And the question: what is poetry?
“milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity…”
Description as found: http://publishing.andrewsmcmeel.com/books/detail?sku=9781449474256
Goodreads rating 4.15 out of 5 stars (as at 13th October 2018)
The rating for this book on Goodreads is a solid one, however many were disappointed by this collection of poems, with some readers even questioning whether
“these poems are just
by hitting enter”
(What about free verse?)
Some readers found the content beautiful and meaningful yet not what can be defined as poetry. Others found this collection one of a kind, extremely poetic and emotional. One can deduct that this book has created some form of controversy among readers to say the least.
While reading the comments of various readers on Goodreads, this question kept coming to my head: What is poetry? and what do people expect from it?
To formulate some kind of answer I needed to go back home, I needed an analogy with painting.
When the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc. put together their first collective exhibition, the general public and art critics of the time considered their works unfinished. Louis Leroy, an art critic for Le Charivari, entitled his negative review “Exhibition of Impressionists” after Claude Monet’s painting Impression: Sunrise, 1873.
The negative reviews continued unabated. A critic for The New York Tribune, had this to say about these artists: “None of its members [referring to the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc.] show signs of possessing first-rate talent, and indeed the ‘Impressionist’ doctrines strike me as incompatible, in an artist’s mind, with the existence of first-rate talent” (Henry James, The New York Tribune, 13th May 1876).
The criticism being levelled at Kaur’s collection of poems by the general readers is in my opinion similar to that levelled at the ‘Impressionists’ at the time of their debut. A criticism attacking their technique and style. Here are some cropped screenshots from Goodreads showing reviews of readers. Also kindly note the number of people who agree with these comments by ‘liking’ them.
On the other hand, the positive appreciation is about the content and delivery; simple words combined with delicate, simple drawings.
To answer my question ‘what is poetry?’, I can say that a poem is like a painting in words, wanting to convey an emotion, a situation… Rupi Kaur succeeds in doing this in a very simple, sometimes funny, and yet profound way. And as in the case of paintings, some people will admire, others will dislike.
Online, I have come across numerous of this ‘instapoet’s’ poems. Having read different poems in isolation and then reading them within a context makes a difference. Within a context I could enter the mind and heart of Kaur to a better extent. Her words are forceful and her message is about empowering some while sensitising others. I could sincerely relate with her message, a message which is universal (because most people go through some form of heartache) and extremely popular especially for women (embracing one’s femininity is a journey, and Kaur was born in India).
In my opinion Kaur’s work can be described as the self-motivational or self-help genre in poetic form. I would recommend milk and honey to anyone who would like to read something full of TLC, or someone going through a difficult relationship, or who is fumbling when it comes to self-worth and appreciation.
My sixteen or eighteen year old self would have revelled in these poems. And let’s remember that Kaur is very young. She turned 26 years on the 4th of October and when milk and honey was self-published she was a 22-year-old-girl (with a huge following on social media, which she had spent years building organically). I am truly curious to see what this lady will come up with in the years to come.
I believe that as in the case of the Impressionists’ works, only time will tell whether Rupi Kaur’s words will stand the test of time and keep resonating in the minds and hearts of readers and other instapoets.
A word about her style:
Some criticised Kaur for not using capital letters or punctuation marks. I read that the lack of capital letters and punctuation marks, with the exception of the full stop, are both features of Punjabi which she has imported into her English writing.
Here are my favourite three picks from milk and honey (I give these three poems 5⭐️).
what terrifies me most is how we
foam at the mouth with envy
when others succeed
but sigh in relief
when they are failing
our struggle to
celebrate each other is
what’s proven most difficult
in being human
i don’t know what living a balanced life feels like
when i am sad
i don’t cry i pour
when i am happy
i don’t smile i glow
when i am angry
i don’t yell i burn
the good thing about feeling in extremes is
when i love i give them wings
but perhaps that isn’t
such a good thing cause
they always tend to leave
and you should see me
when my heart is broken
i don’t grieve
i am a museum full of art
but you had your eyes shut
Thanks for reading.