Book Review – Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

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Title: milk and honey
Author: Rupi Kaur
Publisher: Createspace
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.

our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to
carry
~ 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
beautiful while
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.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

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Book Review – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Title: Brown Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Genre: Poetry, memoir, middle-grade, nonfiction, #ownvoices

I very rarely read books written in verse, but when I do, I am usually pleasantly surprised. Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir written in verse form. The whole middle-grade book is written in simple, free verse poems.

Simple, but astoundingly beautiful. Succinct is probably a more apt description than simple. At times, heartbreaking. And absolutely and without a doubt, there is more there than meets the eye.

ghosts

In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn’t use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front
still keeping you out.

Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award in 2014 for Brown Girl Dreaming. Her book was also a Newbery Honor Book, and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award. She deserves all of the accolades, and more.

Brown Girl Dreaming is largely about Jacqueline’s childhood, from her early childhood years in the 1960s in Greenville, South Carolina through her family’s move to NYC and her elementary school years, when she first discovered her interest in writing. I loved hearing her stories from Greenville, when she lived with her mom, siblings, and grandparents. Her grandfather became a father-figure to her, and her love for her grandparents and their importance in her life is a big part of her story.

Don’t be fooled that this is just a memoir. Woodson delves into everything from the Civil Rights movement, to moving from Ohio, to the Jim Crow American South, to New York. From race to religion, she does not sugarcoat what it is like to grow up black in the 1960s and 70s, both in the South and the North.

This is a book for everyone. But most especially, Brown Girl Dreaming is a book for elementary and middle-school aged girls. Girls who may not have an easy time at home. Girls who are PoC. Girls who may not fit the typical academic mold. Girls who don’t think of themselves as great because they don’t fit the typical academic mold. For any and all of the above type of girls, this is a must-read.

Yes, you can speed through this book in one sitting, as fast as my husband’s family consumes our Thanksgiving dinner. But, the book is much better suited to the Slow Food movement: pace yourself, slowly and thoughtfully, as you read and digest her words.

Deep winter and the night air is cold. So still,

it feels like the world goes on forever in the darkness

until you look up and the earth stops

in a ceiling of stars. My head against

my grandfather’s arm,

a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.

Its whine like a song.

You don’t need words

on a night like this. Just the warmth

of your grandfather’s arm. Just the silent promise

that the world as we know it

will always be here.

 Rating: 5/5 stars