Title: milk and honey
Author: Rupi Kaur
Genre: Poetry, Feminism
These days, I don’t read poetry very often. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I read a book of poems. It has been years, other than a handful of Emily Dickinson or Maya Angelou scattered throughout the last decade. Then, last month, I discovered my birth mother’s poetry. And it felt invigorating, soul-crushing, and uplifting…yes…all of that, all rolled in to one, when I read her words.
And it came back to me in a rush, how much I used to love poetry. Once upon a time, I wrote poetry. I wrote about being adopted, about boys and love, about sitting beneath a tree on a warm, sunny day. I waxed poetic, and my poems were never anything special….but I enjoyed the process. It was one of my college boyfriends, a guy who also wrote poetry, and who turned out to be a horrible person, that turned me off of the genre.
Well, I’m ready to reclaim it. So, when I got home from my trip to meet my biological mother’s family, with a basket of her letters, and a journal of her poems, I felt inspired. To take up a new genre, and explore it anew. One week after returning home from that trip in April, I went out and bought Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.
And that is how I found myself reading it during Dewey’s 24 hour readathon.
it is your blood
in my veins
tell me how i’m
supposed to forget
Milk and Honey is about survival, and is split into 4 sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. The design of her poems are inspired by a Punjabi script called gurmukhi, in which words are written only using a period. There is no other punctuation; all letters are treated the same – no upper or lowercase. I loved this style, as it is often how I used to write my own poetry, only in my case, I was modeling e.e. cummings.
Rupi Kaur was born in Punjab, and moved to Canada with her parents at a young age, and through her poetry she provides a voice to other women of color who may be silenced in a patriarchal and/or colonizer culture. Before reading her poems, it helps to know where she is coming from, as she talks about in the preface:
my thoughts go to the sexual violence we endure as south asian women. we know it intimately. from thousands of years of shame and oppression. from the community and from colonizer after colonizer. by the time i am born i have already survived the first battle of my life. against female feticide. i am one of the lucky ones who has been allowed to live. we are taught our bodies are not our property. you will do with them as your parents wish until they pass the property onto your husband and his family. a good indian girl is quiet. does as she is told. sex does not belong to her. it is something that happens to her on her wedding night. our job is to lay obediently. not to enjoy. let him take.
our trauma escapes the confines of our own times. we’re not just healing from what’s been inflicted onto us as children. my experiences have happened to my mother and her mother and her mother before that. it is generations of pain embedded into our souls.
i read hundreds of books growing up. but none can explain this torment to me. i need access to words written by people who look like me writing about the things i am going through. at that moment i realize the importance of representation and know this must be different for my children. they must have access to their own literature.
Rupi Kaur’s writing is succinct; many of her poems are only a few lines. She is incredibly skilled in bringing her point across in a tiny amount of space.
no books have
the spine to
~ women of color
Some people describe her work as cliché, or simplistic. I disagree. Yes, there is a certain simplicity, a minimalism, but that does not make her words or message simple.
apparently it is ungraceful of me
to mention my period in public
cause the actual biology
of my body is too real
it is okay to sell what’s
between a woman’s legs
more than it is okay to
mention its inner workings
the recreational use of
this body is seen as
its nature is
seen as ugly
YES, YES, YES, YES, YES!!
I had that reaction quite a few times while reading her book. As a woman, as a feminist, as someone who has experienced trauma in my past, I could relate to many of her poems. And I found it a fascinating self-study to look back at all my post-it notes after finishing the book, and realize the poems I currently relate to the most were not in the sections about hurting or breaking, but in the chapter about healing.
This is a book about the human experience, and it is relatable on a wide variety of levels. It takes a lot of courage to write in such a personal manner, and I look forward to seeing what Rupi Kaur does next.