Review of Rupi Kaur's 'Milk and Honey'
Milk and Honey
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Rupi Kaur is an artist and an Instagram poet based in Toronto, Canada. Her poetry and illustrations delve into themes of sexuality, love, trauma, healing and femininity. Gaining international success, she currently has 2.5 million Instagram followers, while her anthology of poems Milk and Honey sold over 2.5 million copies.
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Milk and Honey explore female experiences with evocative and accessible language. Jumping between first-person and second-person pronouns, her poetry breaks conventional rules of traditional poetry, regarding grammar and punctuation. Kaur’s free-form poems use lowercase letters.This choice is used to honour her mother tongue, Punjabi. Punjabi uses Gurmukhi script, where all letters are written in undercase. Her inclusive and direct style effectively bridges her personal experiences with her readers.
Kaur splits her book into four chapters. ‘The Hurting’ shines a light on trauma, neglect, and objectification. ‘The Loving’ investigates the passion ignited by love. ‘The Breaking’ delves into the pain of heartbreak. ‘The Healing’ focuses on moving forward from trauma, failed relationships, and promotes female empowerment.
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When researching Kaur, I found two main perspectives on her book. Perspective one praised her ability to make inclusive content and find literary success in a marketplace dominated by cisgendered-white male writers. Perspective two criticised her work as being over-simplistic and could be written by anyone. After reading her book, I believe she treads a thin between over-simplicity and accessibility.
I must commend the shock value produced by her direct approach toward gritty topics, especially in ‘The Hurting’. For example, between a drawing of spread open legs a poem states, ‘you/ have been/ taught your legs/ are a pit stop for men’. The confronting imagery and second person pronouns capture the reader’s attention. This makes a strong statement about the objectification of women by making the reader uncomfortable, akin to how the persona feels. Furthermore, the persona goes from demeaning her ex-boyfriend’s future partners in ‘The Breaking’ to claim, ‘other women’s bodies/ are not our battleground’ in ‘The Healing’. This character development encourages readers to approach their relationships with maturity. These strengths lay a foundation for the reader to empathise with the persona’s struggles.
However, this foundation is impaired by how some poems reiterate advice with different wording, ‘if you are not enough for yourself/ you will never be enough/ for someone else’, ‘you/ are your own/ soul mate’ and ‘fall/ in love/ with your solitude’. All say ‘love yourself’ in numerous unoriginal and cliché ways indistinguishable from existing self-love quotes. Additionally, I felt the only way a reader can connect with most poems is through their experiences. For instance, those who have not experienced heartbreak would find ‘The Breaking’ unrelatable. Her unchallenging poetry and the lack of metaphors beneath the surface would fail to captivate those readers.
Poets must balance simplicity with complexity for their work to be successful. Clear and concise poetry makes its meaning easy to identify, however, over simplicity can bore readers. If the scales tip too far in favour of complexity, poems can appear pretentious and stop readers from reading the book. This book shows creative and literary writers how fine the line is between simplicity and complexity. For the reasons I discussed, I give this book three out of five stars.
Identification of the Reviewer
Beginner critical reviewer, Simran Singh is a student at Griffith University studying towards a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Creative Writing.
© 2018 Simran Singh