“It’s so complicated,”
October 20, 2017 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Rupi Kaur Is Kicking Down the Doors of Publishing [The New York Times] “In the three years since her blockbuster “Milk and Honey” was first self-published and later picked up by Andrews McMeel Publishing, she has dealt with all the issues other women face on Instagram and off: comparisons, aggression, bullying. But she has also built a community and an audience there in particular, with 1.6 million followers. Daunted by the tough stuff, she remained, because “it came back to the accessibility,” she said. “Instagram makes my work so accessible and I was able to build a readership,” Ms. Kaur said recently in a cafe in SoHo. “But then I always feel like within the literary world there’s of course downsides, because you have that label attached to your work and then, for some reason, that means you aren’t a credible literary source.””

• The Problem With Rupi Kaur's Poetry [Buzzfeed]
“Lauded by her readers as an authentic, intensely personal writer who isn’t afraid of baring her innermost trauma, she’s considered a much-needed voice of diversity in a literary scene that’s overwhelmingly white. But she’s also been accused of plagiarism and criticized for blurring individual and collective trauma in her quest to depict the quintessential South Asian female experience. Kaur’s work brings up a bevy of questions: Is her poetic engagement with trauma valid as a defense against any critique of her style? After all, honesty, vulnerability, and a willingness to tackle tough issues are valuable qualities in any writer, but content and form are ultimately separate, and one does not cancel out the other. In an age when increasing attention is being paid to narratives of female trauma — particularly those communicated in a confessional vein — it can easily lead to the exploitation and commodification of those who experience said trauma.”
• The Instagram Poet Outselling Homer Ten to One Meet Rupi Kaur, author of the ubiquitous Milk and Honey. [The Cut]
“Milk and Honey, the 25-year-old Punjabi-Canadian’s first collection of poetry, is the best-selling adult book in the U.S. so far this year. According to BookScan totals taken near the end of September, the nearly 700,000 copies Kaur has sold put her ahead of runners-up like John Grisham, J.D. Vance, and Margaret Atwood by a margin of more than 100,000. (In 2016, Milk and Honey beat out the next-best-selling work of poetry — The Odyssey — by a factor of ten.) And because Kaur’s robust social-media following (1.6 million followers on Instagram, 154,000 on Twitter) has been the engine of her success, she is accustomed to direct contact with her public. So, when a young woman stops her on the way out of Think Coffee — “I love your work!” — Kaur greets her with a hug, poses for a selfie, then turns and calls back to her publicist. “She preordered the second book!””
• Poet Rupi Kaur: 'Art Should Be Accessible To The Masses' [NPR]
“Rupi Kaur has been called the "pop star of poetry." She's 24; she emigrated from India to Canada when she was 4. And she's famous for the raw, minimalist poems she posts on Instagram for her 1.6 million followers. But social media and poetry don't always seem to go together — Kaur's been criticized for skimping on depth in favor of reaching the widest possible Internet audience. "I think the issue is because we have a form of art that is highly, highly traditional — meaning poetry — and then you have this other thing which is new and quite non-traditional, which is of course social media," Kaur says. "And so the gate-keepers of these two things are kind of confused at this moment." That confusion didn't stop Kaur's first book, milk and honey, from hitting the best-seller lists. Now she's out with her second collection, called the sun and her flowers.”
• On Rupi Kaur and the question of authenticity in the age of social media artists [The National Post]
“In the social media world, where sharing is everything, it’s very easy to be derivative, but very hard to prove you’re not. But in the realm of digital poetry, shouldn’t the question be, not where did it come from first, but rather, how is it evolving? While Kaur is undeniably a woman of certain privilege, that doesn’t negate the fact that she is still a marginalized woman who, simply by creating, has given a voice to an otherwise largely invisible community. Social media breeds trends and, five years ago, the thoughts of a 20-something woman of colour were nowhere near as trendy as they are now, thanks in part to Kaur. While that commercial tendency is indeed insidious, it’s also the first step to a larger platform for more minority artists. While it’s certainly important to call disingenuous literature into question – particularly if it is choosing to speak for a lived experience it does not know – it’s also true that writing about her own trauma and her own experience with being a woman of colour doesn’t inherently qualify Kaur’s work as more than superficial. Often opting for a “we” over an “i”, Kaur positions herself as a voice for all, even if she doesn’t directly claim to be one.”
• Rupi Kaur: the inevitable backlash against Instagram's favourite poet [The Guardian]
“Even if you like her writing, these little jabs at her plaintive voice are spot on: one of Kaur’s actual poems muses “If you are not enough for yourself / you will never be enough / for someone else” and, while that gained 175,000 likes on Instagram, it has the air of the slurred advice you might overhear at the back of a Wetherspoons. Kaur treads a fine line between accessibility and over-simplicity, and often stumbles into the latter. But does she deserve a 3,000-word article on Buzzfeed criticising her “for blurring individual and collective trauma in her quest to depict the quintessential south Asian female experience”? There have also been plagiarism claims, most notably when her second collection, The Sun and Her Flowers, was announced. Nayyirah Waheed, another young poet who posts work on social media, had accused Kaur of ignoring her messages about the similarities between their work. These claims aside, the truth is that both writers have hit upon a winning formula: rupturing short confessional pieces with erratic line breaks to share hard-won truths.”
posted by Fizz (20 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
So what's the bottom-line of satisfaction here -- 1.2B followers, 12 books, $15M, two P.A.s, security-detail, one stalker, two or three Booker invites to luncheon, and a Nobel nomination, or what?
posted by marycatherine at 8:43 AM on October 20


Obligatory Trump + Kaur parody account:

https://www.instagram.com/trumpikaur_/
posted by obtuser at 9:00 AM on October 20 [1 favorite]


I like her or at least I like the concept of her

I graduated with an undergrad Creative Writing degree and there were, frankly, still so many white, older gatekeepers who kept shoehorning their MFA students into their specific idea of what writing should and shouldn't be. the expectation was like how it is in any other field - that you have to respect the already established institution of craft and practice and style and anything outside of those traditional boxes was dismissed as chaff

obviously this led to most works being navel-gazey introspective white, middle-class meditations on why mom was mean to you and such. Jonathan Safran Foer's horrible, neurotic, banal short stories, for ex, were super typical submissions - anything that had the drossing of urbanity, with the minor exception of the PoC literature that kept filtering through, would get published

I remember reading one short story, beautifully written, about a girl and this actual lizard boy she was dating. underneath of it was this complicated discussion of the dynamics of infatuation vs love (he would get hot around her in person, cold when they were separated), of growing and changing in a relationship (he would shed his skin and look and act differently), and a whole lot more. it really, really captured that intensity of your first major crush so well. I rec'd it for publication - the professorial overseer said 'science fiction is garbage, it'll never go anywhere', and into the shredder it went

Rupi Kaur's work seems familiar in that way because it's such a distillation of a non-white, non-male, societally responsive framework into simple words - it's like the distillation of an entire Alice Munro short story, all rendered in a form of art that doesn't require a Protestant work ethic to enjoy. and the dividing line, whether it's 5000 words of stylistically perfect prose or it's 20 words that talk about the raw feeling of being betrayed by someone you love is culturally mediated and arbitrary - so anybody who establishes a polar extreme is ostracized when they should be commended for being able to capture, in a voice, in a few words, the buried feelings of a really huge audience

and all of this is not even to talk about culture and celebrity, and how writers construct identities now versus how they were able to do so in the past - that is all so different now that of course anybody who built their reputation (or wanted to) based on an older system would outright reject the success of the newer one. it's the 'I could've painted this modernist piece of garbage' of the 21st century literary world
posted by runt at 9:12 AM on October 20 [22 favorites]


I looooove the concept of her. To be honest, I think her poetry is incredibly boring, but I love everything else about her so much that I'm willing to get on board.
posted by karmachameleon at 9:53 AM on October 20 [3 favorites]


Why avoid talking about celebrity and notoriety, role models and idolatry, when so many people express a need to secure 'public' approval (to what end is unclear) and have the means to do so?
posted by marycatherine at 9:57 AM on October 20


She is cool and I'm glad she's found an audience. I think she'll open doors for a great many writers and poets who normally would not have even able to break through. Not a big fan of her actual poetry but I know people who love it!
posted by cell divide at 10:16 AM on October 20


I'm a twentysomething South Asian-American woman and practically everyone I know (especially those on the younger side and really into social media) is so into Rupi Kaur. She came to my city a few days ago and everyone wanted to go see her. I don't really get it? Her poetry strikes me as very greeting card-like. I'm glad she's having such success but I wonder if a lot of is just excitement at representation. I've seen people in my social circles latch onto other not particularly compelling celebrities (like Zayn Malik in One Direction) just because there's such an utter lack of representation and it's exciting to see someone who looks like you succeed.
posted by armadillo1224 at 10:17 AM on October 20 [11 favorites]


I was working at a reading of hers in Calgary a few nights ago, and my main takeaway was that her poetry, as poetry, just isn't for me - I found the sentiments behind her poems, at their best, to be quite powerful, but a lot of her work, both in her first book and this new one, are basically just pithy restatements of things I've heard better-expressed here on Metafilter - and especially in relationship questions on Ask.

Her use of language, too, leaves me cold - I just couldn't find much artistry or complexity there, and I think a lot of what I look for in poetry. I want poetry to surprise me with the use of language itself, I think.

Talking to one of my friends who edits a campus poetry magazine, his take was that she's good for poetry as a whole for her popularity - our theatre was sold out, and I'd peg the vast majority of the crowd as women between say 15 and 25.
posted by sagc at 10:19 AM on October 20 [5 favorites]


I think there's alot to be said that social media platforms have given a real VOICE to people who traditionally have not the opportunity to speak aloud. The fact that she resonates so deeply with her readership is important, in of itself.

The media in general, has not been great at fostering Asian voices. But social media has democratized self expression - and this an example of a positive outcome. It's no coincidence that some of the most popular food bloggers, for example, are Asian women (in my neck of the woods, Chinese women especially). And as a food writer myself, I completely applaud this. And it has helped, I think, raised awareness and understanding of all sorts cultural issues.

Yes - we must continue to look at the content produced in a critical fashion, but thank fucking God - these women have pulled a chair up to the table and made themselves heard and part of a larger cultural discourse. No apologies needed.
posted by helmutdog at 10:26 AM on October 20 [4 favorites]


The media in general, has not been great at fostering Asian voices. But social media has democratized self expression - and this an example of a positive outcome. It's no coincidence that some of the most popular food bloggers, for example, are Asian women (in my neck of the woods, Chinese women especially). And as a food writer myself, I completely applaud this. And it has helped, I think, raised awareness and understanding of all sorts cultural issues.

Yeah, some of the biggest Youtube celebrities in the history of the medium are Asian women--Michelle Phan is the biggest make-up vlogger rand Lilly Singh is one of the biggest Youtubers period--I think she's the second-most popular ever after PewDiePie? It's just striking to me because when you look at mainstream Hollywood celebrities, there are very, very few people who look like Lilly Singh or Michelle Phan or Rupi Kaur but in an almost completely democratic medium like Youtube or Instagram, with no gatekeepers, there's obviously a great deal of hunger for content from people like them.

Not that the content is that great but I think it exposes the lie that a lot of film and TV world gatekeepers use--the idea that there aren't that many big non-white celebrities because 'mainstream' audiences don't want to see go see non-white actors.
posted by armadillo1224 at 10:33 AM on October 20 [7 favorites]


Why avoid talking about celebrity and notoriety, role models and idolatry, when so many people express a need to secure 'public' approval (to what end is unclear) and have the means to do so?

is this gonna be one of those 'why those yungsters snapchat so much, i just don't get the interconnectivity of non-individualist based social contact, we should all be lonely towers supported by our own Ayn Randian bootstraps, why would people ever consider what other people think of them on any scale, small or massive' rants
posted by runt at 10:40 AM on October 20 [1 favorite]


and I'd peg the vast majority of the crowd as women between say 15 and 25.

Which is probably why she is dismissed by a lot of people. For young women especially, their interests tend to be seen as shallow and vapid, so anything that appeals to women in this age bracket will quite easily be written off as inconsequential.

For all the shit that Twitter and other social media platforms can have, this is why I think they are necessary. They provide folks who don't generally get a seat at the table--to use a previous poster's words--to have their voices heard.
posted by Kitteh at 10:44 AM on October 20 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I was definitely trying to point out that as a good thing, both as far as what she's achieving with her poetry and for the field of poetry as a whole.
posted by sagc at 10:49 AM on October 20 [2 favorites]


I appreciate her. I don't like all of her poems, but I like quite a bit, and I especially love the space she's carving for others to come behind her.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:04 AM on October 20 [1 favorite]


>“This guy is the best,” she says, noticing an edition of Kafka’s complete stories; she’s referring to Peter Mendelsund, the book’s designer.

lmao
posted by edeezy at 1:19 PM on October 20 [4 favorites]


I'm in her target audience and I find her poetry terrible, but as the saying goes, true equality is when mediocre work by (non-white) women can be just as successful as mediocre work by (white) men.

>“This guy is the best,” she says, noticing an edition of Kafka’s complete stories; she’s referring to Peter Mendelsund, the book’s designer.

lmao


I actually found The Cut article really, well, uninteresting. It's cleverly snide, but I think it's more interesting to actually break down what's bad about her poetry (like Buzzfeed) or to examine how fame and publicity work today, or to explore why she appeals to so many young women.
posted by airmail at 2:10 PM on October 20 [3 favorites]


“This guy is the best,” she says, noticing an edition of Kafka’s complete stories; she’s referring to Peter Mendelsund, the book’s designer.

lmao


Yeah, so what. Have we stopped referring to things?
posted by karmachameleon at 2:53 PM on October 20


I like Rupi Kaur and I like Milk and Honey very much, though Warsan Shire is probably my favorite poet in the genre. What I remember well about Rupi Kaur is when she did that well-publicized project about periods, which I loved. I think there was an FPP about it on here (on my phone so can't easily check).
posted by triggerfinger at 8:47 PM on October 20


triggerfinger, you're correct, here is the previously.
posted by Fizz at 7:23 AM on October 21


I had the worst conversation about Milk and Honey with a friend. I had no idea who Rupi Kaur was and had never heard of her work. However, there is another author called Elizabeth Jolley and she wrote a fantastic gothic horror in the mode of Wuthering Heights also called Milk and Honey. So my friend told me she’d just finished the Rupi Kaur book and I exploded, gushing about how awesome the book was and talking about the main character and his peculiar obsessions, and all the while my friend just got more and more confused, which made me confused, which I tried to clear up by bringing up more stuff from the book, which just made her more confused, and so on.
posted by um at 5:35 AM on October 22 [1 favorite]


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