milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

This is a very difficult review for me to write, especially as this is a collection of poems that has become a sensation. I always want to support anything that gets people reading, and what I will say now is that this is the first lot of poetry that I have read outside of university reading for a long, long time. Because of this collection I will be going on to try more poetry, and for that I’m grateful. Before getting into it, here’s a quick overview of what milk and honey is.

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milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

This poetry collection started out as a social media sensation where Rupi Kaur rose to fame, only to become an international bestseller. It’s easy to see why this book resonates with so many, especially with women as Kaur chronicles her experiences. It is without doubt that the author has poured her heart intro this text, and I went in to read this boosted by all of the hype surrounding it. Split into four sections, Kaur has very short poems and illustrations within each. Very short, to the point where you can probably get through it within a day (as did I). What I will say is that I thought the illustrations added a lot to the text itself, and without them I think my overall review of the poems would have been much lower.

As a whole, this particular poetry collection did not speak to me or resonate, but what I found difficult was that I wasn’t impressed by the poems. Even though you might not enjoy something, you can appreciate and respect it for what it is, yet milk and honey just came across as lazy poetry to me. This, of course, is coming from someone that reads very little poetry, so remember that I am no expert. The best qualification I have is that I’ve participated in a lot of epic poetry modules in the past (yay for Homer and Milton) and within the last year have studied sonnets in depth. So I have some knowledge from an education standing, and again whilst I did not like every sonnet I read, I could see why it was so clever and creative. This is why, when reading milk and honey, I could not understand what it is that brought such attention. Perhaps it’s the stark portrayal of womanhood, and the themes that are dealt with are challenging and explicit, yet I just kept wanting more. Whenever there was a moment, say Rupi Kaur makes a statement about race or femininity or gender, she just leaves it without expanding on it. This was the most frustrating thing for me, as it felt like she wasn’t doing anything new with it all.

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I wanted to scream ‘show don’t tell’ at the author all the way through. She left nothing to the imagination, to the point where it felt like she was demeaning the importance of the reader. Nothing was left to interpretation – almost every poem had a line in italics at the bottom which literally told you what the poem was about. It felt like an author writing a sentence in their book such as ‘he stared at the walls, everything a dark, miserable blue (he is very sad, so everything is dark blue because he is sad, it’s all awful, and sad)’. Ok, maybe that’s a little over-exaggerated, but that is what I felt when reading this. I felt like my role as a reader was diminished, that instead of it being a conversation between writer and reader it was a lecture. No room for interpretation or creativity or thought, just bam this is what I think no you cannot speak this is about me.

The latter section entitled ‘healing’ was by far my favourite, and the poems that I liked the most were from this section. I definitely think that there are good poems within the collection that I did enjoy, but on the whole it didn’t resonate with me. I wanted it to be more complex, less simplistic, encouraging me to find meanings rather than telling me. The messages she tried to get across are brilliant, but I’d prefer it if she found a more lyrical, allusive way of speaking to the reader, rather than just explicitly stating what she wanted the reader to take from each poem.

So, whilst not the same reaction as the majority of the population, this was mine. And I know, I am one person amongst millions and my thoughts are completely my own and should not affect your appreciation of the text. No one should feel like they should/should not like this collection just due to one person’s opinion. If you have read it, or are planning on it, please let me know so we can discuss it – I’d love to hear from people who absolutely adore it, and would love to see it from another angle.

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