Rupi Kaur is my new religion. For someone whose first poetry collection was so touching, thoughtful and imaginative, filled with life lessons, and illuminating the gift of gratitude, I could not imagine that her second book would ever reach the same level of self-understanding, teach me any more about love and loss, or express different understanding of cultural conflicts. How wrong I was!
Kaur has such flexibility in her subject matter. And while themes of love, loss, self-acceptance and cultural identity are still undercurrents running through her work, the sheer emotion she evokes in few words is stunning and never feels repetitive. She is able to scrape off our fresh scabs of heartbreak, allow us to bleed, and then has the incisive ability to sew our hearts together again. the sun and her flowers, as her first poetry collection, milk and honey, did, requires a certain faith in Kaur to guide, as she unearths deep darkness, sadness and truth, that she will re-heal the wounds her words incur. And she does.
milk and honey was a personal journey through the healing process of sexual assault to love and self-acceptance. It was a collection of poems so potent I often say it saved my life. Each small bundle of black characters upon the white page contain a nugget (or more) of wisdom. And each time I reread the book (its frayed pages have seen a hundred reads from both me and many friends whom I’ve pushed it upon), I am reminded of her wisdom, fragility, and honest vulnerability. It is the only antidote I can name to a broken heart.
the sun and her flowers has a similar trajectory of pain to healing. Kaur exposes the fresh wounds of a lost love, and allows the reader to follow her process of recovery. Divided into five floral segments: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming, she is cut open and re-mended to be stronger, more faithful, and appreciative of all that she has been given. She exalts the blessing of being born female, living within a brown body, and the magic she attributes to her mother, who has afforded her the privilege of following her dreams.
With a reflection of the immigrant experience, Kaur explores her ancestry, pulling the reader in for the ride, reminding us poignantly that we are all from the same “weeping” and “poisoned” Earth. What makes Kaur stand out amidst a plethora of immigration stories or songs about heartbreak is her complete, straightforward honesty; it drives the journey. She has allowed herself to access the most hidden parts of her psyche and displays them for us to analyze. It is so truthful that even clichéd lines lose their ability to be mocked in the face of utter soul-bearing.
However, the simplicity of her prose and its depiction of pain and womanhood are easily parodied. Many on Twitter have insulted or satirized Kaur’s poetry in its unpretentious depiction of saturated emotion. And while she claims that her style of punctuation derives from an attempt to bring symmetry and balance to her work, as well as to capture the essence her Punjabi ancestry and mother tongue in this new English form, it bears a striking resemblance to the work of poet Nayyirah Waheed, who has called her out for plagiarism.
Without denying that the two writers share many themes in common, and that Waheed should be recognized for the invention of her accessible and evocative style, Kaur still manages to string together a unique and heartfelt expression that has touched many. This insight and capability have gained her a #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller’s list after the publication of her first collection. My one criticism of her latest book stems from the chapter “rising”, which suggests momentarily that the only way in which to recover from heartbreak is by loving a new man. She goes on to champion female self-fulfillment, as well as challenging societal expectations of competition between women, ultimately redeeming herself from this toxic sentiment.
Kaur’s poetry is akin to comfort food, Advil, cough syrup and an emotional AED in one. So while you should prepare for some tears, (I’ve been unapologetically sobbing since page two) I cannot underline more how worth it this is to read. You will find yourself re-visiting poems, flipping through the images, and wishing there were more. Kaur offers up words that try to name the ups and downs of the human experience, timeless and yet poignant in a culture where capitalistic ideals of self-improvement run rampant. Acknowledging her faults, her pains, and her fears, Kaur has gone through a journey to come to terms with it all, and she brings you along for the ride. Don’t be surprised if you begin to reconcile with your own demons as well.
Photo from Google Books