Author: Rupi Kaur
Publication Date: 17th November 2014
Read: April 25th – April 26th 2018
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.
TWs for rape, violence, sexual and physical abuse/domestic violence, and emotional trauma.
I remember people raving about this poetry collection when it came out. Words like intense, formidable, and heart-wrenching were bandied around and my expectations shot through the roof. But as sometimes happens with new books, there were so many other releases I wanted to read at the time that I didn’t end up reading milk and honey until now. And, unfortunately, I’m more than a little underwhelmed.
The anthology is split into four parts: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, the healing, and each one deals with different social issues. The first three sections felt mediocre at best and flat and uninspiring at worst. They deal with serious, hard-hitting issues, such as rape, abuse, sexism, racism, and domestic violence, but lack all the power and fervour that discussions about these topics normally have, and arguably should have, as we try to open up conversations around them and teach people why these things are wrong.
The lack of power and intensity is mostly down to the rhythm and flow of each poem, which is constantly interrupted and broken up by the oddly-spaced line breaks. As the poems are all free verse, line breaks can fall wherever the poet chooses, but so many of them didn’t make sense. I would be reading a stanza, and the flow would suddenly be completely disrupted by two or three unnecessary pauses, unbalancing the whole message of the poem. The author may have done this on purpose to highlight the jarring nature of the social issues being explored, but it occurred so frequently that any positive effects were lost. Instead the poems felt stilted and jarring.
The only section that held any intensity, for me, was the fourth and final section, the healing. Although it still could have had more intent, it was fiery, assertive, and questioned a lot of the gender stereotypes we’ve come to associate with being ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’. The healing discusses intersectional feminism, body image, and identity with the strength and zeal of someone who’s passionate about these topics. Passion that was lacking in most of the anthology until this point.
You can tell that Rupi Kaur has lived many of the experienced she describes. The racism, the sexism, and the relationship encounters all feel like they’ve happened to her, rather to a character she created. But we don’t get any enough of the raw emotion that comes with living these kinds of experiences. There is little anger, desolation, or self-righteousness until the final chapter. These poems should be a canvas of all the different emotions that come with these experiences, but instead we’re just given grey words. Perhaps if these poems were performed as a spoken word collection, rather than read on a page, some of the spark that was missing would be ignited. But for now they come across
sentences placed on the
feeling and even
4 thoughts on “Poetry review: Milk and Honey”
I read Milk and Honey a few months ago now, so I can’t remember what parts of it I actually enjoyed but I definitely felt that the line breaks were a little random. Without trying to sound dismissive, I know that Kaur became famous over tumblr and it *feels* like tumblr poetry. At times raw and significant, but for the most part like the breaks were added to make it feel more like poetry and less than random sentences on a page. Great review, I’m glad that some more mixed opinions are getting out there because this collection did not live up to the hype for me!
Yeah, I read about how she began writing on Tumblr and I know exactly what you mean. It definitely feels like a lot of the shorter poems are more like dramatic lines plucked from a novel, rather than poetry. Having said that, I know poetry is a diverse medium, and people can choose whatever style of verse suits them. But on the whole this collection just didn’t do it for me, and I agree that it didn’t live up to the hype. I felt like I was reading a different anthology to the people who rated it 5 stars!
I’m glad I’m not the only one who was underwhelmed with this collection. I really don’t see where all the hype comes from because to me it was just… words on a page trying to be more than they were. I think the raw emotion would have come across way better had they been written as big chunks of text, like an inner monologue that just keeps running on and on.