Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur


1. the saddening


I had high hopes. As with other few works, again, the title wasn’t tempting at all but still, after reading two poems, I thought it could work. It turns out I liked those two poems and maybe two more and that was it. High hopes…

i had high hopes
but now they’re falling
still falling
through an abyss

soon enough
you’ll hear the thud.

I just wrote that and it could easily be poetry. Because that’s what some like-minded people will find in this book: barely poetic clichés, some drawings and prose. It definitely brought some bad Lang Leav’s memories to mind, but the main difference is that this book covers some themes that are usually difficult to discuss. Fortunately, feminism has opened a door and it allowed more and more women to express themselves. However, I was left with the impression that whereas passion was there, the writing seemed slightly lackluster in comparison to other lyrical works I’ve read.
All right, I’m prevaricating – the writing just wasn’t good. In other words, we have emotion but a very poor execution.

my heart woke me crying last night
how can i help i begged
my heart said
write the book

From that moment, I had a bad feeling. It’s a touching statement that oozes authenticity; an understandable need, a clearly unfeigned emotion: to empty your mind (heart, as Kaur says) and write. But that poetic introduction was written in such a trite, forgettable way that I took it as the first warning. My intuition wasn’t mistaken; again. Milk and honey was not for me. I felt like I had to find out more about the writer. In the end, reading about her life was more interesting to me than this collection.

love is not cruel
we are cruel
love is not a game
we have made a game
out of love


he isn’t coming back
whispered my head
he has to
sobbed my heart

– wilting

They take your breath away, don’t they?

The book is divided into four chapters: “the hurting”, “the loving”, “the breaking” and “the healing”. It deals with themes not easy to approach: violence, rape, family issues, loss. I appreciate Kaur’s courage when discussing so openly the complexity of such topics, but talking about painful situations no woman would like to experience in her life and
adding breaks
to overused sentences
isn’t exactly poetry,
in my humble
This is a book about survival, but that alone can’t turn this into poetic writing.

i’ve had sex she said
but i don’t know
what making love
feels like

These kinds of poems carry some depth, but the language is utterly uninspiring. I don’t expect Proustian sophistication, but simplicity has been taken too literally. The poem I quoted above is an entire page. If I’m going to read such verse, it’d better be as gorgeous and meaningful as Alejandra Pizarnik or Juan Gelman’s poetry, for instance, people who used the same minimalist technique. One thing is to discuss certain themes using a straightforward, unadorned verse whose austerity perhaps tries to reinforce their genuine, raw nature. This is not the case, especially when one reads “the loving” section: honeyed lines that somehow reached a new level of insipidity but could still put the life of a diabetic at risk.

Not everything is poetry, there are pages in prose that were rather painful to finish. Suddenly I was longing for more 4-line hackneyed gems.

2. the encouraging

Now, there’s an interesting thing in a poem like…

don’t mistake
salt for sugar
if he wants to
be with you
he will
it’s that simple

…which can be found in “the breaking” – an inconsistent chapter but passable considering the rest. As I keep saying, the writing is not great but the last four lines explain the very essence of relationships. I’m a big fan of the “don’t waste time” philosophy; if people want to be with you, they will. The rest are ordinary excuses. That might be the strength of this book and the reason for the connection many have felt: it may help empower girls and women. I didn’t find many poems capable of doing that but that’s my experience. I would still encourage people to read this, especially women, if only to help them gain confidence to speak their minds, draw the line, claim their rights. Women’s empowerment can come from the most diverse sources. Kaur’s feminist views are much needed.

Amidst the repetitive nature of several poems, I also found a passage worth reading. The emotional depth, the clarity with which Kaur dissected that confusing aspect of our humanity was reflected in very intimate and heartfelt paragraphs (with its ebbs and flows).

i will tell you about selfish people. even when they know they will hurt you they walk into your life to taste you because you are the type of being they don’t want to miss out on. you are too much shine to not be felt. so when they have gotten a good look at everything you have to offer. when they have taken your skin your hair your secrets with them. when they realize how real this is. how much of a storm you are and it hits them. that is when the cowardice sets in. that is when the person you thought they were is replaced by the sad reality of what they are. […]
the idea that they were so engulfed by your existence they had to risk breaking it for the sake of knowing they weren’t the one missing out. your existence meant that little next to their curiosity of you.
that is the thing about selfish people. they gamble entire beings. entire souls to please their own. one second they are holding you like the world in their lap and the next they have belittled you to a mere picture. a moment. something of the past. one second. they swallow you up and whisper they want to spend the rest of their life with you. but the moment they sense fear. they are already halfway out the door. without having the nerve to let you go with grace. as if the human heart means that little to them. […]

After that passage, there’s a list with 16 tips to get over someone. Stereotypes like crying, eating ice cream and starting new projects were also included. My connection went to hell after that. The transient state of things.

you might not have been my first love
but you were the love that made
all the other loves

Having read many poets – women and men – from different backgrounds and periods in world history, I’m afraid I can’t call this poetry. As for aesthetic qualities, they have made this book irrelevant. In relation to the message this one conveys, you may want to give it a try.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.

4 thoughts on “Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur

  1. Simply stunning discection of this anthology. I especially enjoyed your thud- take. I’m sorry the literary quality did not live up to your expectations, however, I was particularly grateful to learn about the content. Thank you for letting us sample the texts and as always, it’s a delight to read your elegant, eloquent and incisive prose. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luckily, this kind of experience hasn’t been part of the majority, as I’ve read (and am reading) some wonderful books so far. This collection was a below-average but quick read.
      Many thanks for your gracious words! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It would sound extreme but I wonder if this book even deserved a review. I have strong prejudices against instagram poets with not a pinch of originality: neither in metaphor nor in thought.

    When it comes to literariness (whatever that might be ), nothing can expiate a writer’s work. Not even feminism. She should have been writing newspaper articles with autobiographical twists. 😛


    1. I write on a website based on a rating system, but I don’t enjoy giving bad ratings to the works of other people just for the sake of it. I try to find something positive when it’s possible. In this case, I did. Just my opinion, of course.
      Thanks for your comment.


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