Writers like Watts and Roberts draw attention to the flat, direct style that has made [Rupi] Kaur so successful in order to argue that she is not a “real” poet. But the voices saying Kaur doesn’t fit in contemporary poetry are so insistent, it’s hard not to wonder if she might fit there all too neatly, and if that is why many are so eager to exclude her. If you look at it in the context of English literary history, what’s actually striking about Kaur’s work is not how different it is, but how closely it follows almost all the conventions of mainstream contemporary poetry. There is the total abandonment of rhyme and metre, obviously; the use of the first-person voice (does any word occur more frequently in Kaur’s poems than “i”?); and the recounting of incidents and feelings from the poet’s own life (you could almost construct her biography from milk & honey). She has simply dropped the overheated language—and, curiously, this choice could be seen as an element of the Wordsworthian aesthetic; the “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads also talks about abandoning the “gaudiness” of poetic language. Kaur has jettisoned the last vestige of the “poetic” from her work (figurative language), and maintained only the bare minimum required to qualify it as poetry (line breaks). That is why it is so tempting—and so easy—to dismiss her work; it invites the criticism that what she is writing isn’t really poetry, it just looks like it is.
No one seems to want to do it, but it really isn’t that difficult to draw a line from the Romantics to Kaur and argue that she isn’t a bizarre, aberrant phenomenon that has sprung up in the vicinity of contemporary poetry, but contemporary poetry’s logical end point — its entropic collapse into the black hole of solipsism that it has been flirting with for so long. Stripped of rhyme, stripped of metre, stripped of any figurative language beyond the most jejune simile and imagery, Kaur reveals the essential barrenness of the subject matter behind the hyped-up language of contemporary poetry: banal statements about how the poet is doing today. Poetry as status updates.
- Brooke Clark, from her essay "Rupi Kaur, Apotheosis of Contemporary Poetry" over at The Puritan. You can read the whole thing here.