By Alice O’Donnell
Rupi Kaur. A name seemingly unknown to those over forty and omnipresent to those under. For a period of time no Instagram feed was complete without an artfully taken photo of her poems (lark filter applied, naturally), with the aesthetic addition of a carefully placed flower or perhaps a mug of tea on the page. In fact, the tag of her very name reveals over half a million Instagram posts, with the poet herself boasting an impressive 3.9 million followers (my own account included).
Rupi Kaur jumped to fame with the release of her book “Milk and Honey” in 2014. Two-hundred and eight pages fill the small paperback, each page containing a simple, unorthodox poem, sometimes accompanied with a drawing by her also. Poems are categorised into four sections, each following a particular process of the state of healing. The poems are connected by themes such as pain, love, feminism and embracing one’s sexuality.
Her style of poetry disregards all the usual poetry rules – no punctuation, no capitals, no rhyme, and the titles being revealed at the end of each poem. Barely any poems are more than a few lines long, and in place of the stark visualisation of formal stanzas are black, single-line sketches that compliment her poems. Poems such as “other women’s bodies / are not our battlegrounds” and “you look like you smell of / honey and no pain / let me have a taste of that” are examples of her style of poetry – a style which has been both embraced and shunned by critics.
A 2017 article from The Guardian described Rupi Kaur’s poetry as having an “air of the slurred advice you might overhear at the back of a Wetherspoons”, while Buzzfeed dedicate a whole article to highlighting how her “use of unspecified collective trauma … to depict the quintessential South Asian female experience feels disingenuous”. However, with every harsh review, there is a positive one. Last month, The New Republic announced Rupi Kaur as the “writer of the decade”, and Rolling Stone have appointed her an “Instapoet”.
Although Kaur has not yet been recognised by any major awards such as the Booker Prize, Pulitzer Prize or even the Nobel Prize, her popularity seemingly far outreaches the typical demographic of the poetry reading public (normally left to English scholars and OAPs). Her simple, modern style of poetry has introduced whole new generations to the lyrical word. While it can be argued that her bitesize poems cater to the new social media zeitgeist – short but sweet – another reason for her popularity could simply be the poet herself.
Rupi Kaur is a breath of fresh air in the poetic world of a young person. To put this in context, of the eight poets on the 2018 Leaving Cert English syllabus, (arguably the primary area where the average Irish student would first be exposed to poetry), only two were women, all were Caucasian, and none were under the age of 75. Rupi Kaur appeals to the young adult because she herself is young (Milk and Honey was published in 2014 when Kaur was 22 years old). She represents the rise of the intercultural lives we all live now, with her writing style of exclusive lowercase alphabet a nod to her birthplace, India, and the Sikh religion. Due to her rise of influence through social media, she does not have an agent or publishing house to please – and as a result, her writings do not have to adhere to a secondary influence.
Rupi Kaur’s poetry has certainly divided critics and the question remains whether she deserves the title of “writer of the decade”. However, even her most ardent critics have to admit that her work has managed to connect poetry to the modern world of social medias, such as Instagram and Pinterest. While other Instapoets such as Lang Leav and Christopher Poindexter have also contributed to the acceptance of Instapoetry, none have managed to recreate the fame and following that Rupi Kaur has enjoyed. So, no matter if you love or hate her poetry, it seems the new style of writing that Rupi Kaur is pioneering is here to stay.