Poetry and I have always had a complicated relationship. We didn’t get along much in high school, and we came to a place of mutual tolerance in college. I decided to finally dip my toes back into poetic water only because Rupi Kaur’s books were constantly popping up on every News and Social feed I have. 

Immediately after reading both Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers in single sessions (they’re crazy short, with pictures) I found myself slightly disappointed. While I’m the first to admit that poetry is not one of my areas of expertise, the writing did not particularly feel like poetry.

Breaking up sentences
in this
format can’t
possibly be all it takes to
write poems?

Tools such as breaks and sentence fragments should create a lyricism, and be used only to further the author’s meaning. Here they often (aka always) feel incredibly random. I recognize that short-form poetry exists, but the majority of the books are very short sentences with line breaks in unexpected places to don’t seem to add any insight or meaning. I walked away from them thinking, “wow, if this is poetry I can absolutely be a poet”, which is probably not ideal.

You’re everywhere / except right here / and it hurts.

If that is a poem, I must have a fundamental lack of understanding of what makes poetry.

Rupi Kaur must be praised for her bravery and honesty, as her poems (if you can call them that?) are completely raw. In her darkest prose, she doesn’t shy away from her experiences with violence, emotional and physical abuse, sexual assault, toxic relationships, self-harm, and loss.

She was music / but he had his ears cut off

She also explores the beauty of unadulterated femininity and self-love. I can’t bring myself to fully condemn Rupi’s work because, whether or not you consider it poetry, she inarguably is raising important discussions on a large scale. Maybe it’s not the perfect technical prose we studied in high school, but that doesn’t make it unimportant.

Other women’s bodies / are not our battlegrounds

Viewed as works of poetry, Rupi Kaur’s books may disappoint even amateur poetry connoisseurs. I prefer to view them as collections of gut-wrenching, thought-provoking, and sometimes-inspiring quotes. Producing engaging, succinct, and beautifully-rendered quotes that move us to self-reflect and self-respect is still quite an accomplishment. Alongside the delicate illustrations, she is at times incredibly poignant.  “How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you”, while simple, is a powerful and empowering message to love yourself and demand no less than self-respecting love from others.

I may not consider Kaur a brilliant poet, but I do think she is a beautiful writer.

My appreciation for her work only grew after attending her live reading from The Sun and Her Flowers at the Fillmore in Miami. Hearing her verbally recite from this book only furthered my belief that her work functions more as self-help/motivational quotes than poems. And there is nothing wrong with that. The show was absolutely beautiful and I’m thrilled to have seen it. She shared the interesting stories from her life that inspired the different passage, and read her “poems” in a calming “slam-poetry” style over beautiful music and aided by stunning visuals.

Even if you didn’t particularly enjoy reading Rupi Kaur, I’d highly recommend seeing her live if you have the opportunity. You may not hear poetry, but you’ll experience beautiful, gritty, honest, and immersive storytelling.