Right From The Soul: KALEIGH HANSON
Rupi Kaur’s ‘Milk & Honey’
When wandering aimlessly into a bookstore, I usually find myself passing right by the poetry section without a thought. Though I have come across a few poems that I hold close to heart, I don’t find particular interest in deciphering rhymes and stanza.
Rupi Kaur’s “Milk and Honey” seemed to have found me among the other New York Times best sellers. Its simplistic cover design grabbed my attention immediately. As I began to read it, I realized it was a take on poetry I had never encountered before.
Rupi takes her reader on a journey through four chapters: the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. She describes “Milk and Honey” as a reflection of her own troubles including femininity, race, sexuality, love, learning and life. Through short, organic poems, she expresses her thoughts on pain and oppression.
A large part of the first chapter is about male presence in the journey to womanhood. She leaves nothing out in the conversation about sexuality -- what seems to be explicit or offensive suddenly becomes real to the reader. By explaining her experiences, Rupi shows how her idea of sex evolved from abusive to empty to emotional.
“you / have been / taught your legs / are a pit stop for men / that need a place to rest / a vacant body empty enough / for guests but no one / ever comes and is / willing to / stay,” she writes.
Since the topic of sex and sexuality is not often discussed frankly in classic poetry, being able to understand her negative attitudes toward it was very powerful. Each individual poem is so raw and uncensored that you can almost feel her crying out to you through each line.
If you compare the explicit nature of Rupi’s poetry to classic western poetry, you can see a large shift in the role of women. In many examples of popular love poetry, women are put on a pedestal and used in a hundred similes depicting their beauty. Rupi easily tears apart that style of writing. She criticizes the focus on beauty rather than internal worth.
“He placed his hands / on my mind / before reaching / for my waist / my hips / or my lips / he didn’t call me / beautiful first / he called me / exquisite,” she writes.
To female readers like myself, recognizing the importance of self-value rather than material beauty is extremely empowering. Though it was an idea I thought was self-evident, this book was able to strengthen my understanding of self-love and its importance in my well-being.
Since I picked up “Milk and Honey,” I have already read it three times over. Each time, Rupi’s poems encourage me to wander deeper into my own self-reflection. I have immense respect for authors who are able to pour their hearts into their writing. Rupi willingly puts herself in a vulnerable position in order to emphasize the truthfulness of each poem.
“Just being a woman / calling myself / a woman / makes me utterly whole / and complete,” she writes.
She stays true to her feminine presence even as it becomes challenging.
The experience of reading such heavy subject matter is softened by the simplicity of the text. Each poem is short and approachable, allowing room for the reader to internalize and relate. I was in no way intimidated by her writing because of the careful way she presented it. Even the physical material of the cover, a soft binding called ‘Silktouch‘, encourages the reader to relax into the book and trust its words.
Intended for a vast audience, “Milk and Honey” addresses the struggle of mental pain and recovery. When I read this, I wished that I had experienced it when I was at a low in my life. Rupi Kaur’s words speak as if they are unedited and right from the soul, leading me to believe that I am not alone in hurting.
I would recommend it to anyone who craves passion, truthfulness or healing.
With more than a half a million copies already sold, 'Milk & Honey' is now into its 16th printing.
[Courtesy: University of Delaware Review. Edited for sikhchic.com]
October 7, 2016