Rupi Kaur, author of “Milk and Honey,” is no stranger to viral fame. Whether the caliber of her work merits such fame, however, is open for debate.
In 2014, Kaur self-published a collection of poetry, “Milk and Honey,” on Amazon, after gathering a following for her poems on Tumblr and Instagram. By October of 2015, the sudden popularity of her collection caught the eye of Andrews McMeel publishing, who offered a professional republication. “Milk and Honey,” snagged a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list for 52 consecutive weeks after that, selling over two million copies.
Rupi Kaur is a big deal, apparently. With newspapers like USA Today calling her “the voice of her generation,” you have to wonder what makes this Insta-star so popular.
I picked up a copy of “Milk and Honey” in Barnes and Noble a while ago, oblivious to the author’s reputation. I was attracted to the sleek black cover, the simple white letters, and the words that reminded me of my favorite hand soap scent. I flipped through the pages — full of tight poems, minimalist pen and ink sketches, and a few haunting lines that left me dizzy. These were poems about women, beauty, loss, pain, self worth, survival, heartache: all themes that resonate with the feminine experience. I walked out of the store $19 poorer, proud of my find.
Kaur’s poetry is vulnerable, and she uses that aspect to connect with her audience. Public vulnerability is just the sort of thing social media gobbles up. If you show just enough of your soft spots, people admire you because you are doing exactly what they are too afraid to do.
Kaur does not hide her vulnerability. She writes at the end of her foreword: “I hope your eyes fall in love with the poems. I hope the milk spills through you and the honey sweetens the way. Thank you for holding my heart in your hands.”
I did not fall in love with the poems — not all of them, at least. I fell for a couple of them, crushed on a handful, and then shrugged at the rest. The ones I did fall for, however, were so good that I kept reading poem after poem, hoping to stumble upon another gem. Just when I was about to give up and put the book down, I found something insightful, which spurred on another ravenous skim. The rest of the poems are shrug-worthy, curt, and read like simple sentences with “artistic” line breaks throughout that I like to think any hormonal high schooler with an enter key could write.
Regardless, I read “Milk and Honey” cover to cover in one hour. Here was a book that touched on the “hurting,” “loving,” “breaking,” and “healing” — her four chapter titles — of a woman who has experienced abuse. I highly recommend reading Kaur’s foreword for emotional context. Kaur’s poetry on the whole endeared me, charmed me, and left me feeling connected to my female compatriots across the planet.
So why does USA Today call Kaur the “voice of her generation?” Why does Huffington Post think her book is one that “every woman needs on her nightstand?” and, more importantly, why do girls post Instagram photos of reading “Milk and Honey” with their breakfast or in their bathtub? What is the big deal?
Kaur’s poetry is raw; her images are haunting and mystic, often sexually explicit. She writes about the female experience in a way that anyone with a vagina can relate to her poetry, shunning the perceived eliteness and inaccessibility of poetry as a genre, and giving voice to taboos in concise nuggets — poems the perfect size for an Instagram photo, primed for going viral.