by Mojdeh Feili
My introduction to Rupi Kaur’s work was through her first poetry collection called milk and honey. I had heard several people mention it and had no idea what to expect. I ordered the book because it was on sale, thinking I could give it a chance. Soon, I fell in love with her poetry.
First, let me tell you a little bit about Rupi Kaur herself. She was born in Punjab, India and moved to Canada with her family when she was only four years old. She published milk and honey by means of self-publication, against advice from one of her creative writing teachers. It worked out well for her because she was picked up by Andrews McMeel Publishing and rose to number one on the New York Times bestsellers list. Her second collection, the sun and her flowers, was released on October 3, 2017. I am going to talk about both of these volumes of poetry.
What is interesting to know is that all of her work is written in lower case. According to herself, she has done this because in her native language, Punjabi, there are no upper or lower-case letters. What appealed to her about that was the equality in the letters, but also the fact that she could incorporate her cultural heritage into her work. Her poetry often revolves around the themes sexual violence, acceptance of the body, trauma, love, and heartbreak, empowerment and healing. Often, she accompanies her poetry with her own illustrations, and these become visual poetry.
I read milk and honey in two days. I had just come back from vacation and there it was waiting for me in my mailbox. I was excited, like I always am when I have a new book. Once I started to read, I couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t so much the way in which she had written, which reminded me of Nayyirah Waheed’s work, but the fact that she had laid all wounds so open for us to see.
The first page sets the tone of her vulnerability:
how is it so easy for you
to be kind to people he asked
milk and honey dripped
from my lips as i answered
cause people have not
been kind to me
There are many poems in this collection that I would want to give attention to, however, I would just be reciting more than half the volume. I would say, buy it, read it, re-read it, give it to all the women you know. The way she talks about sexual violence, her lack of confidence and the ways in which she has been put down; it struck a chord with me. I think it will do so with a lot of women; I realize this more so than ever since #metoo has revealed how many of us have been used and abused, objectified and blamed for it.
There was one particular page that I often think back on. Growing up in the Netherlands, where a lot of people are very down to earth (nothing wrong with that of course), I have always felt I may feel things deeper than others around me. This page just made a click for me; I was not alone.
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
There weren’t truer words uttered for me. And probably many of you along with me. On her website, Rupi Kaur explains the title of her book: “milk and honey were ingredients used in my family and community as healing tools. they were used as cold and flu medicine’s. tools to heal wounds. repair the insides”. I feel that her poetry is definitely the right place to start healing some of the wounds inflicted by the heteronormative patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
Kaur’s second collection of poetry, the sun and her flowers, came out not long after I had read milk and honey. I was dying to read it and when I finally bought it, I dove into it straight away. To be completely honest, I was let down slightly. At some point, I even thought that one of her poems was a repeat from milk and honey (it wasn’t). What had seemed like a ray of light on a rainy day before, now seemed more of the same and it dulled my senses a bit. However, there were still gems hidden in this new collection. I liked that she talked about friendship and not only love between lovers. I also loved that she talked about women of colour and immigrants.
they have no idea what it is like
to lose home at the risk of
never finding home again
to have your entire life
split between two lands and
become the bridge between two countries
As an immigrant myself, even though I was very young (almost seven years old) I felt her words again to click with me. I have seen this with my eyes but also felt it within myself. What Rupi Kaur also reminded me of, was exactly the reason why Yasmina and I started this blog:
otherwise the butterfly
surrounded by a group of moths
unable to see itself
will keep trying to become the moth
PS: I recommend checking out Rupi Kaur’s website because her art is very interesting as well. I specifically liked her photography collection on the taboo on periods. You can also buy her books there.