A few years ago I read an article about a lady who was receiving a lot of criticism for posting a photo on Instagram of herself (completely clothed) with a menstrual blood stain on her pants and the bedsheets she was laying on. I remember being outraged on her behalf: having your period is an absolutely normal and natural part of womanhood and everyone pissed off about the “inappropriateness” of that photo could suck it – you are awesome, menstrual blood lady! Well fast forward to yesterday when I just put it together that that Instagram photo lady and the author of this book of poems are one and the same person. I might be late to the party on figuring that out, but that doesn’t dampen my excitement about it. And now I can officially and knowledgeably say – you are awesome, Rupi Kaur!
I haven’t really read much poetry. And by that I mean that this is the first time I have read poems that were not assigned in school. It’s never really called out to me as a genre. And here I’ll be shallow and honest, I picked this one up because the title sounded cool, the cover is gorgeous, and because I have been seeing it all over bookstagram and bestseller lists. I was curious.
As a result of my limited poetry experience, I didn’t really know how to read this. Usually I power through books, wanting to get to the big reveal, the section where the lovers finally get together, the end, as fast as possible. But that wouldn’t work here. I mean, it would have taken me maybe 30 minutes to get through the whole book reading it that way and I wouldn’t have gotten anything out of it. So here’s what I did: I read slowly. I limited myself to one section a day and tried to really make sure I had “read,” think: absorbed, each poem before moving on to the next one. It was a great lesson in slowing things down, if nothing else (which I probably needed, and do appreciate). But it was assuredly so much more than that.
So, taking into account my super limited experience with poetry, I will say that I straight up loved reading these poems. It’s such a beautiful, strong, feminist collection that packs a punch in a totally accessible (an overused word in book reviews in general, I know, but as a poetry newbie, I was really afraid of my perceived inaccessibility of the genre), non-overbearing, comfortably aggressive way. Despite her poem towards the end “to all you young poets (p. 202) with advice to never trade honesty for relatability, I felt that Kaur’s poems were ultimately incredibly relatable, both in terms of vocabulary used and topics covered. She does follow her own advice though, for I never felt that she sacrificed honesty in order to do so. What an incredible gift, to be able to take your deepest feelings and be able to create, with just words, a representation of them that is universally recognizable. Kaur writes of the pain and self-discovery, anger and love, revenge and forgiveness, that all women have felt. She owns the pain of relationships, both during and after, and the struggle of putting oneself back together and redefining who you are afterwards. She writes such short pieces that it’s unbelievable how much truth and reality she is able to convey. I have felt all those same feelings, but it would take me pages to say the things that she has done in just a few words, striking in their simultaneous depth and simplicity. In reading them, though I didn’t know this beforehand, I can see how she is a spoken word artist. The poems automatically flow with that same cadence, even when I read them in my head.
Some of my favorite parts are the details, the drawings and signoffs, that are strewn throughout the pages. The basic black lines that she uses mirror the structure and mood of the poems perfectly. Both details add much to the poems they are paired with, clarifying connections and deepening meaning. The use of only lowercase letters and periods as the only punctuation as an homage to her mother tongue (which has only one case and no punctuation other than periods) is a lovely touch. And again, similar to the basic black line drawings, that just adds to the ambiance of the book.
This collection addresses many struggles of being a women, makes and defends feminist points and arguments, and encourages the reader to find and love who they are first and foremost. It is a light hand on your lower back – comforting and intimate, yet strong and supportive. A stunning debut.
I’d like to share a few of my favorite poems here, both for myself to find them again easily and to give you a taste of what you’ll find between the covers of this book:
you tell me to quiet down cause
my opinions make me less beautiful
but i was not made with a fire in my belly
so i could be put out
i was not made with a lightness on my tongue
so i could be easy to swallow
i was made heavy
half blade and half silk
difficult to forget and not easy
for the mind to follow (p.30)
you might not have been my first love but you were the love that made all the other loves irrelevant (p.63 *with drawing of moon cycles*)
i came all this way to give you all these things but you aren’t even looking (p.110)
rivers fall from my mouth tears my eyes can’t carry (p.118)
people go but how they left always stays (p.126)
loneliness is a sign that you are in desperate need of yourself (p.153 *with drawing of a woman tree with open arms/branches*)
stay strong through your pain grow flowers from it you have helped me grow flowers out of mine so bloom beautifully dangerously loudly bloom softly however you need just bloom –to the reader (p.158)
for you to see beauty here does not mean there is beauty in me it means there is beauty rooted so deep within you you can’t help but see it everywhere (p.192)