Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey is a collection of poems about, among other things, the female body, abuse, and femininity. Remarkably, this poetry collection was self-published at first, sold more than a million copies, and became a New York Times bestseller. How amazing is that?! 

Milk and Honey was a poetry collection I immediately knew I wanted. The poems that were quoted by bloggers and critics spoke to me. I thought they were honest, witty, and gave profound insights into our world. And how true is the blurb? This part for example touched me:

“this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years”

And I realised that, yes, we readers should sometimes think about how much work goes into a book, or a poetry collection in this case, and that it often touches upon experiences from the writer’s own life – whether good or bad.

So, in short, I had high expectations of this collection. Did it reach my standard? Yes and no. This collection has raised a very difficulty debate.

First, the good things. The poems are indeed funny and insightful. For instance, I loved this one:

i’d be lying if i said
you make me speechless
the truth is you make my
tongue so weak it forgets
what language to speak in

or this very powerful one:

you pinned
my legs to
the ground
with your feet
and demanded
i stand up

But then I found out that Kaur does not write as much about her own experiences. And – for some reason – that changed everything for me. I looked again at the poems about alcoholism, rape, and abuse, and I found that I didn’t know what to think about them anymore. Can they give me insights? Can they show me what it is like?

And this much debated question emerged: can an author write about things that she/he hasn’t experienced? Can a female writer write about what it’s like growing up as a teenage boy? Can a male author write about being raped from a woman’s perspective? Can Kaur write about these topics without having experienced them herself?

I think this is a problem for me because I read Kaur’s poetry as showing a particular, personal, perspective of the world. I thought she showed me a snippet, a shred of her world. And now I have to re-think (and re-read) her work and appreciate it in a different way. Nevertheless, I admire Kaur for writing poems that are actually being read and bought by some many people. That’s a remarkable achievement in itself.

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