Questioning the critics of Rupi Kaur

On brand, Rupi Kaur – Anindita Ghose – LiveMint – 3/24/18

Rated as a “poet” whose concerns stand the test of time, like Bashō or Khayyam, she will fail. Rated as one who makes you shift perspective—à la W.H. Auden or Rainer Maria Rilke—she will fail. Rated as one you would quote to a friend on a happy Saturday morning—à la Frank O’Hara or Wendy Cope—she will fail.

The problem lies precisely in judging her through those constructs. Rupi Kaur is her own brand with her own narrative of success. If you rate those poets by the parameters that define Kaur, it is they who will fail.

Rupi Kaur’s bad poems shouldn’t worry us – the myopic view of the literary establishment should – Souradeep Roy – – 3/17/18

Instead, it would be better if we reimagine our discourse and see the real issue – the inability of the poetry establishment in the Anglophone world to open up their understanding of poetry from other cultures. This, again is not Watts’ problem alone, but a problem with the Anglophone world itself, where a certain naiveté about other cultures is passed off as a small faux pas. It is not just a coincidence that a French journalist asked Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie if there are bookshops in Nigeria. Caroline Broue, the journalist who asked the question, too, must not be lambasted in singular ways. Her question is symbolic of how the “First World” sees the second, third, fourth, and fifth worlds which, by the way, exist on the same planet. The poetry establishment, by which I mean Watts and her takers, and what she calls “the cohort of young female poets” and their supporters, actually share this ignorance.

“By pitting herself against the new poets, Watts becomes what she claims to loathe—an emotional writer who prioritizes personal feelings over allegedly objective measures of art.”

“In her critique, Watts inadvertently reveals the very reason that Kaur, McNish, and their ilk are poets, whatever one’s personal feelings about the quality of their verse. Poets must ‘strive, through innovation and engagement with tradition, to find new ways of making language meaningful and memorable,’ she writes. And that’s what the internet poets are doing.

“The poets are innovating by using social media to popularize a form of writing, a tradition, that seemed not long ago like it was about to be irrelevant—poetry. They’re igniting intellectual debates. And they’re calling into question the authority of their elders, as well as stuffy old rules about what an artist must know before she can create. They’re doing exactly what rebellious artists have always done.”

IN DEFENSE OF RUPI KAUR AND INSTAGRAM’S “POP POETS” – Ephrat Livni – Quartzy – 1/31/18

Instapoetry is not poor because it is genuine, it is poor because that is all it is.

A well-written, fun and fascinating read:

No Filter: How the nicest place online created the worst, most popular poetry – Soraya Roberts – The Baffler – January 24, 2018

But here it is: [Rupi Kaur’s] poetry, and much of Instapoetry, is poor. This poetry is not poor because it is genuine, it is poor because that is all it is. To do more than that, regardless of talent, requires time, and, by its very definition, Instapoetry has none. Ezra Pound’s epic collection of poems The Cantos took decades to complete. Maya Angelou has said she has found poetry the most challenging of all her professions: “When I come close to saying what I want to, I’m over the moon. Even if it’s just six lines, I pull out the champagne. But until then, my goodness, those lines worry me like a mosquito in the ear.” Even Rimbaud, who was already composing his best work in adolescence, conceded in his “Letter of the Seer,” “The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses.” Time is what is required to think, the kind of thinking that allows the poet to imbue each individual word with a world of meaning. Harold Bloom described canonical writing as that which demands rereading, William Empson that it needs to work for readers with divergent opinions, provoking a variety of responses and interpretations. All of this implies a richness, a complexity, a variety of strata. The majority of Instapoetry has none of this. It is almost exclusively a banal vessel of self-care, equivalent to an affirmation, designed for young women of a certain privileged position and disposition, one that is entirely self-absorbed. The genre’s batheticisms remove specificity, to avoid alienation, supplanting them with the sort of platitude you find on a department store tea towel. Because this is what Instapoetry is—it is not art, it is a good to be sold, or, less, regrammed. Its value is quantity not quality.

“The new poets are products of a cult of personality, which demands from its heroes only that they be ‘honest’ and ‘accessible’”


PN Review, a poetry publication based in the U.K., has a controversial essay by Rebecca Watts called The Cult of the Noble Amateur.  (PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January – February 2018.)

“The new poets are products of a cult of personality, which demands from its heroes only that they be ‘honest’ and ‘accessible,’ where honesty is defined as the constant expression of what one feels, and accessibility means the complete rejection of complexity, subtlety, eloquence and the aspiration to do anything well.”

The Guardian has a summation & overview of the responses:

Poetry world split over polemic attacking ‘amateur’ work by ‘young female poets’ – Alison Flood & Sian Cain – Guardian – 1/23/18

The essay in PN Review has split the poetry establishment, with some praising it as “stonking stuff” and “brilliant”. PN Review editor Michael Schmidt showed the Guardian some of the many supportive responses to Watts’s essay the journal had received. “Many of our readers seem relieved that literary criticism is at last being applied to writing that has, hitherto, been welcomed with open arms by journalists because it is easy to read, contains few challenges … to insist that it can stand on a sure footing beside poetry in what I have now too often seen described as ‘dusty old books’,” Schmidt said.

Other responses to Watts’s essay have been scathing; including from [Hollie] McNish herself, who hit back on her website on Monday: “A clever retort using high-register vocabulary is fine, but really it is simply saying that the author thinks I’m a shit poet and fucking stupid, too, and that Picador should not be publishing shite like mine. So why not just bite the bullet and say that.”

“Instapoetry may mark the advent of a young adult subgenre the form has generally lacked.”

“Meanwhile, the latest National Endowment for the Arts survey of arts participation, released in 2015, found that the number of Americans who had read at least one poem in the past year had declined by 45 percent between 2002 and 2012, down to 6.7 percent of the population. Surely Kaur and her cohort are improving those dismal statistics, and even a smattering of their fans moving on to explore other poetry would be welcome news — just as ‘Harry Potter’ readers moved on to ‘The Hunger Games’ and a small but significant portion became avid adult readers. I don’t think it slights the writers to speculate that Instapoetry may mark the advent of a young adult subgenre the form has generally lacked.”

– Carl Wilson – Why Rupi Kaur and Her Peers Are the Most Popular Poets in the WorldNew York Times – 12/15/17

Nicely balanced essay on why Rupi Kaur’s poetry is “meh.”

Kazim Ali does a good job of telling why Rupi Kaur’s poetry is mediocre re: literary standards. He doesn’t tear her apart, though–she still comes across as admirable. Check it out:

On Instafame & Reading Rupi Kaur – Kazim Ali – Poetry Foundation – 10/23/17

“When I say the poems are ‘superficial,’ I mean that the language is plain, the observations are not stunning or surprising. More often than not, I feel a sense of “recognition” of a feeling I have always had, and not always so deeply buried. Often times the poem repeats a sentiment I have heard before, just with the benefit of line breaks and/or the accompanying drawing. As one example, her poem ‘I want to apologize to all the women I have called pretty’ works more or less without images (there is one, something about the women’s spirits being able to crush mountains) from beginning to end. Her big epiphany is rather than calling the women ‘pretty,’ she will call them ‘resilient’ or ‘extraordinary.’ There’s not too much in the way of surprise or even beauty, the way we ordinarily think about it.”


When asked about criticisms of her style

Rupi Kaur says: 

“I don’t respond, because I think there’s no problem with my poetry being too accessible. Art should be accessible to the masses, and when we start to tailor it in a way that keeps people out, then there’s an issue with that. Like, who are we really creating art for? And so I think about who I was creating art for from the beginning — it was for myself, and for people that didn’t have access to certain types of English language. I couldn’t speak English until I was way into elementary school, and so my choice of diction, all the accessible choices that I make, it’s to make sure that it’s tailored to the person that I was when I was growing up.”

Poet Rupi Kaur: ‘Art Should Be Accessible To The Masses’ – Rachel Martin – NPR – October 9, 2017

I know I’ve been posting links to a lot of articles on Rupi Kaur recently, but it’s hard to avoid doing so–a ton have been coming out lately because of her new book, and they raise intriguing questions about “poetry” and popularity.  I also know for sure that people want to read about her, as at the moment I write this  a post that I put up a on August 2, 2017 on whether she’s a plagiarist has had 501 hits. (It’s the second most-viewed post on Tribrach.  #1 is a link to the Shel Silverstein poem “Sick,” which I posted in 2016 and has received 672 hits so far this year and 975 in 2016.  Oy.)




Why hasn’t the literary world embraced Rupi Kaur?

Annoying note in a New York Times article on why the literary world supposedly hasn’t accepted Instagram poet Rupi Kaur:

“The underlying message of all this criticism is that Ms. Kaur’s work isn’t ‘real literature.’ The literary world doesn’t have a great track record of embracing or even acknowledging artists like Ms. Kaur, who are different in some notable way, but who attract an enormous and fervent audience.

“’Critics might think that Kaur’s readership is young and female, so her work can’t be serious, which is obviously wrong,’ said Matthew Hart, a professor of English and comparative literature Columbia University. 

-Tariro Mzezewa – Rupi Kaur Is Kicking Down the Doors of Publishing New York Times – October 5, 2017

Nope. That’s not it.  The reason the literary world hasn’t embraced Rupi Kaur is that she hasn’t embraced the literary world.  Most of the book-perusing she does seems to be to figure out what her next book cover should be like. She doesn’t seem to have studied intensely with other poets (she majored in professional writing and rhetoric.) Her poems are un-crafted self-published early drafts which, by literary standards, are only mediocre.  And this is all fine–she’s a great Instagram poet with a following larger than any literary poet alive. She’s inspired many thousands of people (which, again, most contemporary literary poets have not.) But she hasn’t put in the the time and work and reading and polishing needed to make her poetry original and beautiful enough to be considered literary.

Q: Would she be as popular if she did put in that time?

Haters gonna hate, but people still looooove Rupi Kaur


Lots of articles are coming out now re: Rupi Kaur because her 2nd book just came out. Here are 2 paragraphs from a couple:

“Most professional poets cannot expect to be approached by fans. But 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!'”

The Instagram Poet Outselling Homer Ten to One:  Meet Rupi Kaur, author of the ubiquitous Milk and Honey. – Molly Fischer – The Cut –  10/3/17

“Kaur is the most popular, and arguably the most marketable, of her cohort. She is pretty, stylish, unapologetically feminine, and earns a lot of money for writing that appeals to young women. The last of those qualities perhaps makes her ripe for ridicule: like many pop musicians before her, she commits the sin of engaging with a demographic whose taste is often seen as a byword for bad quality. Push criticism of her actual writing aside and Kaur is a victim of a toxic mix of snobbery and misogyny.”

Rupi Kaur: the inevitable backlash against Instagram’s favourite poet: Kaur’s verses on love, sex and race have made her the most revered – and reviled – of today’s ‘instapoets’. As a new collection The Sun and Her Flowers hits shelves, is the social media star a dark omen for poetry or a fresh voice in literature? – Priya Khaira- Hanks – The Guardian – 10/4/17

the paradox of the minority writer


The Problem With Rupi Kaur’s Poetry: The milk and honey author’s use of unspecified collective trauma in her quest to depict the quintessential South Asian female experience feels disingenuous. – Chiara Giovanni – BuzzFeed – August 4, 2017

“[Rupi Kaur’s] mass appeal lies in her perceived universality, with her fans often claiming that she vocalizes feelings they have not been able to put into words. Other minority writers, who trade in specifics and details, not broad-reaching sentiments and uncomplicated feminist slogans, would probably not achieve the same level of success. It is the paradox of the minority writer: the requirement to write in a way that is colored by one’s background, but is, at the same time, recognizable enough to a Western audience that it does not intimidate with its foreignness. It is only by eschewing complacency and holding such artists to account that mainstream media and culture will become more diverse: the kind of representation that, without compromise, accurately tells the stories of people of color around the world, and not just the stories that are the easiest to sell.”

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