Poetry books used to be, to me, my lifeblood. From the age of 5 I was scrawling out strange rhyming couplets about my friend, my family, my favourite foods and the things I’d done in the day. At the time, this was adorable. As I got older, my outlet into poetry became more of an insight into my emotional state. When my heart was broken, when I was excited, when I was angry, when I was jealous and in love. My anxiety was also such a huge factor in my writing style that it actually became unhealthy for me to write about it. As Rupi Kaur states: ‘the thing about writing is, I can’t tell if it’s healing me or destroying me’.
Initially, this blog post was going to be titled ‘An Introduction to Feminist Poetry’. But having read, and re-read all of the poetry books on my list, that title just doesn’t seem to apply anymore. Sure they have feminist theory woven between their words, and their beautiful female prose is unspeakably inspiring. But I can’t limit them to just that.These books don’t just tell the stories of women finding their equality in life. They tell the stories of them surviving through life, with the struggles of inequality forming just one small roadblock in their overall journey.
Instead, I’m calling this blog post ‘An Introduction to Survival Poetry’ as to me, that is exactly what it is. Some would call Bridget Jones, Harry Potter and The Bible as their survival guides to life. But for me, the words of these poets have taught me more about life than I could ever learn through fictional characters or religious philosophies.
Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur
This book was my first breakthrough into published poetry. Beyond the books I’d read for educational purposes, or to help me pass my exams, poetry was a rather unknown field for me. I loved slam and spoken word poetry, and some of my favourite Ted Talks are based in the poetic fields, but I didn’t really understand the true impact it could have on my emotional state until I read Milk and Honey. Originally bought to give to a long distance friend for Christmas, but found still wrapped and unsent in a drawer after I moved into my very first flat, I touched the cover and knew I wanted to read it.
The story of Rupi Kaur’s life is a beautiful one. Processing her emotions and segregating them into four painful and yet amazing chapters has made this book feel like an entire lifetime compressed into a few thin pages. She writes with pain, with pleasure, with lust and love. She writes with heartbreak and sorrow and grief and admiration. You can feel yourself rising and falling with her as you turn every page – blitzing your way through it to the next softly written verse. In my life, this book came to me at a very prominent time. I was struggling with the recent separation from my then boyfriend. I had moved out, and was still trying to cope with the bereavement that comes with a torn relationship. I was living alone for the very first time and was flip flopping between enormous happiness and relief, and overwhelming guilt and anxiety. Rupi’s words of her own separation echoed every emotion I had felt, and all of the emotions I am still feeling as I rebuild my life alone. She was the best friend I needed to sit with me over coffee and tell me that I’m not actually alone, that it’s going to be ok, and that my pain is doing nothing else but teaching me that I can feel.
I’m recommending this book to every friend I know going through a painful time, who is hunting for that light at the end of the tunnel.
The Princess Saves Herself In This One – Amanda Lovelace
Recently I read a blogger review of this book, where she said that she struggled to connect with the poems of this book. None of them stood out to her as being special. And that is something that has stuck with me since finishing the book.
In Amanda Lovelaces’ work, yes, the princess does save herself. But that doesn’t make her a special princess. This is the book that I read and felt low after finishing. I began it sitting on the sofa, feeling like something was missing and that I desperately needed the book to end on a high. I can’t remember if it did or not.
I didn’t dislike this book. I loved the way Lovelace frames her pages, how every line is carefully imagined and poured across the page, shaping it into something new and inventive. Her use of language and metaphor isn’t quite as creative as Kaur’s but the stories she tells are brutal and painful, carrying just as much weight as Milk and Honey.
Matriarchal players are featured heavily in this story of women and their strength. The men of the story are minimal and desaturated into their respective roles, rather than as actual people. This is interesting as a piece of comparative literature against Kaur, but for the book as a stand alone prose, I felt it needed a little more depth.
The Sun and Her Flowers
Many readers have been claiming that they prefer this book to Kaur’s original copy. But I don’t. Perhaps it just poetic timing, but Milk and Honey touched me in a way that this sequel just didn’t do.
The Sun and Her Flowers follows on from the first book, as the fallout from Kaur’s separation is still piercing through her emotive writing. The pain is still keenly felt. But almost as a tentative insertion, the new books now explores themes of culture and religion, politics and social justice. The internal writings have been rotated and redirected towards the external factors that make up Kaur’s development, such as her family, her religious beliefs, her upbringing and her history.
What was only touched upon in Milk and Honey is now fully blown and dissected in The Sun and Her Flowers, and this is an element I did really enjoy. However, the flow of the book felt a little jumpy, as if certain pages had been inserted in the wrong order. That said, I would still wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with a love for Rupi Kaur, her sun, and her flowers. Because her second best is still better than anything else I’ve ever read.
But here’s something new. Something I’ve just discovered over re-reading these books, and re-writing this blog post. I don’t like books about girls who are broken by boys. By relationships. By broken hearts. Women are poorly represented enough as wailing widows in the media, as fragile shells that take nothing but a rough kiss to crack. Poetic writers don’t need to add their voices to this.
So I’m challenging myself to branch out. I want to find poetry books about women broken by war, by their careers, by their bodies. By grief, by struggles, by jealousy and envy. Women who are guilty, and feel shame – but not for their sexuality. For a bad word they said, for a poor judgement call they made. Women face many struggles in both reality and poetry, with broken love being just one of the few. Please recommend me any poetry books you have, or know of, that don’t mention love. Love is a painful experience. So are period cramps. Find me a poem about period cramps, and I’ll be happy.