A poetry collection that only scratches the surface.
Home Body is Rupi Kaur’s third work, following her widely-acclaimed and hugely-popular first and second poetry books, Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers. The Instafamous poet has been the recipient of commendation and criticism in equal measure.
Before I dive in, I need to be clear: I wanted to like it, this demure collection of poems, the first Rupi Kaur book I’d bought myself, unborrowed; untarnished. I expected it would take a while to finish, giving me plenty to contemplate, write about, and even a verse or two to post on Instagram.
On finishing the book the following day, I closed it with a feeling of what I can only describe as uncertainty. With each page turned and every verse started, I yearned, continually, persistently, to fully connect with the work, to feel those heart pangs and nostalgic flashbacks her previous works had incited in me. And yet, no matter how much I tried, I felt… nothing.
Kaur’s work is famously laced with a delicate simplicity that gives the reader space to touch upon sensitive topics with as much or as little emphasis as they desire. Whilst her previous books outlined situations ambiguously, they still managed to retain individuality: Home Body, however, lacks that much needed personal touch. The third book is in constant flux between being adeptly insightful to simply amplifying #tumblrquotes. It would be unfair to say that every poem fell flat: this book is authentic, raw emotion poking its head above the parapet of clichés and overused metaphors.
Her poetry is alluring to the young millennial-Gen Z generation because it remoulds our own misshapen thoughts into something somewhat aesthetic. Kaur effectively utilises one of the oldest tricks in the social media playbook: romanticise suffering to make it palatable and desirable. Like horoscopes, the vast majority of Kaur’s poetry is malleable, readily and easily applied to almost anyone of any background. But, like horoscopes for, dare I say, a fair few of us, after a while the novelty wears off. Just as astrology critics may comment that Taurus, Gemini and Sagittarius predictions can be as fitting to a Virgo, if not more, than themselves, Kaur’s most recent set of poems feel too widely applicable to be genuine. Kaur discusses how familial love can feel “just as potent” as romantic love, and, respectively, how important her female friends are in her life: “nothing can replace/ how the women in my life/ make me feel”. Relatable, yes; superficial, also yes. Try as you may to scratch below the surface, the conversational comments disguised as poems are outed to be just that: scraps from conversation. And don’t get me wrong, sometimes the simplest of conversations can lead to the most profound of philosophies, but Kaur’s latest work leaves the reader thirsting for even just something more than the literal. Unless her double entendres are so well-disguised that only the true bards among us can pick them out, I fear they’re not present at all.
Home Body also feels, in part, as though it has jumped upon the rampant bandwagon of entry-level feminist texts that have swamped our bookshelves over the last two years, particularly from Instagram-influencers-turned-activists. Certainly the more information the better, so that the proportion of society’s uninformed decreases and a deeper understanding of the issues women from all backgrounds face is achieved. However, Kaur’s broad-spectrum poetry feels a little banal; a drop in the ocean of today’s Instagram infographics that remind us to embrace ourselves for who we are, “protect our energy” (as chaptered by Florence Given, written about previously by Chidera Eggerue, and also paraphrased on page 80) and be more liberal about sex. Worthwhile messages, of course, however, we turn to poetry to refresh our understanding of the world, and to understand everyday lessons through an iridescently mystical medium. The poet should not need to permanently create within the confines of obscure metaphors, but something more than rehashed social media quotes would surely ensure Kaur’s poems resonate further. A similar amount can be said for her light embrace of capitalism and climate issues, for example, seeming performative in her superficiality. By a poet of proven talent, surely such crucial, current issues can be articulated more beautifully than this? We know her characteristic lowercase and erratic line-spacing style works well; her new content just lacks that same consistency.
But Kaur also alludes, tellingly, to her own struggles in producing a third book; in fact, she almost entirely devotes a whole quarter of the book to denote her “productivity anxiety”, in “rest”. Is it perhaps a cry for help that one of her longest poems is about trying to manufacture creativity, optimise her hours and mechanically churn out more? And although Kaur ends it on a positive note, could it be that she is, consciously or unconsciously, lying to herself? Home Body provides overt proof that she has succumbed to capitalist, industry pressures that bellow “produce, produce, produce” at her own artistic expense. As much as she believes that she has risen above that, I’m not convinced.Perhaps Home Body functions well poetically in terms of the wider picture: it encapsulates Kaur’s own vulnerability, not through her words, but through her finished product: mechanical, superficial, and only partially aware of her disrupted fluency. For all its one-dimensional passages, perhaps the true beauty lies in its unintentionally raw illustration of the staid demonstration that is Kaur’s writer’s block.