Soothing bitterness with milk and honey

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When I picked <em>milk and honey</em> up from Chapters, it was with the knowledge that the recent Rupi Kaur poetry reading at UW had been cancelled due to the freak spring ice storm. I grabbed a drink at the neighbouring Starbucks and cracked open the black matte cover of <em>milk and honey, </em>not expecting to be impressed. Frankly, I wanted to stay bitter about the missed reading. Of course, with a title as sweet as <em>milk and honey</em> the truth should have been apparent from the start. It&rsquo;s hard to stay bitter about a book that claims to be a &ldquo;journey of the most bitter moments in life and [finding] sweetness in them.&rdquo;</p>

Milk and honey was originally self-published by Kaur in 2014 before being picked up by Andrews Mcmeel Publishing in October 2015. The book is divided into four themes: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing. The poems are often accompanied by Kaur’s own drawings. It’s a quick book to read as the poems are usually only a few lines without any real punctuation to slow down the reading flow.

The poetry collection is billed as “the poetry collection every woman needs on her nightstand or coffee table” by Huffington Post’s critic Erin Spencer. It’s hard to believe that a first-time poet/UW alumni could write poems that every woman can relate to.

In hindsight, I think what draws a lot of women to the book is that it covers so many issues that they can relate to, like societal expectations of womanhood, sex, the trauma of rape, overcoming heartbreak, and the intersection of race. Calling it a book for “every woman” is perhaps a bit generous. As a queer woman, I found it hard to connect with, considering it is at times very clearly written with straight women in mind, although this may not be an issue for many women reading milk and honey

Some of the poems can also feel a little cliché since they are so short that they rely on known themes and images to make the same sort of resonance larger poems can with a greater amount of space. One example would be “it must hurt to know/ i am your most/ beautiful/ regret.” Vague, overused, and similar in tone to high school poetry scribbled on the back of math notes.

The critiques aside, what Kaur has made in milk and honey is nothing short of incredible. Without even touching on the fact that Kaur began in UW, where poetry is not exactly one of our fortes, Kaur has gone on to sell 15,000 copies during her first self-publishing run alone, a rarity in the publishing world.

Having reached this level of fame through her first book of poetry, Kaur is already setting herself up to become a well-known Canadian-based poet.

Within the poem’s restrained word length there is so much emotion packed into the tiny poetry packages. Most of the poems are general enough that it is easy to relate to them, but the undercurrent of Kaur’s personal experiences backing other poems makes them feel far more personal than they appear on paper. A personal favourite was, “who tricked you/ into believing another person / was meant to complete you/ when the most they can do is complement.”

Scrolling through the reviews left on Goodreads (rated 4.5/5 from over 3,000 ratings) and Amazon (rated 4.7/5 from 300 ratings), the resonance with other women and even men is all exceedingly positive. In particular, the book’s raw discussion of sexual abuse seemed to be a large point of discussion, the book itself becoming a healing tool for some survivors.

Although I went into milk and honey wanting to dislike it, it is hard to hate something that is obviously impactful to so many people. The poetry inside tries its best to share its inherent honesty with some part of your own personal honesty, no matter how much you might resist. I think one Canadian Amazon reviewer, under the name “Natasha,” said it best: “Not every word in it will speak to you, but without a doubt you will be spoken to.”

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