Rupi Kaur: A Frankenstein’s Monster of Sensationalized Literature

Simultaneously published on Medium.

I think I am supposed to like Rupi Kaur, or that is what I have been told by the grand literary and artistic tastemakers of 2016.

For those of you who don’t know, Ms. Kaur is in the “literary vanguard,” creating a new type of poetry while writing as a new type of poet: the Instagram Poets, catalogued under #instapoet, #instapoetry, #instagrampoetry and the like. She’s been profiled in the Guardian, her name and words spread across a variety of articles discussing this new era of social-media sourced poetry. It’s bringing poetry back into the realm of the masses- An art form no longer solely for the out-of-touch, Ivory Tower Academics, no! Poetry is now for the Average Joe. These poets put out their turns of phrase that glance off the tongue. When reading, the poems present themselves as works barely crafted at all, seemingly plucked straight from the womb of creation present within the labyrinthine folds of the mind and birthed immediately to the vast sea of digital publishing: the Internet, ostensibly with little thought beyond link clicks, likes, and comment values…

Rupi Kaur writes about abuse and violence. She gained much of her initial fame off a photo series posted to Instagram depicting stains of menstrual blood. She’s not the first, nor will she be the last, to bring issues that are taboo out into the realm of the social sphere. It is laudable, applaudable, to generate discourse. She enjoys shocking people, but the shock is without nuance. Her lines of poetry are supposed to ring true to me, for I am a young woman, an Instagram participant…sometimes I even like to think myself “poetess…” during my more self-indulgent phases…

And she is supposed to be the voice of my generation, but she does not resonate with me. We do not have shared experiences, and I find no craft in her language.

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A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

Her poetic subject matter draws from the age old wells of love, sorrow, pain, anguish. These subjects are all certainly tried and true, but Kaur presents them to us ensconced in the wrapper of a young girl reaching out, taking special care through her meticulously crafted internet presence of self portraits with minimal and desaturated artistic direction (very #authentic), gestural sketches, and spartan lines of text, to make sure people know her works are profound. Rupi Kaur is another fine example of a shining achievement in marketing and branding.

I do not begrudge her the success that she has had. It is a marvel to attain any level of fame as a poet, but I question the longstanding appeal of her work. Will it endure as Emily Dickinson or Elizabeth Bishop’s works? Most of its appeal lies in its sensationalism: Milk and Honey has sold over half a million copies and is coming into its 16th publishing. Why this work of poetry? It is not because Kaur is presenting us with anything new, although she has cleverly branded herself as a niche voice filling in the “…market for poetry about trauma, abuse, loss, love and healing through the lens of a Punjabi-Sikh immigrant woman,” But, perhaps, more accurately, Milk and Honey resonates because nowadays people really get off by participating vicariously in the suffering of others.

Sensationalism. It is off this that our culture feeds. Information is not dispersed without thought to its potential for profit. We must sell, sell, sell, and the only way the narrative of a young brown woman can sell is if it is violent, grotesque, and shocking. In this age of identity politics you must craft a niche for yourself, as Kaur has done, make yourself go viral… Perhaps you are lucky enough that what you put forth into the world is your true experience, or an experience close to your truth. The harsh reality is that truth so often falls short. Everyone’s seeking a toehold in the cliff face to raise themselves out of the sea of anonymity. It is difficult to journey through life knowing deep down that there is truly little, if anything at all, that makes you extraordinary.

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