Rupi Kaur is one of the most important poets of the millennial generation. She belongs to a circle of writers known as “instagram poets:” a group whose work relies heavily on new-age aesthetic rather than classic literary tradition. With 1.7 million followers on instagram: Kaur is known for her minimalist lyric, drawings, and portraits. The success of her debut collection, “milk and honey,” can largely be contributed to this widespread media presence. Since its publication three years ago, the collection has sold a staggering 2.5 million copies and has spent 77 weeks on The New York Times Bestseller list. Her latest collection, “the sun and her flowers” is on track to produce a similar feat.
Published by McMeel on October 3rd, the collection is currently second on The New York Times Best-Seller List for Combined Print & E-Book Fiction. The book is divided into five sections: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. Many of the poems are no longer than a paragraph and are often accompanied by Kaur’s drawings to give life to abstract moments. Kaur’s poetry has drawn both praise and criticism in the literary sphere. Her concise aesthetic coupled with her similarly stark imagery lends itself well to be featured on social media platforms, leading to a mass-content circulation. The poetry’s simplicity and willingness to challenge contentious social topics is another reason for her works popularity. However, people who study poetry tend to find fault with its form.
Kaur’s work deals with themes of love, healing, and all the suffering in between. The poems in “the sun and her flowers” touch on many different subgenres related to romance, sexuality, femininity, and minority status. Kaur’s poems capture the narrator’s journey from loss to growth. Her brevity in these poems, often renders her work as more accessible in its simplicity. The collection is powerful in its ability to catalyze an important cultural discourse through this openness. However, the poems often read more like inspirational quotes due to this brief nature. Kaur’s clean-cut aesthetic comes with a price. The poems contain no punctuation or capitalization, a style which mimics simplicity but really creates a technical mess. The sentences are often left clashing and the line breaks let the wrong words fall into the spaces between lines. Similarly, her style leaves the lyric hollow in many places when it calls for greater strength. Take the poem “i refuse to do a disservice to my life” as an example. Composed of two lines it reads, “i will no longer/ compare my place to others.” A nice sentiment. But it does little to call imagery to mind. It offers no story, no concrete description for the reader to reach this conclusion through their own thought and creativity. Lyric is as its best when it’s not a challenge in itself, but when it challenges the reader to create and extrapolate meaning from the language. It’s at its worst in moments like this when the shallowness leaves little to be discovered.
Kaur is not alone to eschew traditional poetic technicalities. It’s a common theme in work written by millennials. There’s a definite pivot in the poetic canon. Poets like Kaur are able to use collections like “the sun and her flowers” to reach groups which have long felt excluded from poetry due to either its form or content. Kaur’s ability to bridge this divide, to excite, and to invite these readers to experience poetry is both admirable and should be celebrated. In moments of strength, the collection is filled with thoughtful lyric. Despite their vagueness, Kaur’s lyrics often feel warm; “to heal/ you have to/ get to the root/ of the wound/ and kiss it all the way up.” This warmth is evident in her mass following. People connect with her words. It’s a strength which comes from their straightforward nature. In a world when things are so often complicated and daunting, Kaur’s honesty is refreshing. To be clear, the collection satisfies this desire for veracity. What it often denies, is this honesty rendered beautiful through the careful construction of language.
Despite the book’s often problematic form, it’s a must read for college students across the spectrum. Kaur’s audience is mostly female due to her works celebration of femininity; however, during this moment of political and social discourse it’s essential reading for males especially. Due to its straightforward lyric, there can be no misinterpretation of the pain and anguish so many women carry; “why/did you leave a door/ hanging open between my legs/ were you lazy/ did you forget/ or did you purposely leave me unfinished.” College campuses, as notorious spots for rape and sexual harassment, are subsequently the places where a celebration of womanhood and strength must take place. This collection is integral to both that recognition of fortitude and confrontation of hurt.
Kaur is headed toward a potentially powerful reclamation of poetic form. However, the movement still has work to do. While the rules are certainly meant to be broken, in the case of many of Kaur’s poems, it leaves her lyric falling flat. With improvement on some essential technicality, her lyrics have the potential, to as she writes in the collection; “keep moving forward.”