Contemporary Poetry: The Rupi Kaur Conundrum

poetry, rant, rants

Poetry. It’s something I love but don’t often read these days. I blather on and on about my university days when I read Romantic poetry all the frigging time but I’m 30 now. As much as I don’t want to admit it, it’s been a while since I finished my degree and I’ve kind of lost my way with poetry. So, I’m always trying to get back into it. Obviously, I have my favourite Romantic poets and have a certain fondness for the greats. I’m talking Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Yeats, TS Eliot etc. TS Eliot’s Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock is one of my favourite ever works of poetry. It shares the top spot with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner but I’ve discussed this before. My issue is contemporary poetry. I guess the closest I get to really loving contemporary poetry is the work of First World War poets. So, you know, not at all contemporary. It’s not that I hate it; I just don’t have the same love for it. Recently I’ve been trying to push myself to read more. It was this quest that got me to pick up Rupi Kaur’s collection Milk and Honey and Amanda Lovelace’s the princess saves herself in this one. Both collections were ones I’d seen praised all over social media and the internet as a whole. I expected to be blown away. I wasn’t.

To me, these poems are just hollow. Aside from a few that I kind of liked, the majority of these pieces just seemed to be pretty sentences arranged artistically. I get that the poets are trying to tackle important subjects but the way they did this never felt new or original. It felt like they’d taken other people’s ideas and taken any real depth out of them. Reading them made me feel super old. It was like I was reading the attempts of a child to emulate a poet. It lacked the natural elegance and emotion that I associate with the poetry I’ve truly loved. It’s all kind of childish and superficial. All style and no substance. The sort of stuff that sounds really profound to people who don’t really know a lot about the world yet. The sort of stuff that sounds really profound to teenage girls who have never read poetry before and think they’re being really sophisticated. The sort of stuff that sounds really profound to idiots. I could go on but, as I’m starting to insult people, I won’t.

A lot of these poems actually made me angry that somebody took the time to publish them in the first place. I was angry that so much paper had been wasted for so little. For these banal and trite little groups of words that really didn’t have anything to say at all. I couldn’t see how they had become so famous. They were banal and superficial pieces that were designed to speak to a certain generation and be seen as groundbreaking for their approach. Yet, they have removed the one thing all writing needs: substance. There was no heart or emotion as I could see on these pages. It was poetry for social media and smartphones but not poetry for readers. Design and format are all important things for literature but not when it comes at the expense of depth. Praising Rupi Kaur and Amanda Lovelace for being at the cutting edge of a new style of consuming content is one thing but they aren’t writers. They’re designers.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about my reaction to Kaur and Lovelace for ages but always found myself wavering. The reason for this was simple: every time I mentioned these collections on Instagram I was met with a completely split reaction. They are the kind of poems that people either love or hate. And it is the people who love them that stopped me taking to this blog and ranting about how it wasn’t real poetry and the works were devoid of any meaning or depth… at least any more than I already have. Because I realised something: there are plenty of people out there who have genuinely found something helpful in Kaur’s poems. People who generally get emotional reading them. And that made me rethink just willingly tearing them to shreds.

Now I’m not here to say we shouldn’t openly criticise something because someone else likes it. I don’t think these so-called poems are worthy of my time because a few strangers I’ve talked to on Instagram like them. But it made me more wary to just let loose. Because, despite all their faults, Kaur and Lovelace are getting people of all ages to connect with poetry. That’s a great thing at a time like this. It’s like 50 Shades of Gray in some ways. I can’t say I ever want to read the whole thing and I think it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever read. However, it got people reading. Dan Brown is a dreadful writer but he got people engaged with books. That’s got to count for something, right?

But should it? If I really think something is as worthless as I think these poems are should I water down my reaction in case I risk upsetting people? Or is criticism an inevitable consequence of putting yourself out there? Either as a writer or a reader. As a writer of this blog, I’m always prepared for people to hate both me and my work. It’s fine. It won’t stop me. But should we, as readers, be prepared to have people destroy the thing we love? I like to think that I’m a person who is confident enough in myself to be able to cope with someone hating something I liked. In fact, I’m getting used to it. My favourite book is The Monk and it’s quite divisive. If someone told me it was shit I’d totally get it. I wrote a whole section of my postgraduate dissertation about people who hated it. I’m good.

But how easy is it to do that if it’s something that speaks to you on such an emotional level? After all, Kaur and Lovelace both deal with some serious and deep issues. Issues that really impact people’s lives and mental health. Someone with shared experiences could connect with these collections in a way that I never could. So my criticism may have the feel of a personal attack. And if it does, who is at fault? Me, for voicing my valid opinion, or them, for being unable to distance themselves from a piece of prose? Or neither? Oh god, I’m stuck in an introspective loop.

I could easily write a well-reasoned and logical argument for why I didn’t enjoy these poems and that’s exactly what I set out to do earlier this year. I was so confident in my dislike that I didn’t care about what anyone else thought. Now, as you’ve just read, I don’t know what’s going on. I’m wildly attacking these poets whilst also worrying about offending people. It’s not who I am. But, I guess the great thing about poetry is that it’s such a personal and subjective thing. You can read so much in a piece of poetry that it can become more a part of who you are than other types of writing. If this is the case, should our whole approach to poetry reviews change? As you have probably established by now, I do not have the answer to that or any other question I’ve raised here tonight. What we have, is another rambling post with no real meaning whatsoever. Goodnight chaps.

8 thoughts on “Contemporary Poetry: The Rupi Kaur Conundrum

  1. “If I really think something is as worthless as I think these poems are should I water down my reaction in case I risk upsetting people? Or is criticism an inevitable consequence of putting yourself out there?”
    Great questions. I think the answers lie in a more precise definition of Poetry, leading to a more clear delineation of Poem from Prose, without regard to the separate discussion of Artistic value. These are separate discussions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A great point. It’s a complex issue. Maybe the fact that poetry is more fluid makes criticism more difficult. One person’s poetry is another person nonsense and vice versa.


      1. It became very simple to me when I stopped looking at prose works as poems, when I defined poetry as Living in the Land of Verse. Sentences are prose, regardless of line breaks. Prose is a good thing. It can use many of the literary devices used by poets, and it can most definitely be artistic, but it just is not poetry, by my definition. Either form can touch its readers profoundly, but they are distinct forms.
        I see fluidity and start carving lines.

        Liked by 1 person

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