As the follow up to Milk and Honey, I had low expectations for Rupi Kaur's second book, The Sun and Her Flowers. Having existed in the poetry community, I am familiar with the conflicting opinions about Kaur and her poetry. "Too simple," some say. "Fake deep," others say, rolling their eyes. Parodies sprung up across the internet, poking fun at Kaur's short, loaded style. However, many others nearly worshiped Kaur, resulting in her immediate climb to the top of The New York Times Bestseller list. Yet, I have stood on a middle ground, owning and dog-earing Milk and Honey, but also understanding the misgivings.
Is it incredible poetry? Frankly, no. Do I still respect and appreciate it? Absolutely, yes. Kaur, a young, brown female born to immigrant parents, writes about what it means to be a woman in modern days. Kaur writes about femininity, trauma, loss, family, and healing- and people actually listen to her. There is no one similar in identity or following, and no one has made poetry (or "poetry" as both the poetry snobs and poetry haters alike will put it) more accessible and easy to identify with. This has so much value, whether or not the poetry is academically "high quality." I very much love and admire her work for this. Milk and Honey is an important work.
And so I began reading The Sun and Her Flowers with tense shoulders. Would I love it and would I feel something? Would I hate the style and feel jealous that someone "hardly trying" could get so much praise? Well . . . both. To begin, I have to admit that it takes a lot of effort to be as vulnerable and truthful as Kaur. All style aside, it must have been a tremendous task to lay out so much personal pain and hope for everyone and anyone to read.
It's not always well executed, which is to say that xyz is simply said, and the language does so little to surprise me. This is exactly the reason that I, and many others, turn to poetry: to be hit with fresh language that reveals something new to us, by saying what we've always wanted to convey- but in fresh and vibrant ways. It's exciting. However, often Kaur's work feels like it was written with very expressive music beneath it, but all I, as a reader, get is the black and white page that carries only half the weight. Take away the music that was doing the bulk of the emotional and expressive work, and it's a bit stale and empty. The short poems lack depth of imagery, especially in the first section.
Rupi Kaur breaks her book into sections: "wilting, falling, rooting, rising, blooming," respectively. Each section has a central theme, the first being heartbreak. I like this mode of storytelling, as it packs more into a section, allowing the tiny poems to work together to create a scene/image/feeling/impact, rather than isolating them and so shifting our attention too frequently.
However, sometimes it drags. I resent the first section and its tendency to imply that the point of view's worth and life depends on a toxic person, reducing her to a groveling, wailing little girl who doesn't know what to do without her man's dick and attention. While I understand this feeling, it is everything I don't want to be, and everything I assume Kaur desires to fight against. Its repetitive nature and stale imagery/language grated on my nerves, and honestly? I hate it.
My favorite sections of The Sun and Her Flowers are those in which Kaur clearly has something(s) to say. These are more complicated sections with multiple emotions behind them, more enticing and well-written than the first section. Kaur spends a good deal of time mulling over not only personal sexual assault, but also the immigrant/refugee/cultural/infant genocide experiences of her mother and other women. I love the section of recovery and the rediscovery of love and safety. Because that is the phase I am in in my own life I am more willing to relate.
That's the key to Kaur. The purpose-focused sections on sexual assault, femininity, and immigration have driving forces that allow readers to either learn or identify, both of which are powerful and necessary actions. Everything else is best enjoyed when already steeped in the same feelings, when looking for a friend to speak to your personal experience. When you already feel the feeling, you rely much less on the artful skill and storytelling of the poet, and you pull some of the weight yourself. Otherwise, it feels half-developed, try-hard, and pretentious.
My feelings on The Sun and Her Flowers are quite mixed, but I must always praise Kaur for allowing poetry in some format to be increasingly accessible and empathetic to young women. There is room in the world for this type of work, regardless of its academic/literary merit.