I first described Rupi Kaur‘s book of poetry Milk & Honey as “heartbreaking.” But the use of that word seemed obvious, almost trivial. A majority of the circumstances crystallized through her beautiful descriptions were absolutely heartbreaking in narration. And that word is often a go-to because of how it quickly it blankets moments or feelings that while somber, have a level of whimsy, sugar, or nostalgia. Kaur’s work is also truthful as hell. At times, her poems are damn gutting. Like an adult scolding verbal heat on a child. Or those looks in the mirror when you were desperate for respite, but all you saw were the mistakes you made. Not at all remembering that redemption was possible.
All the poems are untitled in Milk & Honey but separated into four categories: “the hurting”, “the loving”, “the breaking”, and “the healing.” All stages of love, lessons, and growth.
I first found Kaur on Instagram where she posts either published or soon to be published poems. Occasionally, the poems are in accordance with current events (such as her somber tribute to the recent victims of American police brutality, the Pulse nightclub shooting and further terrorist attacks overseas). Also on view are personal photos and illustrations that are presented as vignettes of her imagination and life chapters. I was enraptured by the start. I somewhat (hopefully) gathered that Kaur and I were in the same age bracket and it is her ability to break down the fourth wall and talk to readers as if she’d been aware of our hurdles, dreams, inner thoughts, and halts all along I found truly astounding.
Before Milk and Honey, the poems I read on Instagram gave me enormous Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison vibes. Poems and stories obviously written so well, no English professor could deny that, but greatly authentic in their language. (In Milk and Honey, Kaur also wrote a poem in homage to fellow young poet Warsan Shire, who gained recognition this past spring, after Beyonce included her poems for the Lemonade visual album). It’s like real-life poetry versus verbose, Shakespearian prose.
“Back in November of 2013, what moved me to share was the idea that I was tired of being quiet. I felt like, for the first time ever, what I had to say was so much more powerful than my fear of what people might think. It was almost as though I had no choice. It seemed more important for me to express solidarity with women going through similar struggles than to continue being that “polite, shy, quiet girl”. -Rupi Kaur to the Huffington Post, January 2015
The first part “the hurting” is a stunning set surrounding abuse in every form. From certain poems, it felt like a pocket knife was repeatedly stabbing me in my thigh and it made me only imagine how actual survivors of certain situations must’ve felt. Kaur, like her aforementioned predecessors, is a controversial writer. She doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects, nor is she disrespectful when talking about them. She is simply frank and her words can be graphic. This is the literary result of when writers return the voices to many that were pushed to silence by victimization and public shame. Their once corroded identities no longer behind the closed door.
I can’t tell if my mother is
terrified or in love with
my father it all
looks the same
It is possible that Milk and Honey began with “the hurting” because, once more, reality, is the biggest motif here. Pain is real. Your tears are not fake. Your heart is literally hurting. But it gets better. It has to.
Second is “the loving”, where a lot of fervid snapshots of love, lust, and especially sex are contained. Sex, not so much when you are having it while in love but when you are trying to use it as a means to fix or alter a situation. Sex in this segment also transpires as a competition and a misleading one at that. Sex is powerful but needs true love to survive.
Again, most of the poems here are graphic enough to make even those of us well past the mid-20s blush. You’ll grimace not because it’s gross or unnecessary of Kaur to have commented. It’s because you’ve been there and understand.
It’s big of Kaur to be so open about sex not just due to her age (she was born 1992, so I’m officially older than her) but also in recognizing her heritage as an Indian. While the Asian nation has sex symbols in their own whirl of celebrity culture, through Western eyes, it appears that sexuality remains paper-bagged. In Kaur’s art, sex is not hidden whether handled with love or scarlet lettered. It is as present as breathing. I found this to be very brave about Kaur as she is a proud Punjabi woman.
Third, “the breaking.” A combination of the first two in which specific decisions are fraying. Do I stay (hurt) or do I go (and regain a sense of self)?
i didn’t leave because
i stopped loving you
i left because the longer stayed
i stayed the less
i loved myself
salt for sugar
if he wants to
be with you
it’s that simple
“the breaking” features a few paragraph, short-story based material that mainly focused on the aftermath of official break-ups. The denial, the odd amalgamation of relief and depression, the denial.
Right before we head into “the healing”, there is a two-page, impressively broken down examination of why some people inevitably leave us hanging. It’s areas like these in Milk and Honey that elicit the word heartbreaking. The nostalgia of when you were someones. The sugary proclamations of “you’re the one” and “the love of my life” from said heartbreakers. The sadness you felt when they weren’t around because they simply had to go to work. On page 140 and 141, Kaur uncovers the underside of what truly went on when the same person that claimed they had looked for us their whole life, were so quick to walk out the door and never return:
and after all this. after all of the taking. the nerve. isn’t it sad and funny how people have more guts these days to undress you with their fingers than they do to pick up the phone and call. apologize. for the loss. and this is how you lose her.
Lastly, ” the healing” the most mellow part of a highly spent book. This sphere encourages the reader to classically hang in there. Keep pushing. Healing takes time but to a degree, you have time to rebuild. Just make sure that you do.
Loneliness is a sign that you are in desperate need of yourself.
I closed Milk and Honey with a full heart instead of a heavy one. I additionally couldn’t help but ask myself, in regards to my own life, were past mistakes or regrets truly unavoidable? Or were those junctures really just a matter of life?
Milk and Honey is substantive to the writers and books that came before Kaur encapsulated the first 21 years of her life. Still, Kaur’s raw revolution is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings of a generation, and a current generation in urgent need of reminders that it’s okay to not be social media perfect.