“when my mother opens her mouth/ to have a conversation at dinner/ my father shoves the word hush/ between her lips and tells her to/ never speak with her mouth full/ this is how the women in my family/ learned to live with their mouths closed”
Milk and Honey is the first poetry collection from Canadian writer Rupi Kaur. The book is divided into four sections, entitled “the hurting,” “the loving,” “the breaking,” and “the healing.” Kaur describes it as “the blood sweat tears/ of twenty-one years,” and it does indeed feel like she has put her heart in your hands in paper form.
This little book deals with big themes: first love and heart break, family dynamics, and sexual abuse. It moves from girls being taught that their bodies are things to be used by men and boys, to women owning their bodies and sexualities without shame. It is an extremely intimate collection, a seemingly raw outpouring of emotion that no doubt hides a great deal of honing and hard work on the part of the author.
Kaur’s style is short and to the point, but she can punch you in the gut with only a few words. Her writing has a stripped-down feel, denuded of capital letters and most punctuation, relying on rhythm and visual formatting to do some of that work. Many of the pieces are accompanied by simple black and white line drawings, which Kaur has described as childish juxtaposition to the adult themes she is addressing. However, many of the drawings are really quite elegant, all clean lines and positive and negative space working together.
I swallowed this book in one giant, greedy gulp, undertaking the full journey from hurting to healing in one emotional sitting. It left me feeling wrung out, and yet strangely invigorated. However, it is definitely worthy of revisiting more slowly. I’ve been picking it up on and off all week, randomly flipping it open and taking in a poem, returning to my favourites again and again
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