Rupi Kaur’s poetry collection Milk and Honey burst onto the literary scene in 2015. It quickly turned from a self-published collection to being picked up by a major publishing house and turning into millions of sales around the world.
Poetry in the twenty-first century is not at the forefront of general literary interest. More often than not poetry is something that people are forced to study in school and/or university, but very few poets make it into the main stream because not many people really read poetry on a regular basis. Yet Kaur’s writing seemed to defy the normal conventions of literary popularity. A poet, a woman of colour, a child of immigrants, a trauma survivor was suddenly all that everyone could talk about.
Milk and Honey reads like a Liederkreis, which is defined as a collection of individually complete songs that when performed together elucidate larger overarching themes. For me, it is also hard not to notice the connections with the grammatical aesthetics of e.e. cummings in Kaur’s writing. The accompaniment of Kaur’s drawings also at another layer of melancholy to the collection.
So why Kaur’s poetry and why now? I think the strength of the poems comes from its Liederkreis qualities as well as Kaur’s honesty. The poems create an intimacy with the reader that re-contextualises poetry for a modern audience. Suddenly, in a what was often considered a dusty boring art, contemporary young women are seeing themselves in perfect poetic stanzas.
It is hard to talk about every poem in Kaur’s collection, so I decided to pick out my favourite which appears on page 119 of the paperback edition (ISBN: 978-1-4494-7425-6).
The sentences of you are snakeskin role onto each other and the lack of punctuation means that you can stop and start the flow of words which create slightly different meanings. It is ultimately a bitter sweet reflection on loss and choosing to move on. This poem makes me think of my Father who has been gone now for six years. I love him and no poem can constrain or describe the love and loss I feel, yet you are snakeskin comes pretty close. Letting go and forgetting are both voluntary and involuntary acts. The guilt of choosing the future, the guilt of letting go, the guilt of not being able to recall every detail, of choosing oneself is at the heart of this poem for me.
In the spirit of the new year that is just around the corner, Kaur’s poetry has come at a perfect time for me. Hurting, loving, letting go, leaving, and reflecting have all been strong themes for my 2017. However, to quote Kaur from her latest collection The Sun and Her Flowers:
Never feel guilty for starting again
I hope that 2018 brings you peace. I hope that tough times stay in the past and if they feel like they will never end, know that all things change. You are stronger than you think, wiser than you know, and worth more than you can calculate.
Have you read Kaur’s poetry? What other contemporary poets are you reading? I can always do with more recommendations. As always, share the reading love.