Yesterday I posted something about the
smutty erotic poetry of a young Canadian woman, Rupi Kaur, who has become quite popular with younger women and teen girls. A friend of mine’s 14-year-old relative asked for a copy of Kaur’s book Milk & Honey for Christmas. When the friend searched it out online and looked inside, she was shocked by the sexual content in it. It turns out that my friend’s young relative had no idea what was in the book, but had only seen it recommended on Instagram by a friend from Christian camp (!), and decided to put it on her Christmas list.
I posted about the book because it shocked me to learn that work like this is popular with teenage girls. In my day, it was Judy Blume, and boy, did we think we were racy then. I also posted a rave student review of the book from a high school newspaper in rural Hays, Kansas. The review gave no clue as to the explicit sexual content of the poetry. I wonder: is it just that unremarkable these days among teenagers?
A couple of folks on this blog said that Kaur’s book must not be that popular. After all, none of us have heard of it. Well, look at this story from The Guardian:
The “Instapoet” Rupi Kaur’s originally self-published collection Milk and Honey has sold more than half a million copies in the US and is into its 16th printing, according to its publisher.
Known as an Instapoet for the traction she gains online with her poetry that deals with violence, abuse and femininity, the collection was first self-published almost two years ago, in November 2014. It went on to top charts in North America and was snapped up by Andrews McMeel Publishing, which released its own edition in October that year.
“We thought it would sell well, but the momentum of sales that took off in March this year was very exciting, especially when the book hit the New York Times bestseller list,” said publisher and president Kirsty Melville. “We have sold over half a million copies and are currently in our 16th printing.” Melville added that on average, a strong-selling poetry book would sell less than 30,000 copies a year.
That is not just a breathtaking number for a book of poetry, but a breathtaking number for a book, period.
The night out – which will mark Kaur’s 24th birthday – is rather fitting. This young poet from the suburbs of Toronto has fashioned a career out of forcing herself into places where she’s least expected; whether it’s the New York Times bestseller list or challenging social media to rethink how it sees menstruation.
It was the latter that catapulted Kaur into headlines in 2015. After Instagram banned a photo, published as part of a university assignment, showing Kaur lying in bed with her pyjamas and sheets stained with a small amount of menstrual blood, Kaur fought back. She pointed out the hypocrisy of being censored by a site that readily publishes photos of underage girls who are “objectified” and “pornified”. Followers flocked to her, cheering her on as she added, “I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be okay with a small leak.”
Kaur is a Sikh-Punjabi Canadian immigrant feminist, so she’s really got the full package. There will probably be entire college literature courses built around the poetry of Rupi Kaur. In fact, we’re almost there, says a story that calls Kaur “the voice of her generation”:
Within three days, Kaur gained 150,000 Instagram followers. (Her total count, at press time, is 722,000.) But she wasn’t exactly a social-media cipher before that: she had already amassed a solid 35,000 followers, thanks to frequent posts of her highly regrammable poems, as well as dogged promotion of the writing workshops she facilitated and the panels she took part in at campuses like New York’s Columbia University. When she agreed to speaking engagements in San Francisco or London, Kaur would order a box of her books to be sent to the organizer’s house so she could sell them after the event. She wrote on airplanes and at 5 a.m. in hotel rooms, pushing out more poems, which led to further sales on Amazon and caught the attention of her American publisher. “My entire life, everyone has referred to me as a workaholic,” says Rakhi Mutta, Kaur’s manager. “Then I met Rupi, and it was the first time in my life I was inspired by someone’s hustle.”
“Pushing out more poems.” Right. This one-woman poetry factory even illustrates her own work. For example, this from Milk & Honey (which I’ll put below the jump so as not to offend):
Well, gosh. See, this shows you how out of it I am. A decade ago, Caitlin Flanagan wrote about teen sexuality and teen literature in The Atlantic. In this excerpt, she writes about re-reading Judy Blume’s 1970 girl-lit blockbuster Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for the first time since her own 1970s childhood:
Reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for the first time in thirty years meant realizing anew that the world of my childhood is as distant and unrecoverable as that of the Etruscans. Margaret and I were young during a time when little girls dreamed of getting the courage to ask their mothers for training bras, attended carefully supervised dances, eagerly wore clothes that the modern preteen would sooner die than put on. (“Should I wear my velvet?” Margaret asks her mother when she learns she’s been invited to a boy-girl supper party. “It’s your best,” her mother replies.) In Margaret’s world the boys can’t be counted on to maintain a grown-up demeanor for these events: they disappoint the girls by stomping on their toes during a PTA-sponsored square dance; at the supper party they throw their sports coats in a pile and shoot mustard at the ceiling through drinking straws. But it is also the boys who are responsible for introducing the first glimmerings of sex to the group. When a boy suggests that they turn off the light and play Guess Who—”the boys line up on one side and the girls on the other and then when I yell Go the boys run to the girls’ side and try to guess who’s who by the way they feel”—the girls put on the brakes immediately. (“‘No, thank you,’ Gretchen said. ‘That’s disgusting!'”) The girls agree to a game of Spin the Bottle, however, and that night Margaret gets her first thrilling, fleeting kiss. The novel ends in triumph: three drops of blood on Margaret’s underpants, discovered the day of the sixth-grade farewell party, mean that she has left childhood behind.
Today, that book seems like a portrait of surrey-with-the-fringe-on-top innocence. Read the whole Flanagan article, if you can stomach it. It helps explain why the editor of the high school newspaper said nothing in her review about the explicit sexual content of Milk & Honey: kids like her have been rolling in this filth for so long they don’t even notice it. In fact, she writes, of drawings like the one you see above:
Accompanying the poems are little drawings by the author to further emphasize the message the poem is trying to convey. The style of the drawings is so cute and is so fitting for the way the poems are written. The cohesiveness of the entire book is so eloquent and lovely.
So cute. So fitting. This critical judgment delivered by a high school girl in Hays, Kansas.
Benedict Option, people. Benedict Option. This culture is not our own, and never should be.