotionally insecure, cliched, and overall disappointing. How is this book so popular?