As I sit at home researching Rupi Kaur, one of the most successful poets of all time, I glance over to my bookshelf and see a copy of ‘Milk and Honey’, her first collection of poems. Full disclosure, I had completely forgotten that I owned the anthology, but as I pick it up to flick through, teenage memories come flooding back. I remember instantly just how popular this book was – even my friends who didn’t love reading had copies, so it really is no surprise to see that Kaur has published two more works, ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’, and ‘Home Body’, with significant commercial success. However, Kaur’s poetry has been the centre of much controversy, with the people of the Internet ever-concerned with the question of whether Kaur’s style can be classed as poetry at all.
Flicking through ‘Milk and Honey’, I notice that some of Kaur’s poems are merely one or two lines long, and that most of the pages are filled with cute little line drawings, rather than words. One of the poems simply reads ‘you’ve touched me / without even / touching me’, and I have to admit I chuckled at the sheer unabashed cliché of it. Kaur’s style, which consists mostly of inserting line breaks into profound little proverbs like this one, to create some sort of rhythm, has been the victim of online mockery since Kaur started posting them to Instagram in 2013. This mockery, although sometimes mean-spirited, is often not without wit, and is a regular format for Twitter users to make jokes about current affairs, and to essentially make fun of the fact that many of Kaur’s poems are just everyday sayings.
With all that said, to say that Rupi Kaur is not a poet is unfair and untrue. Scrolling through an array of social media threads about the author, I was disheartened to see so many people, who had things like ‘aspiring writer’ written in their bios, completely slating Kaur by saying that her work was not artistic enough to be poetry. I, along with many book-lovers, writers, and artists, feel very strongly that anything can be art, and want nothing more than to see people succeed with their work, so why should Rupi Kaur be treated any differently?
In a world where school syllabuses and University courses are dominated by the work of dead, white men, I think it is fantastic that people, especially young people, are exposed to a wider range of voices. What’s more, to suggest that Kaur isn’t poetic enough because she doesn’t fit the standards of classic poetry, or isn’t ‘artistic’ or profound enough in her words, is to agree with the archaic idea that literature is only worthy if it fits the standards of the patriarchal, white, wealthy canon.
I don’t love Kaur’s work, it’s not for me (anymore), and that’s okay, but her 4.3 million Instagram followers would probably disagree with me. Whether you like Kaur’s poetry or not, her success as an author is undeniable. Also, although Kaur certainly loves a millennial cliché, her poems capture this moment in time. Her success being borne from her social media presence is also testament to the time we are living in, and whilst I do agree that we should probably be fighting for more creatives who don’t have a huge online following to have their work published, it is not the fault of Kaur or any other ‘Insta-poet’ for being marketable and thus successful. You can blame the economically driven publishing industry for that.