Intimate Poetry That Sells – And Sells – The Poetry of Toronto-based Rupi Kaur

milk and honey - Best Selling Poetry Sensation

milk and honey – Best-Selling Poetry Sensation

When my mother opens her mouth
to have a conversation at dinner
my father shoves the word hush
between her lips and tells her to
never speak with her mouth full
this is how the women in my family
learned to live with their mouths closed

Rupi Kaur (1992 – ) from milk and honey, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015

Our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to

women of colour

Rupi Kaur, ibid

The kindest words my father said to me
women like you drown oceans

Rupi Kaur, Instagram

It takes a broken, twisted person to come searching for meaning between my legs.  It takes a whole, complete and perfectly designed person to survive it.

Rupi Kaur from her Tedx Talk, I’m Taking My Body Back, August 2016

Anyone know the best-selling Canadian poet of all time? I can think of Robert Service, the gold-rush balladeer whose book sales exceed three million copies according to Wikipedia. Then there’s Thomas McCrae’s Flander’s Fields and Leonard Cohen; between his books and albums his sales must be in the many millions! And I have to think former poetry-slam champion and spoken work impressario Shane Koyzcen has achieved significant widespread commercial success with his books and cds.

But for sure, with her debut book, published when she was 22, Indo-Canadian spoken word performer, artist and photographer, Rupi Kaur, may be on her way to having written the best selling poetry book in Canadian history. That’s if she hasn’t achieved this distinction already! To read an interview with her in the Guardian click here.

According to Publishers Weekly (click here) in early September the American publisher of her originally self-published  (2014) book milk and honey had sold 450,000 copies since the Fall of 2015 and was still selling 30,000 copies a week! That doesn’t include the sales from her popular self-published version!

Kaur’s book is quite unlike most poetry books I have read. It’s illustrated with her line drawings, some explicit. And her poems, often epigrammatic, explore sexual abuse, love, loss, trauma and healing. But above all it’s a celebration of the feminine, and its astonishing resilience.  And of art and writing – its power to promote self healing.

Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur

In a searing Tedx talk (with a caution that its content could be triggering) recorded this past August (click here) she describes the day only six or seven years ago when her crying stopped and she began to draw and write: this writing led me to reclaim my body. Her long spoken word poem in that recording riveted me. Especially the line: It takes a broken, twisted person to come searching for meaning between my legs. And then this trimphant response: It takes a whole, complete and perfectly designed person to survive it.

Kaur who turns 24 this month has been an internet sensation where many of her poems and accompanying signature line drawings can be found all over. But she also gained noteriety when she successfully challenged Instagram which had removed a picture she had posted of herself lying in bed with a menstrual blood stain on her pajama bottoms and her bed. Instagram relented and put it back on line.

I can guess at why Kaur’s book has sold so extraordinarily well. But I can’t know for sure. But I do know this book, its poems, are a poetic cry which has saved her. A poetic cry where many other women can hear their own cries. Cries of rape, sexism, inequality, sexual abuse, broken hearts and so blessedly, the cry of healing.

I can quibble about some of the poetic values in her book but I can’t do anything but celebrate the feminine human spirit that cried out this book, the cries of this triumphant survivor, no victim, who can say:

this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty one years
this is my heart
in your hands
this is
the hurting
the loving
the breaking
the healing

Rupi Kaur, milk and honey, ibid

Will this book leave a lasting poetic legacy? Don’t know. But as a record of how a woman has survived the harrowing challenges of her life –you look at me and cry/ everything hurts// I hold you and whisper/ but everything can heal – this book is outstanding. Many say poetry can save a life. The poetry that inspired this book saved Rupi Kaur’s life and, I dare say, it will help save many, many more. Now that’s a legacy to cherish and celebrate!

If you can take the time, spend eighteen minutes and watch Kaur’s Tedx talk! Her spoken word poem and her terrifying reminder of this truth for TOO, TOO MANY women around the world: so many of us trying to reclaim our bodies. I would love to see Kaur perform her TEDx spoken word poem in Goma, Eastern Congo where rape has been an everyday event for countless women. And still continues. Poetry as healing, poetry as medicine! Kaur’s book!





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