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:

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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:

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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)

Who is Big Chungus?

Recently, a meme has circulated the internet featuring a gluttonous Bugs Bunny named “Big Chungus.” The character was originally shown in the cartoon Wabbit Twouble from 1941, and has become massively popular in the past few months despite its brief resurfacing in 2017 on Reddit.

The word “chungus” was allegedly created by Jim Sterling in 2012, a freelance video game writer, who incorporated the word in various articles, and is defined as “meaning anything and everything.” Redditors in 2018 then ascribed the term “Big Chungus” to the image of obese Bugs Bunny photoshopped onto a Playstation 4 video game cover.

Now, memes of the absolute unit Chungus have morphed into jokes internet-savvy users spread across social media channels, such as a lovechild of Big Chungus and Ugandan Knuckles, or Big Chungus appearing in various movie scenes for example.

Although the meaning of Big Chungus still remains elusive, it illustrates the absurd creativity of the internet, spreading nonsensical jokes with no apparent value except to bring joy to viewers. Who is next?

Deconstruction Means “Freddy Got Fingered” and “School Days” Are Good, Actually

I grew up being exposed to gross-out comedies, so even though I can’t remember specific movie titles, the opening sequence to “Freddy Got Fingered” feels extremely familiar and tired. It’s almost laughable how lame the movie’s beginning is, and I was concerned this bad movie wasn’t going to reach a level where it was so bad it became good. I’m not surprised that there is debate over whether or not the movie is parody. However, I’m convinced this is intentionally left unanswered because the movie is satire. The man-child cartoonist called Gord who is unfortunately the protagonist of the film put my concerns to rest 30 minutes in, right when he begins to spread pain and suffering on a wider scale in his quest to have his cartoons adapted into a TV show.

Gord (Tom Green) storms an animation studio by force, bypassing security and harassing a secretary in an effort to meet the TV executive who runs the company (Anthony Michael Hall). When informed that the executive is at lunch, the public nuisance goes to the restaurant and harasses diners until he finds the person able to turn his dream into a reality. While this is off-putting to Hall’s character at first, he immediately listens when Gord begins to sell his comics.

Gord being given the chance to pitch his work despite being a terrible writer and a threat to society. Source: IMDB

This is amusing to me only because Gord had a hard time finding the exec after running into many men who look and are dressed like the one from the animation studio. The fact that Hall is just one of many blond-haired, blue-eyed men eating at Movers and Shakers restaurant is transparent criticism of the lack of inclusion in Hollywood and, by extension, powerful institutions in America. The way the TV executive turns away in disgust from Gord’s ridiculously unprofessional proposal but automatically turns around again to give the desperate cartoonist a chance when Gord starts to beg to sell his cartoons suggests that influential people in the media are more open to giving opportunities to some people more than others, even when it is undeserved…

In this scene, Gord is giving up on his cartoons at the same time Green is giving up on his movie. Source: IMDB

Despite his generosity, the TV executive is not blind to how talentless Gord is. He tells the artist that while the art of the comics is good, the stories and humor behind them are awful and would never sell. This pushes Gord over the edge, making him pull out a gun and lament that his characters are losers so he is a loser. He threatens to kill himself right then and there, which is shocking and completely unexpected if not for how this situation would be played straight in a normal comedy movie with the hero getting the job and the girl at the end. It is extremely funny to me how the stepping stone of Gord’s career is when our protagonist declares he needs to die, because this is the most illustrative way possible for Tom Green to scream about how much he clearly hates gross-out comedy movies and explains why the 90 minute run-time is used to push tropes of the genre to their most grotesque and absurd limits in order to make a point.

The infamy of “Freddy Got Fingered” reminds me of the reputation of “School Days”, an anime that I think wasn’t intentionally satire but ended up criticizing the short-comings of harem animes anyway. The formulaic show is based on a video game where a painfully average young man named Makoto suddenly finds himself becoming the most eligible bachelor in his high school after creating a love triangle. The video game has many endings determined by how well you navigate having multiple girlfriends, and the majority of the outcomes are good. However, “School Days” is infamous for its few bad endings that depict the absolute worst possible consequences of someone playing with the affections of a group of people.

Makoto easily guilt-tripping Otome, the third girl he’s cheating on, in order to keep their relationship a (poorly kept) secret. Source: MyAnimeList

The value of this criticism I think is highlighted in the anime when Makoto goes from being too shy to talk to an attractive girl in the first episode to having romantic encounters with three girls in one day by the end of the show. He is warned by his latest conquest, Otome, that problems will arise if the fact he is seeing several women at the same time becomes known. He tells her what he has already told his other girlfriends, that she is as responsible for the delicate situation as he is and that she should just let things happen. The anime adapts the worst possible endings of the game and illustrates that in real life it would take someone to be extremely narcissistic and emotionally abusive to sustain a harem like in anime.

I think these two works were poorly received because fans of these comedy genres weren’t expecting the deconstruction of the tropes they have come to love. The shocking violence and overall bad taste is only believable as the work of professional writers if the intention is to show how ridiculous the cliches expected from viewers are. It is difficult to make a parody or satire of something, especially with film, without being mistaken for the real deal, but as someone who thinks they’re in on the joke I think I have the right to laugh along.

John Cena and the Complexities of Man

 

[Cue high-energy intro music here!]

John Cena, a professional WWE wrestler and actor, is also known for his charisma and unexpected sweetness, thus drawing appreciation from fans around the world. He is a diamond in the rough, an example of a superstar who uses his talent and celebrity to better others’ lives while still having a fun time.

Originally portraying a trash-talking rapper, WWE promoted him to face of the company, shifting his character to a Superman archetype. He has acted in numerous films and regularly guest stars on TV shows. Cena also speaks Mandarin (which he learned to help WWE expand internationally) and in 2005 released an album titled with the popular catchphrase “You Can’t See Me,” showcasing his many talents.

John Cena is also known for his philanthropy, working on causes such as the Make a Wish Foundation, where he has granted the most wishes in history (500!). Turning his brolic character into a multidimensional person capable of being both strong and sensitive, badass, and compassionate, I honestly wish more celebrities were like John Cena.

Evil Is Beautiful in “The Secret History”

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In the holiday break, where the days drift like dreams one after another, losing track of time, I find myself reading more than ever. I had the great pleasure of finally finishing Donna Tartt’s brilliant 1992 novel The Secret History, the same author who recently wrote The Goldfinch which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. The Secret History took me an excruciatingly long time to finish– it’s a sprawling nearly 600-page novel, dense with detail and suspense. I started it last December, read it for a couple months between classes in the dining hall or before bed until the library due date approached, and I still wasn’t finished (I wonder how many completions of books have been squandered by library due dates). More than half a year later, I wandered into a bookstore and, remembering how much I loved the book, how absolutely beautiful it was, I bought it and finished it.

I marvelled at the author’s capability to create such a beautiful novel– though it’s strange that I call it beautiful, as the plotline centers around the murder(s) committed by a group of classics students at a small, elite college in Vermont. Most of the group of protagonists are illustriously rich (except for the narrator), lack guiding parental figures, and are drawn to the abstract and the beautiful. They are herded by their professor Julian, who doles out ideas about aesthetics and Greek and philosophy in their class, his students like a tiny cult and him like a benevolent dictator. He presents the idea of a bacchae to his students, essentially a huge party where people get drunk and do various other activities to achieve some sort of transcendent, spiritual experience. His students actually– not just theoretically– carry this out, and, in the process, end up unknowingly murdering a farmer. One thing leads to another, and before they know it, they are on a bewitching, mesmerizing path into evil.

The fatal flaws of these characters, I think, is that they fail to draw the line between the beautiful and the good. Often, the conflation of morality and beauty can lead to disastrous consequences. Things that are irreverent, crude, hurtful, don’t seem so bad because they appeal to our senses or pleasures. The murders these characters commit are done out of a love for beauty– they yearned for the picturesque, longed to be part of the tragedies and dramas they read about in their Greek class.

Julian, the professor in the book, often said “Beauty is terror.” Donna Tartt, the author, was asked in an interview whether she believed beauty really is terror, to which she responded: “Beauty is harsh– I mean, there’s almost no respect in which it isn’t harsh. If you’re talking about physical beauty, if you’re talking about the beauty of a flower, or a beautiful person, it’s horrible because it’s given completely capriciously, one has no control over it, you have it or you don’t, really. The same with the flower– the flower can’t help if it’s a rose or a weed, it’s just born what it is. So there’s cruelty in the way that it’s even doled out. And also, it’s ephemeral, that’s the horrible thing about it. Even to the living things that are lucky enough to be given beauty, it lasts for a very short time.”

This, I think, is the fatal flaw that the characters in The Secret History fail to understand. To them, it is beauty that is the eternal thing, not morality– or perhaps, they mistake beauty as being equivalent to goodness, and fail to recognize that it is so fundamentally unjust, unfeeling, and ephemeral. It’s like what Oscar Wilde once said: “A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers.”

And perhaps we must have this perspective about beauty and art and goodness. Perhaps this way, we can properly separate a flower from its feeling, fact from fiction, or else we risk the mistake that the characters in The Secret History made, leading them down the inexorable path of evil, steeped so far that they didn’t even know it was wrong. Evil is still evil if it is in a picture frame, if it is on a beautiful face, if it is in Greek tragedy. Evil can be beautiful, but it can never be good.

The Value of Doing Absolutely Nothing

After my girlfriend’s last final, we found ourselves in a rare situation: we were (mostly) free of all responsibilities for a few days, able to do whatever we pleased until it was time to leave. But, most of our friends had left for the holiday already, or were studying rigorously for their last finals. We ended up spending many nights watching random videos, eating snacks, and snoozing. It was pretty great.

At home now, I have so much time for myself. There are also things I told myself I wanted to get done–take photos, make art, apply for internships, catch up with friends. At the same time, it’s relieving to simply have a break from a hectic college schedule. Over the course of the semester, I found myself in a cycle of scheduled classes, meetings, and homework taking up nearly every minute. No longer inundated with these tests and papers and club meetings and work for a few weeks, this holiday break is a perfect time to relax and refresh.

Even though our society looks down upon doing something that isn’t “productive,” taking moments for yourself is important. Taking time to breathe or reflect can be helpful as well, perhaps even insightful. Doing nothing is powerful. Whether it’s reading a book, watching movies, taking a much-needed nap, or even daydreaming, I think we can all benefit from a little self care.