If you are familiar with insta-poet, Rupi Kaur, you’re probably in one of two camps: you adore her, relate to her work and regularly remember certain lines or you don’t think she writes poetry and are at a loss for her success. You’ll see these polar opinions readily on her Amazon reviews or on Goodreads. Here’s the thing, I think both sides are right.
I was brought up on classical poets like Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Blake. We didn’t typically read whole poetry books, but rather jumped from poem to poem in thick anthologies focused on a cross-section of poetry in a certain era. My first time reading a book of poetry by a single poet was Emily Dickinson and I was amazed by how many poems she wrote, but also that I didn’t like all of them or even most of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Dickinson fan; so much so that I dressed up as her for a fourth-grade history project. Her poetry was edgier and punctuation choices risqué compared to other poets I was inundated with. Much like Kaur, her poetry style was controversial at the time.
So why is Rupi Kaur important to poetry? A book of poetry is much like a musical album, but without a literary radio station. If the poet is lucky, there could be a one-hit wonder, a poem that resonates enough to sell the book as a whole or to be entered in anthologies in the future. You rarely have a whole poetry book or album where you or most fans like every poem or song, respectively.
Kaur leveraged Instagram to showcase her poetry and effectively created a literary radio station. Poems that resonate with her followers are shared and liked and interest grows organically. Sure, this means that Kaur sells more books, but it also means that an artform often reserved for the quirky and reclusive, is suddenly more palatable for the general public.
The fact is that, my favorite hobby is an uncomfortable, confusing, and boring subject for a large majority of people. I’ve found more people who actively avoid poetry than people who enjoy it. But Kaur and Instagram are changing that.
Kaur’s tweet-sized poems align with what younger generations appreciate and although Kaur rarely rhymes and seems to not favor any form other than lower-case and periods, her poems are relatable. Additionally, Kaur took a leap that many poets are told not to do; she self-published Milk and Honey entirely on her own. I urge you to read Kaur’s FAQ because her experience learning about how to actually become a published poet aligns with everything I was ever taught. Poets must submit one poem at a time to a million, unknown publications, receive a healthy dose of rejections, and celebrate when a single poem is miraculously published.
With the creation of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, you can have a book out in the market as quickly as you can write it and format it. Whether or not it sells, well that’s a different story. The point here is that you may not like Kaur’s writing or even think she’s a poet, but for the first time in a decade I’ve witnessed others in my generation excited to read a poetry book and actively sharing poems as if they were the latest fashion trend. On this Thanksgiving week, I find myself grateful to Rupi Kaur for forging a new way forward for poets and reigniting an interest in my favorite subject.