In grad school, there was one day where everyone in our poetry class had a lengthy debate about whether or not Rupi Kaur’s writing was “real” poetry. Based on the title of this post, you can probably guess which side I fell on.
Rupi Kaur is a poet and artist whose books, milk and honey and the sun and her flowers, have reached millions of people. That is amazing. When was the last time you heard of a book of poetry being on the New York Times bestseller’s list, let alone first on that list? I think this is actually the problem most people who don’t take Kaur seriously have with her writing. It’s popular. Aren’t poets supposed to be starving artists no one can understand? Aren’t they supposed to be so wrapped up in their own pretension that they end up tortured and penniless and unknown for decades until a long-lost relative uncovers their unpublished manuscript, and only then are they finally recognized for the genius they were?
Well, I call bullshit. Poetry is not about the poet, or at least not entirely. It’s also about the reader, like all written works. Poetry is meant to move people, to make them feel things they’ve lost touch with, or think about things in a new way. It’s not meant to be so painfully self-referential that no one else can relate.
I say this lovingly, truly. A great deal of my poems have been called “self-involved,” “diaristic,” and “navel-gazing.” I still think that type of writing matters, and it can definitely still be “real” poetry, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with poetry that’s a little more accessible.
When I was teaching college freshmen, poetry was always the unit my students dreaded most. But they got Kaur, largely because it felt like Kaur got them. This wasn’t the stuffy, dead white-guy nonsense they were forced to read in high school (with all due respect, I love some of those stuffy dead white guys). This was real and raw and relevant to their lives. Poetry should be allowed to be relevant. In fact, I think that’s what truly immortalizes a poem: it is so relevant to the human condition, people just keep reading it and reading it and reading it, no matter how much time passes.
Kaur’s work will be immortalized for that exact reason. In the last decade, she has brought us two amazing books of poetry that have radically changed how young people think of poetry itself. Instead of daunting, it now seems approachable. Instead of boring, it seems important. No other poet in the last ten years (or maybe ever) has been able to create such a powerful shift in the public opinion of poetry. Love or hate Kaur, you can’t deny her influence has been profound. And personally, I couldn’t be more thrilled.
*** Disclaimer: This is not an affiliate or sponsored post. I do not receive
any kind of compensation from anywhere for promoting Kaur’s work.
I just think it’s awesome and people should know about it. ***