Rupi Kaur

Milk and Honey

“This is the journey of surviving through poetry.”

Milk and Honey is the first collection of poetry from this wondrous Canadian-born lady, Rupi Kaur (born 4 October 1992) who writes, illustrates and performs in order to transform life’s brutality and vitality into understanding and exultant love.

how is it so easy for you
to be kind to people
he asked

milk and honey dripped
from my lips and i answered

cause people have not
been kind to me

“Milk and Honey” of the poem with the same name was written when Kaur was twenty-one and references the pain and strength of Sikh widows who survived the Sikh massacre of 1984 that saw the deaths of thousands following the assignation of India’s Prime Minister Indira Ghandi by her Sikh bodyguards after she ordered military attacks in the Sikh region of Punjab. Kaur was born in Punjab in 1992.

Many of the poems in Milk and Honey are untitled, uncapitalized, and uncategorized, except for their considered placement in four groups: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, the healing.

Kaur’s inclusion of the article “the” emphasizes the finite. While hurting could be indefinite, the hurting is not. It’s something into which we can enter and leave. Something over which we have power.

i did not leave because
i stopped loving you
i left because the longer
i stayed the less
i loved myself

Illustration by Rupi Kaur. Featured in Kaur's "Milk and Honey" in the Examined Life Library.
“I left because the longer I stayed the less I loved myself.” Illustration by Rupi Kaur.

Kaur’s self-minimalizing presence nevertheless exerts itself on the page.1 It brings the power and presence that poetry should have. Bridging the conscious and subconscious in elegant parry.2

the thing about writing
is I can’t tell if it’s healing
or destroying me

Illustration by Rupi Kaur. Featured in Kaur's "Milk and Honey" in the Examined Life Library.
“The idea of shrinking is hereditary.” Illustration by Rupi Kaur.

I am delighted by Kaur’s willingness to exist in uncertainty, in complexity, in questions. Rilke’s grand advice was to “live the questions.”

Humans have such urgency to sort things out, to make sense. To learn and grow and adapt and make things more efficient to no immediately apparent end. Kaur suggests “sense” isn’t something to be arrived at.

But power is. Kindness is. Love is. And—as Rilke reminds us—self is.

i am water

soft enough
to offer life
tough enough
to drown it away

Do not read into the simplicity of words a simplicity of meaning. Or thought. “Nothing is simple,” wrote American poet Wendell Berry, “Not even simplification.”3

Illustration by Rupi Kaur. Featured in Kaur's "Milk and Honey" in the Examined Life Library.
“Fall in love with your solitude.” Illustration by Rupi Kaur.

My most liberally underlined page in Milk and Honey is more prose than poem. I like to call it “Small Talks With Fathers,” although it is unnamed.4

father. you always call to say nothing in particular. you ask what i’m doing or where I am when the silence stretches like a lifetime between us i scramble to find questions to keep the conversation going. what i long to say most is. i understand this world broke you. it has been so hard on your feet. i don’t blame you for not knowing how to remain soft with me. sometimes i stay up thinking of all the places you are hurting which you’ll never care to mention. i come from the same aching blood, from the same bone so desperate for attention i collapse in on myself. i am your daughter i know the small talk is the only way you know how to tell me you love me. cause it is the only way i know how to tell you.

Who hasn’t felt such distance? And the impossible love born within? Writer Lynne Sharon Schwartz spoke of sharing a book with her parents expecting small talk. When they called to discuss their opinions, Schwartz said it was everything she’d ever sought.

Rebecca Solnit once wrote “Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone.” Did that instinct propel Kaur’s work into the world?

Photo of Rupi Kaur. Featured in "Milk and Honey" in The Examined Life Library.
Rupi Kaur.

Pain is incomparable. It is incomparable between people and also within people. The pain I felt when I was twenty-three is not the pain I feel now because I am not who I was.

Pain is also transferable. It is communicative. And when embraced, it can be redemptive.

Illustration by Rupi Kaur. Featured in Kaur's "Milk and Honey" in the Examined Life Library.
“Nothing is safer than the sound of you reading out loud to me.Illustration by Rupi Kaur.

Those who feel pain and break it with kindness, like poet Maya Angelou or nurse Christie Watson. should be given the loudest possible amplifier and the highest possible platform.

Kaur clutches her pain and scatters love.

you have made it to the end. with my heart in your hands. thank you. for arriving here safely. for being tender with the most delicate part of me. sit down. breathe. you must be tired. let me kiss your hands. your eyes. they must be wanting of something sweet. i am sending you all my sugar.