Upon first perusing Rupi Kaur’s second book of poetry, The Sun and Her Flowers, published in 2017 hard upon the heels of her extremely successful first book, Milk and Honey (which I haven’t yet read), I was at first a little disappointed. The complicated devices and figures I, at least, prefer to find in poetry were missing. The poem was a long sort of prose poem of most short, declarative sentences, with a few questions strewn here and there, interspersed with clever sketches of the stages of a woman’s life. The most complicated comparison seemed to be that of comparing people to sunflowers, which, in the titles of the various divisions of the poem, go through stages of “wilting,” “falling,” “rooting,” “rising,” and “blooming.” That seemed at first not only too simple, but a little simple-minded. But something kept me reading, anyway. Perhaps it was the desire to see the “plot” fulfilled, which is one of the characteristic things analysts say drives the reading of a prose work. I mean, given the organic governing metaphors, and the theme of “to everything a season,” a certain uplift at the end was to be expected, it was apparent. Still, this particular evocation of the growing season had somehow become more interesting than just the generalized comparison: she had sneaked it in on me.
As I read, I followed the poem through the delineation of a violently-inclined love affair and its end, the grief and desolation which follow the ending of even a bad love, the gradual recuperation that, if one is basically life-oriented and sensible, one tries to develop or find, the impulse toward re-growth that follows, and the also gradual rise into a new love and a community awareness of the family as a whole. But let’s take that a little slower. The first parts of the poem are addressed to a “you” who is a bad influence; then, gradually the “you” disappears; then it morphs into a “you” who is a sudden and surprising treasure; then, an awareness of the loves of different generations of the family develops; then, a recounting of the difficulties that migration presents even to two parents or forbears who love each other, and a detailing of the anxieties and separations they must endure for their families comes next; then, a modest gesture toward discussing the life of societal pressures and how this affects immigrants in a new country sums up the whole. Really, by the time I finished the book, I was quite impressed with just how forcefully and completely this poetic vision had fulfilled itself, and all in a series of simple, non-capitalized, mostly unpunctuated sentences. (Not that capitalization or punctuation are regular in poetry anyway, as a general rule, or that they are to be expected in free verse, but when one is confronted with apparent simplicity as a device, one can begin to question whether or not it’s overdone. Happily, such was not the end result in this case.)
By this time, I was sufficiently humbled to want to read the graceful (and again, simple) biographical sketch of Rupi Kaur which takes place at the end of the book. It was a bit vague, and I would have liked more details (which, like jewels, or buds, if one prefers to stick to the organic metaphor, were strewn throughout the summary). Basically, the artist’s statement was that “I am the product of all the ancestors getting together and deciding these stories need to be told”). One set of topics which I have not touched upon yet, and which the poem also dealt with in detail was female liberation from the restraints of a conventional and hidebound societal influence, and how various generations of women have achieved it. As the blurb stated, and as I have in a general way sketched out above were: “love, loss, trauma, healing, feminity, migration, and revolution.” That’s just about said it all, but that’s saying a lot.
There are many different styles and kinds of poetry kicking around these days, and everyone can mostly choose for himself or herself which to pursue for edification, but if you read no other book of poetry this year, it’s at least arguable that you should read this one, which is based in technique upon the poet’s experiences in delivering performance poetry in places in Canada, her country of adoption. After all, you can hardly go wrong with a long poem which has not only an organic metaphor governing its development, organic metaphors consistently expressing things “all flesh is heir to,” but which also describes a particular historical experience of a large group of people. Give it a read; I think you’ll be both pleasantly surprised and greatly impressed, whatever your first impression, or your overall take on performance poetry. As for me, at some time in the near future, I’ll be dipping into Milk and Honey by the same author, to see what word experience she started out by allowing me to immerse myself in! Shadowoperator