this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
in your hands
2017 is my year of trying different genres and styles, and there was no better place to start than reading poetry. Poetry and I have had a fraught relationship. I loved it in primary school, and grew to hate it in high school when the only poetry I was exposed to was the ‘classics’ (which seemed to consist solely of lengthy descriptions of nature and sexist poems on ‘love’) and the emo angst on myspace (which featured anarchism, despair, and sexist poems on ‘love’). Needless to say by the time I started studying at university I actively avoided every poetry unit that I could. Then the little imp in my brain decided that I needed to try new things, and also pointed out that the poems I’ve experienced so far probably weren’t the best example of the art form. So I picked up a copy of ‘milk and honey’ by Rupi Kaur. And thank god I did.
I won’t lie, the use of all lowercase letters put me off at first. As a purist when it comes to punctuation, I was wondering how being permanently irritated was supposed to improve my experience with the poems. Kaur provides an explanation for her choice here https://www.rupikaur.com/faq/ and her beautiful language and imagery pulled me in so completely that I stopped noticing the absence of capitals. I intended to read a few poems before bed, and instead I stayed up half of the night devouring them all.
The anthology is split into four sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing. The theme of abuse is represented most strongly in poetry from both the hurting and the breaking, while female empowerment and sexuality is represented through the work as a whole. You get the sense that when Kaur writes of abuse and rape, she is writing not only of her own experiences but those of women as a whole. She captures not only the experiences themselves but the lingering fear that all women have that one day they will endure that fate. With stark language she also highlights the everyday language and behaviours that contribute to female oppression as a whole, such as in the poem below:
While a large number of the poetry in ‘milk and honey’ is love poetry, it’s love in all forms. Mutual love, sexual love, and dysfunctional love are all represented, as is a growing sense of physical and mental empowerment. The women conjured by these poems are not meek and waiting, but strong beings who’d rather do without than suffer a self-destructive relationship. Kaur beautifully conveys both the pain of leaving and the joy of escaping a love turned sour. The poetry is also accompanied by simple yet striking illustrations, which enhance the imagery of the language without distracting from the content. They are a beautiful embellishment, and make me want to frame my favourite poems and put them on my walls.
‘milk and honey’ is aptly named. It slides sweetly through the mind, and it’s only when you close the book that the questions Kaur’s poetry provokes swims to the front of your mind. Of course, now I’m worried that I’ll never find another poet whose works I enjoy as much as I do Rupi Kaur.