She is Woman and She Roars: Rupi Kaur Releases "the sun and her flowers"
if you are not enough for yourself / you will never be enough / for someone else
This is an excerpt from Rupi Kaur’s milk and honey, a book of poetry and prose, released in 2014. It reached number one on the New York Times Bestsellers list and become an internet phenomenon. If you haven’t heard of it, you have, at the very least, seen it.
milk and honey includes short poems, prose pieces, and illustrations that fit a very particular aesthetic, one popular from the tumblr days of thoughtful, manic-pixie-dream-girls; one that has led to its pages and poems being propagated across the internet.
On Oct. 3, Kaur published a second book, the sun and her flowers, which follows the same format with a similar poetic style — crisp, tense statements without the use of capitalized words.
Both books are beautiful, with pages that are thoughtfully simple, accompanied by what looks to be a quickly penned illustration. There is a vulnerability embedded within each page, as if we are looking into a young girl’s diary.The Instagram-ability of Rupi Kaur’s books -- their authenticity and rawness -- has led to an incredibly popular, mostly young and female, following.
However, this success has not come without disparaging criticism. Kaur’s poetry has been made fun of for its simplicity, leading to parodies such as:
The purity of Kaur’s format is also partnered with the woman-oriented stories that Kaur champions, which is another part of what some critic about Kaur’s work. When an artist’s following consists of young women, that artist is usually seen as not worthy, or not as talented as their male counterparts. A young Jane Austen was once nervous that her writing was too light or sparkly after the few initial reader responses of being fashionable.
The same goes for the fact that Kaur is, herself, a young woman. Her age and her younger fan base have not hindered her success -- at the age of 25, Kaur had her first two published works peak at number one on the New York Times Bestseller List. She is an accomplished writer who has created a community where people feel together, come together and share experiences.
Yet, because of her simplicity and style of prose, many in the world of literature, as well as social media “trolls," trivialize her work and messages.
Yes, you can take the very short and “easy” poem that I quoted at the top of the page, and say, well anybody can write that. Maybe it is simplistic, and in an academic setting, there would not be much to analyze. But her accessibility has accomplished what most artists spend their lives pining over: connectivity.
There are also many other poems that are in depth and deal with complicated themes like depression, sexual assault, and immigration. Kaur is not selling readers individual poems; to you she is surrendering her life, her love, and everything in between. For example, in her newest publication, the sun and her flowers, there is the poem as follows:
i tried to leave many times but / as soon as i got away / my lungs buckled under the pressure /panting for air i’d return / perhaps this is why i let you / skin me to the bone / Something / was better than nothing / having you touch me / even if it was not kind / was better than not having your hands at all / i could take the abuse / i could not take the absence / i knew i was beating a dead thing / but did it matter / if the thing was dead / when at the very least / i had it-addiction
This is followed, on the next page, by a much shorter piece: “you break women in like shoes”.
Now, if you were to just take the line “you break women in like shoes,” what would it mean? Without the context, without the story, you just have a simile.
Perhaps this explains why those who have not read all of Kaur’s work dislike it, or say it is underdeveloped -- they are missing the full story.
But even the simplistic pieces are beautiful; sometimes the shortest stories, the shortest lines, are the hardest to write. Yet, everyone has always claimed, as with Pollock, as with Picasso, and all those who take a medium and do something no one else has done, that “I could do that.” The point is always -- but you didn’t.
Kaur has taken an art form that has been around for a long time and changed it. She has used technology to the best of her ability. She understands her audience, and the majority female fanbase loves her for that.
Her short poems give hope, power, and understanding to women in a way they understand, on a platform they constantly use.
Maybe it is bad poetry (personally, I ended up crying in a bookstore because of it, so I enjoy it). Maybe I want Kaur’s latest book because it is beautiful, because it is Instagram-able, because everyone else has it. Or maybe I want the sun and her flowers to be reminded that I am not alone in the beautiful and difficult experience that is being a woman. Maybe I want it for both reasons, because perhaps the two are intertwined. And perhaps it doesn’t really matter.