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‘Milk and honey’ by Rupi Kaur

July 3, 2017

I didn’t actually set out to buy this book. I happened to be buying something else when the shop assistant happened to mention that this book was selling well. I went back upstairs to have a look, and I was entranced. Thank you Waterstones, incidentally, for employing well read, intellectually curious young women.

The beauty of this book is its sheer directness and honesty. The verse is candid and intimate in a way that makes you feel as if Rupi Kaur was talking directly to you, or as if you were privy to an intimate conversation, one half of a love affair between you and the author. A lot of the passages in the first part of the book are erotic in a very forceful way that takes you into the inner life of the author in a way that reveals truths that would otherwise remain private. This is an intensely personal book that also speaks about things that are nevertheless true for all of us.

An unusual feature are the little explanatory sentences and phrases in italics that are not titles, precisely. They are more a way of offering some kind of context to verse which would otherwise be beautiful, but cryptic. The book sometimes feels like a confession, or more properly a form of art where the poet affirms that these things happened, that she really did feel this way, by the act of recording them.

This is verse distilled to its absolute essence. I won’t quote any of it to show you what I mean. These poems are so seemingly artless that even the briefest quote here would risk undermining the effect. This is not verse that deals in apposite metaphor or abstraction- it is uncompromisingly raw and direct. There are virtually none of the poet’s usual ‘tricks of the trade’ here. The author does away with clever technique in favour of an absolute, vivid, honesty.

Another thing about this poetry- it is wonderfully, explicitly feminine. The poems progress through four sections- the hurting, the loving, the breaking, the healing- in a sequence that is a fearless exploration of the female half of a relationship. No man would ever write quite as honestly as this.

A particularly appealing feature of this book is the poet’s own line drawings. They are exquisitely appropriate to the texts they accompany. There is a simplicity and directness to the visual language used that precisely echos the form of the verses they accompany. They are simple, yes, but very consummate- they look almost like a highly charged version of Gaudier-Brzeska’s drawings. It shouldn’t be possible to do all this with just a line, just with black and white, but Rupi Kaur manages it.

So no, this is not a book for the faint of heart. It’s an incredibly honest, sometimes graphic, but always enchanting collection of some of the most direct poetry I have ever come across. There are parts of it that feel uncomfortable- as if the poet was telling you secrets that she wouldn’t usually tell anybody. But that’s all part of the magic of this book, its honesty and sheer power.


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