Women have many beautiful aspects and not just appearances
Zarin Rafiuddin reads the chronicles of Kaur's life through her poetry
What does it mean to hurt, lose, love and heal? Such questions are asked and explored in Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey (2015) published by Andrews McMeel Publishing. Kaur states at the back of the book this is her 21 years of living and she wanted to share it with the readers. At the start, she dedicates it to the "arms" that held her. She also explained that her poetry collection was a deep desire in her heart in the book as in her heart mourned and pleaded with her to write it. Milk and Honey was a New York Bestseller when it was released and has popularity even today. Kaur is Indian-Canadian and of Sikh descent.
Kaur celebrates many things in the book. Though she does not censor many things either. Her poetry book is broken into four paths: The Hurting, The Loving, The Breaking and The Healing. Each part focuses on something crucial and the poet seems to be having a dialogue with herself as well as us. She also draws illustrations in alongside writing a poem. These penned "doodles" are beautiful and they do capture a sense of what else the poet may be feeling and thinking.
"The Hurting" chronicles sexual abuse and incestuous abuse. She talks of some explicit situations and also feeling terribly numb. She talks about systematic patriarchy and its abuses too. In a poem talking about a first kiss when she was five she extrapolates that the abuser treated her as an object, the same way the abuser's father treats their mother. She talks about how women are silenced.
They are told to be "beautiful" and somehow that "beautiful" is crafted though objectification and silence. She bravely talks about the issues of her father. She mentions him abandoning her in some ways by being an alcoholic and being harsh with her. She struggles with her anger at those who abused her but she says strongly: "the rape will/ tear you/ in half. but it/ will not/ end you."
In "The Loving" she begins with great love and respect for her mother. She at times cannot understand how her mother can do so much for her but still not accept anything in return. She feels the raw strength in motherhood and the wisdom of mothers resonate through their love, guidance and support. She then moves on to sensuous and romantic imagery, which at times becomes erotic.
She is understanding herself in a relationship. You can feel the passion and the dedication, the loyalty between lovers. You can feel Kaur understanding that there can be love without violence but tenderness and happiness. The section ends though with a passionate break from the rawness of feelings to the tumultuous of precariousness. Kaur knows something is wrong but she attempts to hold on.
And so, we progress to "The Breaking", which shows us Kaur's strength to acknowledge the hurt and vulnerability she feels in having relationships break. She also advises the readers to not feel forlorn and that we are always enough for ourselves.
What we want is a symbiosis and not a fusion. We have to keep our own identity. She bravely questions that she is enough, she is a force of nature and that she can be coveted and loved. She does not need the broken promise of one person to deter her. She may sometimes feel for him again but she knows that she should never nurse thorns where there can be honey.
Throughout the book, Kaur uses milk and honey as form of different symbols. She uses them as terms of endearment, foundations for love, for sexuality, for a lovers' shared code of language and also for the readers as strength. This is continued in the last part called "The Healing." She has a line: "accept yourself/ as you were designed.", which is a strong statement to make.
In this section, she now understands the sort of men to avoid and also comes to realise sisterhood. She embraces women of all types and tries to eschew patriarchal markers for their beauty. She feels women have many beautiful aspects and not just appearances. They are also best when they speak up and can be heard. Their voices ae important.
The entire collection seems like a bildungsroman to Kaur's life until she was 21. It chronicles what she has felt from childhood to adulthood with the adolescence also encapsulated. She does not wane or wax anything. Her language can be open and her illustrations can be explicit. She talked about feeling subjugated as a woman yet then breaking the chains and feeling herself for the first time. When she heals she also thanks the universe as what was taken and given has allowed her to stay balanced.
Milk and Honey is an excellent poetry book. It is or young adults and adults as it has some sensitive issues amongst its pages. Kaur uses nice imagery and though her style seems simple nothing of her work is simplistic or reductionist. The book is honest and is not politely ignorant.
It raises issues and it also desires to have others feel comfortable within in. There has been some controversy surrounding the poetry collection. Nayyirah Waheed, another poet who has publishing online for a long time and came out with her own book, (2013), finally told Kaur that she felt that the other poet used too much of her own stylistics. Kaur did not comment on this issue. Waheed did point out that Kaur had spoken about her as an inspiration. Still, Kaur has enjoyed success with her debut collection.
Overall, Kaur's book is an interested read with many themes that most would be able to relate to. As she said it one of her lines: "if you were born with/ the weakness to fall/ you were born with/ the strength to rise" and I believe those are some of the most powerful words in the collection.
The reviewer is working with The Asian Age