This review first appeared on Fourth & Sycamore.
Rupi Kaur’s poetry collection Milk and Honey (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015) is a powerful and deeply felt exploration of womanhood, identity, and love in the 21st century. Kaur is part of a unofficial movement of young poets who have earned their audiences primarily through social media; in Kaur’s case, most of her readers have come through Instagram, where she has almost 300,000 followers. Earlier this year, when Instagram removed a photo of Kaur with a menstrual stain on her pants (the photo was part of an art piece titled “Period”), Kaur fought back and used the incident as a way to expose the patriarchy’s fear of women’s bodies. Instagram later reinstated the photo with apologies, but not before the story rushed around the internet.
Kaur’s poems, accompanied by her own black and white line drawings, are often extremely brief but always cut beneath the surface, pulling back artifice to expose the pain, beauty, injustice, or triumph underneath. Her writing is fearless; Kaur writes about sexual abuse, sexual assault, her parents’ failures, her own sexual appetite and exploits, the thrill of early love, the devastation of lost love, racism, misogyny, and much more without seemingly ever hiding herself from her pen’s camera. That she writes about these things so plainly while still weaving a graceful poetic style and displaying a wickedly clever use of phrasing is impressive.
Kaur writes online and in Milk and Honey primarily about different aspects of being a woman in a society that hasn’t made nearly as many advances in equality as it thinks it has, and many of her poems (and their accompanying art) have become anthems of sorts for young women sick of being shamed for their bodies, their desires, in some cases their own assaults. These poems, often only a few lines long, are perfectly crafted to be passed around through social media like proliferating subversive pamphlets, like torches of protest each lighting the next.
no books have
the spine to
– women of color, page 171
Rupi Kaur is a poet of and for the 21st century, part of an unofficial movement of young internet poets (Tyler Knott Gregson, Lang Leav, and others) who hustle like mad and write approachable but rich verses primarily for younger, internet-savvy readers. Some of these poets don’t translate well to the printed page. Rupi Kaur absolutely does. Kaur’s poetic skill and her whip-smart commentary on feminist issues make Milk and Honeyimportant and worthwhile.