Rupi Kaur is Not a Poet
What she is selling is an image, not a work of literature
While strolling through my local Walmart yesterday, I stumbled across the book section and was surprised to find that Rupi Kaur, the famous Instagram star, had released a new collection of poetry. Out of curiosity I picked it up, just to see if maybe time had helped this Instagram novelty develop her craft. To my complete and utter lack of surprise, I found evidence of exactly zero growth in this book of “poems.” My stomach churned with the knowledge that this would be yet another book destined to become a bestseller, landing on the bookshelves of countless homes throughout the land and earning the “poet” more millions of dollars to swim in like the Instagram Influencer equivalent of Scrooge McDuck.
Let’s get one thing out of the way here: Rupi Kaur is not a poet. It’s a disgrace to the art to pretend this is the case. She didn’t earn her audience by the merit and quality of her work. She’s not going to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, or have her work featured in the most prestigious of literary journals like The New Yorker or The Best American Poetry. No, her work consists of short, truncated maxims, easy to digest cliches, pandering sentimental tropes, and pretentious plays on words presented as photographic memes intended to go viral online. These are often placed on pages next to pen doodles that look like they were lifted directly from the teenage diaries of any high school or middle school, and took all of five minutes to draw. Amazing.
Rupi Kaur earned her following by creating a faux controversy on Instagram. One of her photos was removed there for being reported and considered a violation of their community standards. It was a picture of her having had her period and bled onto her bed sheets. Or it was a picture intended to look that way. This was part of a photo series focusing on menstruation. Who knows if the photographs were staged and faked or authentic representations captured in the moment. If you ask me, what took place regarding these photographs feels a bit too convenient and contrived and could have easily been plotted specifically to cultivate the response it achieved.
When the photo was removed, she immediately went to Twitter and shared the image and the story of what happened, which went massively viral and garnered her instant internet fame due to the feminist outcry in support of her freedom to share this image. That is it. That is why she is famous. The hundreds of thousands of people flocking to support her Instagram page then decided to support her “poetry” because she was such an oppressed feminist.
Like any venture capitalist, what do you do once you have achieved a massive platform? You find a way to make it earn you money, by selling a product. Rupi Kaur used her newfound online platform to generate an endless supply of bumper sticker quality memes, and then bound them in books for sale to her audience. Her first book, Milk and Honey, and then her second book The Sun and Her Flowers, both sold millions of copies. Over ten million copies combined. This should both shock and amaze you.
And now, her new book of “poetry” is destined to achieve the same status. A book that contains gems such as this:
And the literary genius of this little gem, something that feels exactly like a song lyric from at least half a dozen alternative rock songs written in the nineties, and something I probably jotted down myself as a teenager thinking I was ever so clever and edgy at the time. Truly a breathtaking work of awe-inspiring originality and creativity:
If you think I am being unfair here, and that this sampling isn’t an accurate representation of the work, think again. This is the caliber of the poetry being sold. This is apparently the type of poetry people are willing to consume and want displayed proudly on their shelves in their homes. In over ten million homes. This isn’t an unfair sampling, this is just what this “poet” is selling, and what her audience is not only willing to buy, but wants to buy. Any serious student of literature and the craft of writing has to look at the success of this “work” and shake their head in disbelief. Is this how lazy the patrons of literature have become?
For an idea of exactly how serious even the publisher (Simon and Schuster) takes this work, it is published under their subsidiary Andrews McMeel. Andrews McMeel Publishing as a company is known for mainly publishing cookbooks, calendars, sudoku puzzles, and lifestyle junk. They are not known for publishing quality literary work at all. Isn’t that something?
And you might be saying to yourself right about now, man, this guy is just jealous. This is just sour grapes because Rupi Kaur is a millionaire author sleeping on piles of mattresses stuffed with cash and he isn’t. And to that I say, fuck yes I’m a bit jealous of this level of success generated from the bare minimum of artistic effort or commitment to craft. Frankly, it disgusts me. As it should disgust any serious student of the arts. I don’t begrudge anyone the ability to achieve great success with their pursuits, but what I do criticize is gaining that success through fraudulent means, by pretending to be something that you indeed are not. This success has not been earned. It’s the equivalent of cheating to win, taking a short cut, cutting out the trials of rejection and failure that foster real urgency in a creator. Becoming successful in this manner just cheapens the authentic pursuit of art.
And let’s not forget that Kaur has been accused of plagiarizing her entire shtick from another Instagram poet, Nayyirah Waheed. You can find the details on all that drama from this article on Distractify. The fact that Kaur refused to even acknowledge Waheed’s inquiry into the matter speaks volumes. Stealing another artist’s creative vibe is just another shortcut taken that once again punctuates the faux facade of this entire charade.
Rupi Kaur isn’t a writer who dedicated her entire life to honing her skills and suffering under the yoke of obscurity to drive her to get better and better until her work finally earned her some due respect from her peers and her audience. She achieved success as a “poet” at the age of 21. She was just barely old enough to buy liquor. What grand insights into the human experience are people going to learn from a 21 year old with a cell phone and an Instagram account? She’s not a writer. She’s an opportunist. She’s a scam artist. And her success, which many thought would help propel poetry into the mainstream, has done nothing but hurt the status of poetry as an artform.
Instead of helping other poets rise out of the ranks of obscurity by lifting their work into a piece of her spotlight, all Rupi Kaur has done is create a generation of people trying to replicate her success. An entire mass of would-be Rupi Kaur clones now inhabit the online spaces of Tumblr and Instagram, all trying desperately to somehow generate enough of a following that can latch onto some of the scraps falling from the table of Rupi Kaur’s fame. It’s really quite pathetic how all of these folks clamor for attention like this. To prove how easy it was, I even did a series of simplistic poems for Instagram myself, some of which got over 10,000 “hearts.” Just unbelievable.
Instead of helping poetry go more “mainstream” all her pretense at playing author has accomplished is removing precious bookshelf space from the ever diminishing shelves of book and mortar book sellers from an established poet or struggling and upcoming poet who definitely deserves that space more than she does. Look at the books for sale in “mainstream” outlets such as your Walmarts or your Targets. Generally the book section is one very limited space occupied solely by the works of Stephen King, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, and then a smattering of popular political pundits and a myriad of pulp romance/western novels. That is it. The fact that people who are already famous get to have novels published because they are considered “safe bets” by the struggling publishing industry is a blight on the art of writing, and Rupi Kaur is a glaring example of why. Getting to pretend at being a poet after you achieve fame for something else is simply the privilege of extorting your audience for subpar content. It’s a fucking joke. Don’t tell me her success has helped the status of poetry. Absolutely not.
This has done nothing for poetry except create a glut of pretenders saturating the market with their individual pleas for “look at me” success. It has undeniably damaged the public’s perception of what poetry is, and what it is capable of. It has limited the attention spans of public readership. It has undermined and eroded the ability of literature to be engaging or engaged with by a populace overloaded with online stimuli and mentally hampered by self-imposed versions of ADHD due to information addiction. In short, it’s yet another symptom of how social media is irreparably destroying society.
In protest, I bought a copy of Home Body and I am going to eat it. I am going to eat a page of this pretend poetry every day until it is gone. Because it has zero substance, and even by physically devouring the work itself, I will gain nothing from the experience.
If you think it defeats the purpose of my protest by buying the book and giving the author a royalty payment, to that I say, she is already so rich my two bucks she likely earned will never be noticed. And, if you want to break an omelet, sometimes you got to make some eggs.
The rest of the days of my protest of this book by eating it, a page a day, will be listed below: