I wanted to like this book, I really did. Because I knew Rupi Kaur from her period-positive photography series, her instagram, and she seems like someone I would generally like to hang out with. Because everyone has read this collection of poetry (poetry people and otherwise). Because I know firsthand the struggles of being a writer in today's world. Because it's hard out here for a poet, for real. Because I am all about supporting my fellow artists, creatives, women, and people in the hustle.
But all of that couldn't get me to like the book.
Milk & Honey is Kaur's debut #1 NYTimes bestselling collection of poetry and companion drawings. From Kaur's website:
milk and honey, rupi kaur’s debut collection of poetry and prose, is a #1 new york times bestseller. it was first self-published in november 2014. the self-published edition quickly topped north american charts. its grassroots success lead to andrews mcmeel publishing releasing it under their name on october 6 2015. the book has since been a runaway success finding a home in the hearts and homes of readers across the world. milk and honey has sold over 1.5 million copes. remained on the new york times bestsellers list for over a year and has been translated into over 30 languages.
On principal, I support this grassroots endeavor. I unsuccessfully tried to get my YA novel published, and I know how crushing that can be. I also know how validating it can be when something that "the powers that be" have rejected gets accepted by the masses.
And that's where I find myself at a crossroads with Milk & Honey. Poetry is simple, but so many people find it out of reach, or inaccessible for many reasons (ivory towers and all that). Kaur has somehow managed to transcend these preconceived notions about poetry and reach the masses, show them poetry, make it accessible. But to me, Milk & Honey is not poetry. It is clickbait and to call it a book of poetry is a misnomer. It is a collection of quotables wound together into a four part narrative. On their own, they're enjoyable to read, like Post-Secret was enjoyable to read. But to compare this book of poems to the likes of Sonia Sanchez, Adrienne Rich, or any number of deeply feminine poets, is an oversell.
On her Instagram, which has over 1.5 million followers, Kaur regularly posts images of her poems and accompanying drawings, and I think this is the medium best suited for her work. Among the landscape of listicles and hand-lettered quotes, Milk & Honey is at home. Maybe it is Kaur's level of intimacy with the reader, her excessive use of "I" and "you" and "our." Or maybe it is the lack of nuanced metaphor or simile that had me struggling to call this work something equivocal to poetry. Or maybe I'm just bitter that her new-media endeavor worked out in a way that mine didn't (I don't think it's this, but I acknowledge that it could be, given the reality).
I want to believe that Kaur wrote a good book of poetry, and since it has a grassroots beginning, it isn't a watered down piece of mass-media candy. But it's hard to find the nuance. For me, when I am writing poems, I like hiding messages under metaphor. Weighing each line down with simile and obscurity, so that it means something for me, but the reader has to do work to get to the true meaning. I like reading poems that make the reader do work to suss out the meaning. To duck and crawl between the lines to find the true essence of the author's intention. Milk & Honey lacked that.
The message is uplifting, however. It does aim to empower the powerless, which is a noble goal for any art.
But it doesn't matter what I think. Clearly her work has resonated with millions of people, and forged connections were there were none. If reading her book has made anyone feel less alone, then it's done its work.
It's just a pity it's not for me.