Rupi Kaur is the virtual face of contemporary, minimalist poetry. Her debut poetry collection, Milk and Honey, achieved instant success and has become akin to a household staple among the poetry community — her follow-up, The Sun and Her Flowers, was a release as radiantly welcomed by her faithful readers. The poet herself is renowned for her distinctive, elegant style: both her prose and her verse are written in free verse, unfettered by the constraints of traditional poetry and embracing the fluidity of the times.
From the lack of capital letters — which draws the eye to the vulnerability of her pieces — to the succinct enjambments — the pauses between lines that give breath to her words — Rupi Kaur refuses to crowd the space with more than needed. Her word choices, though simple, appears to be well-placed and well-intentioned. The lack of extravagant conceits and drawn-out imagery in her work embody today’s perception of poetry: There is beauty to be found in poetry that does not flaunt, does not indulge. There is purity.
Kaur is also known for channeling parts of her personal life such as her femininity and her heritage, the tone ranging from wistful to empowering. Accompanied by her art, illustrated through line-work and silhouettes, Kaur’s poetry is practically a brand that most people on the internet can recognize. She’s given voice to many other poets as well who have a similar way of harnessing the power of simplicity, and she’s proven that poets can reach stardom by accessing her audience through the media.
But, for those of you who have flipped and dog-eared her books to death, despairing that you’ll never find poetry like hers, have no fear — I have two perfect recommendations for you that will speak just as clearly to your soul.
The first one is I Wrote This For You, by Iain S. Thomas, a personal favorite of mine because of its intimacy, as its name suggests. Like all quality literature, Thomas’ prose is inextricable from the aches and passions of longing, the coiling grief and piercing insistence. Like Rupi Kaur, his writing is not loud. It’s as if someone you love, or someone you have lost, is whispering his words into your ear, potent with conviction and feeling.
At the beginning, even, he includes a letter beginning with “Dear you,” going on to say, “You are holding in your hands what was promised to you years ago … I love you. I miss you,” he concludes, signing off with “Me.” This deeply personal element prevails throughout the entire piece; you cannot but feel as though his words are your words, his sorrows and triumphs all yours. Jon Ellis’ photography, too, is an essential component of the book — just as Kaur’s drawings are for her — and they limn his poems with haunting images of life, of crowds and natural landscapes and everyday objects.
One of my favorite passages of his is titled ‘The Layers Unseen’: There is magic even here, in gridlock, in loneliness, in too much work, in late nights gone on too long, in shopping trolleys with broken wheels, in boredom, in tax returns, the same magic that made a man write about a princess that slept until she was kissed, long golden hair draped over a balcony and fingers pricked with needles. There is magic even here, in potholes along back-country roads, in not having the right change (you pat your pockets), arriving late and missing the last train home, the same magic that caused a woman in France to think that God spoke to her, that made another sit down at the front of a bus and refuse to move. that lead a man to think that maybe the world wasn’t flat and the moon could be walked upon by human feet. There is magic. Even here. In office cubicles.
Do you understand, now? The presence. The ebb and flow. He will move you, and that is an insuperable fact.
My second suggestion is Love and Misadventure by Lang Leav, a writer whose mastery of poetry can put all romanticism lovers to shame with her ability to capture the entire shape of an emotion within a few lines. Unlike I Wrote This For You, which is more narrative-focused, Lang Leav tends to sway towards verse. There is a plucking sweetness to her writing, a musicality that swells with all the tragedies and joys that come with love. Sometimes, the poem takes on the air of a youth, freshly fallen in love. Other times, it is visceral. It is a person jaded, experienced, soul-scarred.
Sometimes, it is in-between, the silence that separates words too profound to voice. In ‘Soulmates’ she writes, “I don’t know how you are so familiar to me — or why it feels less like I am getting to know you and more, as though I am remembering who you are. How every smile, every whisper brings me closer to the impossible conclusion that I have known you before, I have loved you before — in another time, a different place — some other existence.” Leav understands our capacity for emotion beyond any earthly definitions. She is a poet of the spirit, of the ineffable.
Lastly, another one of my favorite lines appear in “Angels,” in which someone seems to say, “It’s so dark right now, I can’t see light around me,” and someone else answers, “That’s because the light is coming from you. You can’t see it but everyone else can.” That is the awe-inspiring nature of her writing: She is so incredibly life-affirming, Leav can find the balm for every wound. And that is one of the many wonders of poetry.
Photo Courtesy of Rupi Kaur via Facebook