Here’s Why Rupi Kaur’s Poetry Sucks

Rupi Kaur is an Indian-Canadian poet who rose to fame for short enjambed poems, usually with themes about sexual abuse and self-love, posted on instagram accompanied by an original illustration. She is the frontrunner of a new culture of “insta-poets”, taking her success on the internet to ground-breaking commercial success in bookstores all around the world. For her readers, Kaur is a brave young woman speaking fearlessly and simply about extremely difficult themes. And I can see the appeal as someone who, too, has scoured social media like Pinterest and Tumblr for some light poetry reading, but to think that Kaur’s poetry is good poetry– that its writing is actually adding merit to the literary canon– is a gross overration of Kaur’s talent as a poet. If anything, her poems are visually stunning, give the illusion of depth, and she’s willing to give voice to the suffering of young women– but they are not actually good. Here are some of her poems:

Image result for rupi kaur poetryImage result for rupi kaur poetry

Kaur has mastered the art of making her poems seem profound, especially by capitalizing on the lazy technique of lines breaks. She writes moderately interesting sentences– usually about something taboo and difficult, like rape or confidence or being a woman of color to give an extra sense of thematic intensity– breaks them apart, strips them of punctuation, and adds an appealing image to compliment it to give the sense of a verse form. I can do it here:

a flower

grows sprouts bursts

in my heart

every time i

contemplate the

garden of

our love.

The original sentence: A flower grows, sprouts, bursts, in my heart every time I contemplate the garden of our love.

Kaur’s lazy use of line breaks has been ridiculed by many Twitter users:

Image result for rupi kaur meme

Kaur’s poetry states obvious, mildly interesting stream-of-consciousness shower thoughts in visually appealing ways. For a young audience who wants to read something about their problems about love or being a woman, Kaur is a championing figure who doesn’t shy away from these intense themes. Her poetry is extremely accessible and readable. You don’t have to read it multiple times in order to understand it, don’t have to crack open a dictionary in order to know what the words mean, don’t need an english degree to unknot the mess of allusions and symbolism and critical theory– it just means what it means. Doesn’t this make it good?

Well, no. Poetry isn’t good because it’s simple, and it’s also not good because it’s complex. Poetry is good because it says something interesting in an interesting way, that it is rich in meaning, and that it contributes to something about a larger poetic narrative. Consider William Carlos Williams’ poem “This is Just To Say”, which follows much of the structure and line-break pattern that Kaur does, but is wildly different in its quality:

 

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

 

There is a chaotic energy in this poem, a powerful subtext that needs to be unpacked, something playful and intriguing between the tension of its conversational tone and the almost murderous delight of stealing someone’s plums. This interest and interaction with form is utterly lost in Kaur’s work. Her poems are expected, obvious, and vacuous, painting an illusion of depth where there is none.

And perhaps you didn’t like William Carlos Williams’ poem about the plums. Maybe you’re someone who prefers Rupi Kaur’s poetry, and maybe you think it’s pretentious of me to decide that it’s actually quite bad. Perhaps you’re thinking that this whole poetry thing is extremely subjective– who gets to decide what poetry is good and bad, anyway?

If all literature was subjective, then, there would be no point to literary criticism and an entire discipline dedicated to the study of good literature. Poetry is not subjective. There is good literature and there is bad literature. Your experience of either can be subjective— as in, you can like bad literature and hate good literature, but your preferences don’t change the fact that it’s bad or good. There are certain measures for what it means for poetry to be good, and rupi kaur’s poetry simply doesn’t cut it. Of course, it’s great that a whole new wave of people are enjoying poetry and it’s been made accessible to them. It’s just really bad poetry, vacuous, full of lackluster language and the illusion of profundity, all set on the background of simple type font and a cute line drawing. That’s all.

(Images from Google Images)

Fareah Fysudeen

An English and Philosophy student trying to find her way in this big, big world. Aspiring writer, scholar, showtune belter, ardent hater of tomatoes.

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66 Comments on "Here’s Why Rupi Kaur’s Poetry Sucks"


Guest
Tori
1 month 11 days ago

“hErE’s wHy tHis pOSt sUcKs”:
You’re pretending to constructively critique someone’s art and choose to do so by publishing a piece entitled “Why [it] sucks” ? On first glance it seems immature and self-righteous, not constructive. It’s also patronising that you’re glad her work is making poetry more “accessible”, implying its purpose is purely to make people part of a club that they were previously unable to be a part of. I can’t even claim that this alludes to you stating her work is lesser than another poets’, as you blatantly claim that in “Rupi Kaur’s poetry simply doesn’t cut it”.
I will agree that her work is indeed accessible, but that is a charm, not its purpose. She can explain things simply and succinctly AND tastefully, which I believe only links to her thematic motifs of Earth, nature, love. She discusses simple things in a simple form, to articulate how simple the world really is.
Take this poem for example (I believe it’s from Milk and Honey):

“the rape will
tear you
in half

but it
will not
end you”

I could spend just as long analysing this as I could a Keats poem. But I think a very important thing to note is that she’s laying it down as a fact: you will survive. It’s short, and will therefore resonate with you. “You will survive this terrible thing”.
I’d also like to touch upon the phrase “Poetry isn’t subjective”. ????? I mean, it is. I would argue that the only “bad” poetry is that which has no emotional impact on anyone, including its writer. But since you’re adopting a very academic view on “good” versus “bad” art, I’m inclined to compare it to the very definition of poetry:

“literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature” (Oxford)

Does Kaur express feelings and ideas? Yes.
Are her poems given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm? Indeed, you noted her distinctive style by pointing out the similarities between her poems.
I really don’t see what gives you the authority to label this as “bad”. Kaur’s poetry doesn’t only comfortably align with whatever a poem “should be” by academic standards, but it has inspired self love, kindness and recovery, which makes her value as a poet priceless.

I’m sorry if I come across as an angry person on Facebook who likes to argue with people, I’m just really upset that Rupi is doing something as vulnerable as publishing her innermost personal feelings and they’re getting dragged purely because they’re structurally simplistic. I’ve spent a good deal of my time studying and loving poetry, and seeing posts like this really do make me angry.

Please do reply / email me if you would like to pull me up on anything I’ve said.
Many thanks,
Tori x

Guest
Susan Lynn
2 months 7 days ago

Good piece … as you are literate, may I say I think you meant to use the word “complement” in this phrase: “adds an appealing image to compliment it”. Cheers

Guest
Anonymous
2 months 15 days ago

I agree. I would generally say that the technique of line breaks and enjambment can be extremely effective done right. One poem that I quite like is “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks, and said poem uses enjambment quite well I think. But when used too often in too many of one poet’s works, it loses it’s effect.

Guest
Jessica elon
2 months 18 days ago

This is refreshing. I have struggled because I cannot like her poetry for the life of me!!! My reaction every time I finish is “that’s it? Where’s the rest of the poem?”. Props to her though for expressing herself and it is a huge inspiration to know that you don’t have to be the next Neruda in order to succeed. 🙂

Guest
Anonymous
3 months 2 days ago

People should be allowed to enjoy art of their choosing, just as parents may rightly value their 5-year-old’s finger painting over a Cezanne. But, we can also put said finger painting next to a Monet and reason why one is objectively great art and the other is not, however subjectively valued it may be. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Rupi Kaur’s poetry—but just like a child’s finger painting—you should outgrow it. Heck, Rupi is a more talented doodler than she is a poet and it’s okay to point that out! We can only hope that the insta-generation will grow enough patience to understand why the poetry of Yeats/Rilke/Eliot/Dickinson/(insert any of the literal tens of thousands of better poets) is great art and Kaur is not.