Toward the end of Rupi Kaur’s second installment of delectable poetry, ‘The Sun and her Flowers,’ she writes, ‘the road to changing the world is never-ending.’ A fitting quote for the book that has undoubtedly touched on some of the most politicised issues affecting the lives and cultures of people all over the planet. A step up from ‘Milk and Honey’, Kaur’s first instalment of poetry of which I wrote about here, ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’ has become a staple on my book shelf, and a book I have reached for time and time again. As always, Kaur’s words are both relevant and comforting, and a source of reassurance in testing times. Though this time, her words are politically charged and socially situated in the current climate of social pressures and rape culture. Kaur relates her words to topics such as the refugee crisis, perceived images and expectations of women, sexual abuse and cultural heritage. Nobody can deny the importance of her work in a climate such as the one that we, the society of today, are living in.
After reading ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’ over and over, bookmarking the pages that held the most relevance to me, and continuously returning to Kaur’s words, I became as attached to this book as I did with ‘Milk and Honey’, but also curious as to the perception of her work amongst critics. For the most part, Kaur is praised for her attention to detail, social relevance and words that relate so perfectly to the young female generation and the challenges they face. However, existing criticism for both ‘Milk and Honey’ and ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’, most notably from male critics of the older generation, critique Kaur’s writing style: her lack of poetical structure, punctuation and any real pentameter. Of course, Kaur’s work is a far cry from Shakespeare’s sonnets, but it is seemingly a pioneer in revolutionising a genre that is becoming more and more accessible to the youth of today, and further than that, more and more engaging. Kaur tackles polemic struggles of predominantly the female generation through what could be described as a stream of consciousness, thoughts, words spilling onto the page. Unconventional, but in no way should this reduce credibility. Kaur forms a pathway for an ever-emerging genre of poetry, and this should surely be celebrated.
Kaur does make use of a common theme in the poetry genre that has been utilised by the greats over and over again throughout the years from Frost to Wordsworth: nature. Kaur separates her book into chapters titled in relation to the evolution of a flower: ‘Wilting’, ‘Falling’, ‘Rooting’, ‘Rising’, ‘Blooming’. Kaur’s poetry starts with the emotional struggle of grappling with events in her life which have heavily affected her: ‘Wilting’, ‘Falling’. As aforementioned, this emotional struggle is both contemporarily relevant and of utmost importance for many, and the development of her chapters correlates with the development of her recovery, of her overcoming the effects of these events: ‘Rooting’, ‘Rising’, ‘Blooming’. Kaur’s symbolic description of her emotional growth and recovery, becomes a source of inspiration and support for a generation of youth who have continuous impending societal pressure placed upon them. Kaur not only tackles the issues of body image and societal popularity, but also the issues that more and more young women face today, including sexual assault. Kaur shows once again her bravery to face these issues with determination and grit. Her writing is frank, targeted and determined.
‘Wilting’ and ‘Falling’ mark the start of the emotional process depicted in the book. ‘Sun becomes moon and moon becomes sun and I become ghost,’ the line which conveys the ever changing of the days, the continuation of time along with the continuation of sadness. Kaur grapples with herself, conveys the conflicting emotions plaguing her mind and symbolises the internal suffering that most go through during a break-up, during a loss. A concentrated use of nature is present here, one of my favourite lines being ‘I explain how a honeybee does not dream of kissing the mouth of a flower and settle for its leaves.’ However, whilst Kaur describes sadness and struggle, she, too, is empowering, strong and conveys the way in which we should never settle for less than we deserve: ‘if I’m not the one of your life I’ll be the greatest loss instead.’ Kaur foreshadows the emotional growth and strength that she achieves toward the end of ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’. She also presents the issue of societal pressure, of feeling the need to conform: ‘I hear a thousand kind words about me and it makes no difference yet I hear one insult and all confidence shatters,’ a quote which is all too relevant, and something which I myself, as a 23 year old woman, could relate to. In the same chapter, she tackles the issue of sexual violence. The placing side-by-side of the two issues represents the plethora of struggles that women, and people in general, face in today’s society. ‘Home’ is the poem which describes one particular experience of sexual assault. Kaur creates irony through the juxtaposition of both the imagery of sexual violence and the subversion of connotations of the word ‘home,’ a conventional place of comfort and solitude. Through techniques such as this, Kaur takes subjects of a somewhat ‘taboo’ nature, subjects that are both sensitive and scarring, and places them in the everyday, situates them into the norm, into the lives of today’s youth and more broadly, today’s society. She does not shy away, she confronts these issues with full force: expletives and all.
‘Rooting’, ‘Rising’ and ‘Blooming’ mark the evolutionary section of the book. These three chapters are where Kaur grows, in emotion and in strength, where Kaur begins her recovery from her aforementioned trauma. ‘Rooting’ makes reference to Kaur’s immigrant background, both politicizing the book and offering it a place in today’s society, when considering the current refugee crisis and debate in both the UK and the US (used merely as examples) surrounding immigrants, refugees and borders. Kaur writes ‘borders are man-made. They only divide us physically, don’t let them make us turn on each other.’ Her words ring loud and clear in a society divided by prejudice and opinion surrounding the refugee crisis. Rupi Kaur also addresses her own cultural heritage, making reference to the strong female figures in her life, small trinkets of memory that remind her of her childhood, of her roots, her past. It is in this part of the novel that Kaur’s prose becomes personal, and culturally rich. This section of the book is what particularly sets ‘The Sun and her Flowers’ apart from ‘Milk and Honey’. Whilst ‘Milk and Honey’ is emotionally rich, addresses the internal conflict and emotion faced by many in today’s society surrounding the circumstances of break-ups, broken friendships, familial conflict, ‘The Sun and her Flowers’ is much more politically representative of worldwide issues, whilst simultaneously addresses her own, personal culture and heritage. The combination of the two juxtaposed together is wonderful.
In all, and in true Rupi Kaur fashion, the undercurrent of feminism and empowered female strength is what makes ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’ stand out for me. Kaur maintains her ‘girl power’ ethos, no matter which issue is being tackled in which section of the book, her feminist undertones are maintained throughout, and this, more than anything, is why I continue to engage with her poetry. She writes, ‘I am busy learning the consequences of womanhood when I should be learning science and math instead,’ an idea which may seem preposterous to some, but is wholly relevant in a world where women are largely underrepresented in industries such as Finance and Engineering. She also describes the way in which we, as women, engage with ‘a trillion dollar industry that would collapse if we believed we were beautiful enough already.’ Once again, addressing the issue of body image and self confidence, alongside the issue of underrepresentation and women’s education, Kaur covers the plethora of issues faced by the women of today. Last but certainly not least, and arguably my favourite element of Kaur’s works, her words are an ever-comforting source of support and inspiration for those who are struggling to deal with or overcome issues in their lives, no matter what those issues could be categorised as. Her words of comfort come as a breath of fresh air in her poetry which deals with heavy, suffocating issues. She reassures the lonely that ‘the irony of loneliness is that we all feel it together at the same time,’ and reminds those who have suffered that ‘here you are living, despite it all.’ And, much like Milk and Honey, Kaur not only reassures but reinstates faith lost through her words, and here is where I will finish, with arguably my favourite quote from the whole book:
‘Like the rainbow after the rain, joy will reveal itself after sorrow.’