The Journey of Surviving Through Poetry — milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

“[…] he will taste / like the poetry / i wish i could write“. Well, I hope so too. This verse is from Rupi Kaur’s New York Times Bestseller milk and honey, a collection of poetry, prose, and hand-drawn illustrations. Although it is absolutely admired by the social media community, I was unfortunately a bit disappointed by Kaur’s first book. But why? It sounded so promising and auspicious.

Let’s take a closer look at the young author. Rupi Kaur, who just turned 25, is a Canadian poet, writer and illustrator of Punjabi descent. She self-published her book in 2014 but it was later picked up by Andrews McMeel Publishing. She studied Rhetoric and Professional Writing at the University of Waterloo, Ontario and loves Alice Walker.

The book is divided into four chapters which each focus on different themes. Chapter one, the hurting, is about abuse, violence and loss, whereas chapter two, the loving, focuses on the beginning of a love and is way more positive than the first chapter. The third chapter is called the breaking and is about the end of a relationship. The last chapter is called the healing and deals with the time that follows after the heartbreak. Many of the poems are characterised by feminist attitudes. Kaur took the inspiration for the poems from her own and other people’s stories.

All 204 pages feature interesting artwork and design. The purist style is supported by the black and white pages and the simple illustrations. The aesthetic visualisations emphasize the poet’s messages and form a beautiful framework for them. Rupi Kaur has been drawing her whole life. When she came to Canada from India, she was unable to speak English so she drew all the thoughts she couldn’t express. What supports her style is her way of writing. Every letter is uncapitalized. There is almost no punctuation. The poems are short but contain enough information to convey an impression of her emotions and feelings. So far so auspicious…

So, why didn’t I like the book as much as thousands of others? In my opinion, it’s not dull. It’s authentic, well written, entertaining, and some poems are great. It addresses not only romantic topics but shows that women have a voice and should use it. Kaur criticizes social phenomena like body shaming. It would be an excellent present for those who are interested in the empowerment of women. However, for me, it’s still a book for the Instagram and tumblr generation, of which Rupi Kaur is an active member and to which platforms she posts a lot of her recent thoughts.

Why didn’t I feel blown away after finishing reading? Maybe because I couldn’t relate to some of the topics. But is there even such a thing as a story you can universally relate to? Probably not. You read because you want to get new perspectives, to discover new worlds. But maybe her world isn’t mine. It’s too mournful for me. The whole book reminded me of a song by Florence and the Machine “It’s always darkest before the dawn“. The positive feelings Kaur describes are often essentially only positive because many  of her poems are so dismal (for example when she writes about the broken relationship between daughter and father, or abuse).

Moreover, I got the impression that the author isn’t always consistent in her argumentation. On the one hand, she calls other women “sisters“, but on the other hand she is very mean to the next girlfriend of her ex-boyfriend and calls her a “bootleg version of who“ she is. Would you call your “sister“ that?

Nevertheless, I really liked her style of writing which is characterized by simplicity and a melancholy veil that lays about her thoughts. It’s a quiet book for quiet moments. Hope, inner strength, love, lust, and self reflection are recurring aspects. Messages like ‘you have to love yourself before others can love you’ and which focus on how important it is to understand ourselves make it an inspiring work.

It is definitely readable and I can understand why so many people love this piece of art. Maybe I should read her second book the sun and the flowers, which was published in October 2017, and see if it will convince me.

I think the main reason why I was disappointed is the big hype on the internet. My expectations were raised so much and I thought it would be very moving. Often it’s better to have neutral expectations, especially if you are talking about works of art. Everyone has a different perception, different experiences. If you are in an emotional situation like a toxic relationship, have a broken heart or have just fallen in love with someone at the time of reading, some poems may speak better to you. In my opinion, milk and honey is a book which meets the expectations of young, female literature fans. But unlike Kaur’s feelings, my fascination was limited. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Lisa Schubert

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