Natalie Harper ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Rupi Kaur has been an esteemed poet since her self-published poetry collection, milk and honey, became an overnight hit when first printed in 2014. Since then, the poetry scene has been flooded with her short, rhythmic, and on-the-nose writing style. Her popularity has been widely influenced by her social media presence and her blog style of uploading a poem to her Instagram every couple of days; usually focusing on themes of love, misogyny, trauma, and sexual violence. Kaur, an icon of the John Green-esque literature scene, is able to attract huge crowds to her words, primarily young girls.
The problem is that Kaur seems to lack a certain profoundness in her art. Her poetry sounds like musings of someone on the brink of discovery, but just missing the edge of clever. The first time I read her poetry, I thought that it sounded like a sentence torn out of my sixth grade diary.
Is that the appeal though?
Her strange lack of punctuation and structure makes it read like a stream of consciousness, like these are the thoughts that her readers have been thinking for years, but have never been able to cough up. Though, it makes sense as to why it is so widely consumed, and that’s because it’s easy to read and relate to. Kaur is not challenging her readers to choke meaning out of her poetry, she bluntly tells you what message to extract from the vignette. If that’s too hard, an illustration is often included.
Her work has attracted so much negativity because many of her poetic realizations feel like very basic and premature thoughts that many people have had before. Unlike other popular artists, Kaur is not showing us anything innovative that we haven’t seen before. Similar to Jackson Pollock, there’s an attitude around Kaur of people thinking, “I can do that.”
it is possible
to hate and love
at the same time
i do it to myself
It feels like nothing new is being presented with her work. The problem is that Kaur is not encouraging the reader to think about something deeper, something more concrete. She’s rather just telling people that it’s okay to have those feelings because she shares the same simple range of human emotions.
Her poetry has gotten a lot of flack online for being simple, uninspired, and possibly the work of plagiarism. Kaur’s stylistic minimalism has been put on the chopping block by fellow poet Nayyirah Waheed, who accused Kaur of plagiarism in a Tumblr post. Waheed has since then deleted the post and Kaur has said publicly that she uses Waheed and other artists as an inspiration for her poetry.
Part of the reason that Rupi Kaur seems like such an easy target is because her primary audience is teenage girls. Young girls will be mocked for any media they consume, partially because of sexism and partially because we write off teens in the media. Now imagine tossing these girls into a world of literary elitism and it seems like putting a bloody corpse in shark-infested waters. Kaur is a great platform for emerging readers. She’s encouraging girls everywhere to start reading again, even if it may be on a phone. Poetry sales have had record-breaking years since Kaur took off. Libraries are having more traffic, and Kaur has encouraged her fan base to think that being a nerd is cool.
Kaur has been especially notable for encouraging women to accept the hardships that they have been handed because of sexism and show them that they are entitled to strong voices as well. Kaur has used her new vessel of fame to speak about how important female empowerment is and showing her fans, primarily girls of color, that anybody is able to stay on the New York Times Bestsellers List for over a year. Still, Kaur has been criticized for being vague in her discussions of race and ethnicity to appeal to her overpowering white fan base. Kaur is in a tough position of trying to remain marketable to white readers while still trying to get a political agenda across. Since she is a woman of color, the Western media will never be satisfied with what she has to say.
It is easy to write Kaur off as an uninspired and fraudulent artist just trying to make a quick buck off the previously uncharted market of young girls’ insecurities. Although I would never say that I like her poetry or I feel inspired after reading it, it’s important to remember that Rupi Kaur is helping a new generation get into the cold and unfriendly world of art dominated by white men. You don’t have to like her to acknowledge that she’s helping some people become more in touch with their feelings and identities. Considering that girls are so often mocked and chastised for their interests and passions, I’m happy to accept that there’s a new celebrity in the world of young literature.