Above: 📷 Goodreads
By contributor Chantelle Spicer
Over the break, I took my time working through the 2015 book milk and honey, which is a collection of poetry, prose and illustration by the talented 24 year old Canadian. If you do not know the name Rupi Kaur, I am willing to bet that you probably know her work. Many of her poems from the book milk and honey have gone viral. She has also received Instagram fame for both the poems and her personal and poignant photographs that deal with the taboo of menstruation. She is an absolute force in the world of contemporary feminism, encouraging and emboldening women—all of society really—to question what it means to be “woman.” When I began to explore her public life through social media and her website, what I saw was a young woman fully living her life as art and as a challenge to all who view it.
It is at times heart-breaking to read, others made my heart feel like it could explode from the beauty of her words and spirit. The book is broken up into four parts—hurting, loving, breaking and healing—which lead the reader through her mind, history, spirit, and future hopes. Some of her written works are only two lines long, some a couple pages; all of them feel larger than what they are. In fact, some shorter pieces are so profound I had to go back and read them over and over again, trying to draw their meaning. Her topics cover everything from the multitudes of love one can have in life, sexual violence, body hair, solitude, and beauty. When first undertaking the book, I was worried that I would find it a little depressing. What I found instead was a portrayal of all the pieces of ourselves—that we all carry in some way—shown to us by a brave artist. Many of the poems are illustrated by Kaur, which at first appear very simplistic, but are in fact hauntingly beautiful images that hang with you long after you have moved on from them. They are full of motion and emotion, just as the words are, making them perfect companions to their poems. Nothing in this book is static on the page. By the end of it, I was astounded that human beings can bear witness, carry, and heal from the many harms that we encounter in our lives—that these harms can be made beautiful; they make us.
After reading the book, I had to have more. Turning to the internet, I found her collections of photographic essays, including the famous “period.” which was shared by thousands of Facebook users and made international news after it was removed from Instagram twice. As part of a university class, Kaur was working to destigmatize menstruation and remind people that this is part of not only the natural human process, but also that a womb is home to the source of life—sacred. After the images were deleted twice for “not following Community Guidelines,” Kaur responded stating that she “will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be ok with a small leak, when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.” Her portrayal of the feminine and womanhood continues in her photo series “anatomy,” where she draws parallels between the beauty of fruit and flower and the biology of the female reproductive system. All of her photographic work parallels her unassuming illustrative style—possibly even her concept of all women—that seems to be simple is so much more. Each is an invitation to an inner life that is honest and, thereby, beautiful.
As if her written word and photo essays were not moving enough, her spoken word is powerful. As I continued to explore this world of self that she offers, I was overcome with gratitude. I am so grateful to have a woman like her in the world, her voice and thoughts available to me, to all women, to men. She offers us a different view of ourselves and each other through herself and her experiences. She is a reminder of the power of art, stating in a TEDTalk that, having been raised in a Sikh household, she is a product of generations of poets and poetry that have survived carnage and destruction, carrying the power to survive and heal through words. She is also following in the tradition of authors like Alice Walker (The Colour Purple) and Jamaica Kincaid (At the Bottom of the River), she has used her writing to heal and reclaim her body and spirit and self—bibliotherapy if you will—and invites the reader to find this in themselves as well. At the end of her book she offers her own gratitude to us, the readers, as a love letter, asking that we carry this book, her book, our book, as a way to be good and kind to ourselves and each other—a pay it forward for the gift she has given us through her art and life.
I encourage everyone to delve into her world of words and healing through her many social media venues (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, her website and email list). It should tide you over until her next book release which is expected in the fall of 2017. If you would like to read milk and honey, it is available to borrow through the Women’s Collective Resource Library at the Students’ Union.