Milk and Honey

This was a social media-influenced purchase.  I follow Rupi Kaur with her beautiful illustrations and short vignettes on Instagram, and love her brief and perceptive insights.  So one Friday evening in an independent bookstore, trying to find something to keep me happily occupied in a bar while waiting for my friends, I saw Milk and Honey and bought it straight away.  Sitting in a whisky bar alone, surrounded a heavily suited after-work crowd, this was not the book to read.  On Instagram, I found so much beauty in Kaur’s work, her observations perhaps borne out of struggle and while the result may be hard-won it obviously believes in the possibilities, in the wonder.  So much of this book however, is instead about that struggle to get there.  Broken into four parts – the hurting, the loving, the breaking, the healing – it is a difficult diary of suffering, pain, and growing up.

It is a deeply personal and painful collections of poems.  All short, contemporary in style, and accompanied by her own illustrations, Kaur has articulated her own journey of…

“…surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
in your hands
this is…”

No capital letters or punctuation, this style feels quite direct and raw.  You can imagine the moment being poured onto the page with no review or editing or second thoughts; it feels like an intimate and immediate communication by Kaur.

But it is the content that really knocks you away.  It is as if Kaur has lived several lifetimes’ worth of suffering and pain by her early twenties, and this collection of poems is a way to make it and herself real.  By having the space to define these experiences she can own them, instead of them owning her.  This articulation is a necessary and personal process, wrought out there for us on the page.

Art, specifically poetry, does not have to be beautiful, and should not have to apologise if it makes you uncomfortable, or raises difficult questions.  If this collection of poetry is pure expression, then it is right.  However, it is so raw, so tough, I wonder what there is for the reader.  It is Kaur’s life and her documenting of that, but page after page of abuse, heartbreak, broken relationships is exhausting.  Where is the value or the redemption; where do we land after all this ?  Perhaps if I was in a different stage in my life, or had lead a different life to the one I have, there would be more to relate to.  There would be a shared experience to draw from, she would be speaking to me.  But for now it just feels relentless.  There are still moments of beauty and perception but how hard-won they actually are is inescapable.  That is ok, but makes it a tough read.

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