Rupi Kaur’s latest bestselling collection of poems, Milk and Honey, manages to explore lost love, domestic abuse, rape, relationships, femininity, beauty, and more, all while avoiding many of the clichés which abound in the genre. The book is split into four chapters with overarching themes: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, the healing. As the titles imply, these chapters hop over the line that divides despair from hope. In one spurt, the read comes across a positive appreciation for family, love, and life. In the next, she is confronted with despair, loss, pain, and heartbreak. The reader is left with an interesting, disjointed flow that alternates between love, self-fulfillment, and struggle.
As the work progresses, Kaur guides her poems from adolescent worries about relationships and parental in-fighting to more abstract notions of femininity and self-actualization. The true gems reveal themselves at the end of the loving and the breaking, where Kaur delivers poems worthy of a dramatic slam poetry reading. These two page short poems—masterpieces in their own right—signal the closure of the chapter and provide a beautiful transition into the next section. The intense, passionate language used throughout the book delivers emotional packets delivered with rough, intimate sketches. The rough sketches establish the mood and imagery of the poems, and are sometimes vital to understanding the message.
One of the primary topics covered in Milk and Honey is sexuality. Sexuality is explored in many forms, and in unconventional ways. Rape, and all of the complexity that surrounds the life of a rape victim, makes an early appearance in the first section, and comes back throughout the book. The second section, ‘the loving,’ presents the most sexually arousing language, beautifully capturing the feeling of new love, weary love, the intensity dynamics of spousal fighting and make-up sex. This intense sexual passion does not last into the next part of the book: as in life, so in literature.
In ‘the breaking,’ the third section, the Kaur turns from love and passion to loss and heartbreak. The rose-tinted goggles of love, sex, and infatuation are removed, and the reader begins to experience the resentment, anger, frustration, and hurt that comes from a lover scorned. After the betrayal by a lover, the word ‘selfish’ gets a lengthy discussion. If I had to summarize the chapter into less than ten words, I would quote page 111 of Kaur herself: “the abused and the abuser. –i have been both.”
The books closes on a positive note in ‘the healing.’ This last chapter focuses heavily on femininity and what it means to be female. Kaur explores beauty as a fundamental part of femininity, and then demotes the cherished ideal to the subservience of intelligence, bravery, resilience, and spiritedness. She tackles the uncertainty of young women and encourages them that they do deserve to be happy. Yes, you are worthy of love, life. Yes, you are beautiful and wonderful, and should not be convinced otherwise. She encourages an order of sisterhood, of woman helping woman to become better. However, this chapter is also unique in that the clichés begin to make their appearance. Overused phrases that have become a part of everyday vernacular make their way into this section: in order to love somebody, first you must love yourself; you are a goddess; it takes grace to remain kind; give to those who have nothing to give to you. Some of these short poems surely were added to push the page count to be above 200. Their presence can be forgiven, given the context and the unique messages and style presented by Kaur.
Only 208 short pages, the book can be read in less than two hours. The brevity of the work allows for a quick perusal of the tough themes throughout. I highly recommend this collection for anyone who is currently in a tough time with their relationship, or has just broken up with someone. Ultimately, this work is a collection of 21st-century poems meant for millennials, aged about 18-35. As this book was clearly written from a uniquely female perspective, it is a great dive for millennial men to read as well, even if they can’t relate to the chapters on femininity in quite the same way as the intended audience. If you don't read any poetry this year, I recommend changing that and getting Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur.