Rupi Kaur’s poetry collection was not what I expected. I’ve heard great things and raving reviews about it from two friends, but I just had a lot of issues with this collection.
Here’s the official summary before we dive into anything:
milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.
I think to start this review off, we need the definition of poetry.
Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.
I’m a very traditional person when it comes to literature. I use the serial comma, I like punctuating my poetry, and I stick to approximate novel word lengths.
Despite this, I can still accept rule breaking in literature. Emily Dickinson’s dramatic exclamation point and later on dash usage is one example, as J.K. Rowling’s last Harry Potter book was an ungodly number of words.
Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find the purpose of rule breaking in Kaur’s milk and honey. Poetry is supposed to be meaningful and moving, which Kaur does exceptionally, but it also needs to have some sort of literary skill in it. I think it’s a misnomer to call milk and honey a collection of poems because it is lacking some of this artful manipulation of the English language and the rhythmic qualities in the definition of poetry.
Poetry is not just writing from the heart. It’s really not. It’s more than just emotion on a page, but it doesn’t have to be pretentious. It can be simpler like Emily Dickinson while still using the English language expertly.
milk and honey could be called oddly broken up prose, but not poetry. It can be called poetically written lines, but still not poetry. I’m not trying to be cruel here and I know there are some scathing reviews of this online already.
The literary manipulation is just not present in milk and honey, and that’s why I don’t classify this as poetry.
Let’s look at an excerpt as an example and analyze it:
“i struggle so deeply
how someone can
pour their entire soul
blood and energy
There is no rhyme or reason to this, no rhythmic qualities or underlying purpose of writing the poems this way. Kaur does a great job of bringing out emotions from the readers, using pathos to make them understand. This is the strongest point of milk and honey and one of the reasons why I think so many people like this collection. She writes about many important ideas of feminism and being a woman and heartbreak.
I read the whole novel as one really long run on sentence and just ignored all the breaks in the lines because I felt that they took away from the writing instead of added to it. Maybe if it wasn’t abused so much, I would have enjoyed this collection more, but unfortunately it was just not my cup of tea (and honey).
Nevertheless, milk and honey is poetic lines for the twenty-first century where our attention span is too short to watch anything that’s not a six-second Vine or read anything that’s not 140 characters or less and can be easily digested.
This can be seen all around YA literature as more and more authors are throwing plot twists and adding unnecessary action or steam to novels just to make sure the readers are engaged enough to finish the book.
Looking at the statistics, 50% of adults in the U.S. cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level and 45 million are functionally illiterate and read below a 5th grade level (Literary Project Foundation). This shows the changing dynamic of what people are reading and what they can read.
Despite it’s chopped up style made for easy digestion, Kaur’s work is great for preparing people who don’t like poetry to read poetry. It’s easy to read and can really make someone fall in love with emotive words. After you read milk and honey, try to read some of the more traditional poetry works, like Robert Frost’s works, and have your mind blown.
I think part of the hype surrounding milk and honey comes from how aesthetic it is with its line drawings and minimalistic style and the simplicity of the words. This is definitely what lures a lot of people in because of its pretty cover and drawings, but on a more literary standpoint, it does not make poetry.
As much emotion as I felt reading this, I can’t say I enjoyed it. I think Kaur works really well with emotions on a page, just not with the actual literary aspect of it. I just can’t get as into the poetic lines as other people when I’m trying to ignore the voice saying that this isn’t poetry or asking why this line is broken up. I think Kaur has a lot of potential, but this Tumblr style writing is just not my favorite thing to read.
There are still strong messages about feminism, relationships, family, and other serious topics which make this a novel choice suited for older teens & adults. Kaur shows the importance of these well, and I know this appeals to many people.
I unfortunately would not recommend milk and honey to someone looking to read poetry. I would recommend it for someone looking for an aesthetic collection of prose that can be interpreted at almost any reading level (though the subject matter is not for kids). You can get into poetry without having to cut it up with scissors to make it easier to read, you just have to find the poet you like reading and go from there.
Have you read milk and honey? What did you think? Feel free to leave your opinions below, but please be respectful! This is just my opinion 😊