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tatianna giron

Post by Tatianna Giron

Rupi Kaur is a name that most people are familiar with, even if they don’t read poetry. The 25-year old Canadian-Indian woman has amassed a 2.2 million following on Instagram. Her work, milk and honey, has sold over a million copies online and been translated into several languages. Her newest work, the sun and her flowers, ranked #2 on Amazon’s bestselling list. You may not have seen her work personally, but parodies of it which are all over the internet and do an admittedly accurate job at emulating her style (see image below).

But Rupi Kaur has done something that most poets haven’t been able to. She’s made poetry—or at least her brand of it—an art form that few people read, popular. But does popularity translate to authenticity? Can Kaur’s work—and the works of other social media poets—be considered actual poetry?

Social-Media Style Poetry—“Instapoetry”

A Rupi Kaur poem (unaltered)

A meme (mostly unaltered)
Courtesy of UCLA Meme Page

Kaur’s style can be described as bite-sized aphorisms and reflections intended to resonate with the reader on the topics of trauma, abuse, and love. The language is simple and minimalistic, with random line breaks, a lack of punctuation, and liberal use of blank space. Among the numerous criticisms she faces for her work are:

  1. over-simplified language and content, you don’t have to exert a lot of mental energy to understand her poems (e.g. “if you are not enough for yourself/ you will never be enough/ for someone else”)
  2. anti-intellectualism, or, “the open denigration of intellectual engagement and [the] rejection of craft” (The Cult of the Noble Amateur)
  3. confusing personal trauma for collective trauma in trying to generalize the South Asian female experience, therefore possibly commodifying abuse (The Problem with Rupi Kaur’s poetry)

The issue that most critics seem to have, however, is that she’s profiting off these 3-7 line ramblings and receives multiple media coverage, when there are much more talented poets out there that dedicate much more mental energy to their craft, and they’ve been largely ignored by the mainstream.

Kaur isn’t the only poet who’s gained popularity through social media, but she is the one who receives the most backlash for her popularity (which is again, probably because of her Internet exposure). Social-media poets like Nayyirah Waheed, Lang Leav, R.M. Drake, R.M. Broderick, Christopher Poindexter, Nikita Gill, and Amanda Lovelace, are among others whose followers form their readership, and who all have the same aphoristic, cliched, and straightforward writing. But is it a bad thing to write poetry that is accessible to the masses?

What is poetry?

Courtesy of Free Library of Philadelphia

A quick Google search will tell you that poetry is defined as “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.” So poetry can be defined by two things: 1) the expression of feelings/ideas and 2) using style and rhythm to express them.

As someone that both writes and reads poetry, I would argue for two different definitions. Writing a poem is like trying to take a mental dump while you’re constipated. It’s quite painful, to be honest. You have to be precise with your imagery, word choice, and meter. But when you finish, you realize it’s just a draft, and you have to go back and reconsider all those things. And repeat over and over again. The whole editing process is mentally strenuous. But when you finally get it all out on paper, there’s an overwhelming sense of relief.

From a reader’s perspective, a poem should be like a puzzle. Some poems are 10-piece puzzles, and those are the ones that are easier to construct, but they give you less satisfaction because there’s no struggle. There’s little mental exertion. But other poems are 100-, 500-, and 1000-piece puzzles, and it may require a lot of mental energy to comprehend them—heck, some poems aren’t ever meant to be understood, and those are the 1000-piece puzzles. But when you can glean meaning from a poem, the mental satisfaction is worth it. Poetry is basically a masochistic art.

Rupi Kaur’s poems, and the other Instapoems, are like those 10-piece puzzles. It’s great to understand their words at face value, but there’s no intrigue. Because there’s little substance behind them, there’s no appreciating their beauty, or experiencing the satisfaction of finally uncovering their meaning.

Taste is subjective, but attention to craft and intention aren’t

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kaur doesn’t respond to criticisms of her work, but she has stated that she views poetry as the art of free expression. In her interview with The Cut, she reveals she used to teach creative writing to high-school and college students. As she states:

“For me it was like less about teaching writing and more about providing an environment where people were comfortable enough to express themselves freely, which is what I feel like is needed to write poetry…. the best part was they’d walk away, like, oh, I can do this, I’m a poet. I’m like, yeah, you are” (Fischer interviews Rupi Kaur).

She also states that she intends her language to be simple so that it’s accessible to even those whose first language isn’t English, such as the case with her and her family when they first moved to Canada when she was 4 (NPR Radio Interview). I can definitely appreciate her intentions to write in such a way that promotes free expression and accessibility to all.

Ultimately, I think whether or not you like Kaur and other social media poets is a matter of taste. They definitely have polarizing effects. One of my friends loved milk and honey, and said it was the most relatable thing she had ever read, while another said that Kaur’s poems read like something the 12-year-old her would have written in her private diary. Personally, I think it’s beautiful that Kaur was able to encapsulate feelings that millions of people related to. While I don’t find her poetry to be artistic necessarily, I do think of it as riding on that Instagram/Tumblr “spilled ink” trend. And if her Instapoetry helps make poetry as an art form accessible to more people, I hope it also serves as a gateway to better-crafted poetry. Sort of like how children who hate reading literature read Percy Jackson and the Olympians, then decide to read, say, The Illiad. As long as it promotes greater readership, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

 

Post by Tatianna Giron

When one thinks of February approaching, the most common association is the looming date of Valentine’s Day. As we approach the month, it is either met with groans (from the cynics who believe V-Day is a consumerist black-hole) or with cheers (from the romantics who believe V-Day is a consumerist black-hole but rejoice in it). But there are a lot more things to look forward to in February—for example, an amazing plethora of poetry readings. The list below only contains seven of them, but here’s to hoping it will also help you associate the month with more than just roses and chocolates.

Courtesy of Flypoet

1. Flypoet All-Star Spoken Word & Music Showcase

Flypoet runs a monthly showcase that features both performance poets, spoken word artists, performance art, and live music from L.A. Artists. It runs the first Friday of every month. This February’s showcase features renowned spoken word artists such as Ebony Stewart, Louis Conphliction, and Christopher Michael.

Location: 218 S La Brea Ave, Inglewood, CA 90301

Date & Time: Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.)

Tickets: $20 at door

For More Info: http://www.flypoet.com/next-show.php

Courtesy of Poetry Foundation

2. Poetry Reading by Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is a poet of the Muscogee (Creek) nation, whose poetry is influenced by First Nation storytelling and histories, as well as feminist and social justice critiques. As a result, her poetry often includes references to indigenous myths and symbols, and centers around the Southwest and Southeast, but also the need for remembrance and transcendence. The 2018 Jean Burden Reading at Cal State LA is honoring Joy Harjo for a poetry reading, Q&A, and book sales/signing.

Location: Golden Eagle Ballroom, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032

Date & Time: Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. (arrive at 5:30 p.m. for buffet supper)

Tickets: no tickets/reservations needed

For More Info: https://www.pw.org/literary_events/poetry_reading_by_joy_harjo

Courtesy of Poets House

3. Poetry Reading by Ching-In Chen

Ching-In Chen is a genderqueer and multi-genre author of the novel-in-poems The Heart’s Traffic, and most recently, Recombinant. They have been awarded fellowships from Can Serrat, Millay Colony for the Arts, the Norman Mailer Center, and Imagining America. Chen’s poetry has been featured at poetry readings across the country, including Poets Against Rape, Word from the Streets, and APAture Arts Festival: A Window on the Art of Young Asian Pacific Americans. Chen is a senior editor of The Conversant and poetry editor of Texas Review. They currently teach creative writing and world literature at Sam Houston State University.

Location: The Forum, Goldsmith Campus, 9045 Lincoln Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90045

Date & Time: Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m.

For More Info: https://www.pw.org/literary_events/chingin_chen

Courtesy of Beyond Baroque

 4. An Evening of Spoken Word

Beyond Baroque often hosts readings by talented and inspirational poets, and this reading is no exception. As the flyer states, “Sentenced to 36 years as a juvenile offender, Gonzalo found his poetic voice inside the prison walls. Gonzalo’s poetry is raw and organic from the ground up, revealing the beauty found in the depth of the Dark Time of the Soul. Join us in honoring one man’s journey inside the beast where he ultimately found redemption.”

Location: 681 Venice Blvd, Venice, CA, 90291

Date & Time: Feb. 9 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: RSVP required. Reserve tickets here: https://interland3.donorperfect.net/weblink/weblink.aspx?name=E253261&id=47

For More Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/221864311690944/

Courtesy of Rattle

5. Rattle Poetry Series feat. Brendan Constantine and Rayon Lennon

Rattle is an American poetry magazine based in LA. Every second Sunday Rattle presents a reading featuring poets from the current issue at the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse. This month’s issue features Brendan Constantine and Rayon Lennon.

Brendan Constantine was born in Los Angeles. His collections of poetry include Letters To Guns, Birthday Girl With Possum, and Calamity Joe. Brendan tours regularly, bringing his poetry and workshops to theaters, schools, libraries, correctional facilities, and community centers across the nation. His fourth collection, Dementia, My Darling, was published in the spring of 2016.

Rayon Lennon was born in Jamaica and immigrated to Connecticut, at age 13. He works as a clinical therapist with adolescents struggling with substance use and mental health. His work has been published in Main Street Rag, StepAway Magazine, Folio, African American Review, Connecticut Review, Callaloo, and others. His first book of poems, Barrel Children, is a finalist for the 2017 Connecticut Book Award for best book of poetry.

Location: Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, 1010 Foothill Blvd, La Cañada Flintridge, CA, 91011

Date & Time: Feb. 11, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: not required, free admission

For More Info: https://www.flintridgebooks.com/instore-events/2017/12/13/rattle-poetry-series-1

Courtesy of Antioch University

6. Literary Uprising

Antioch University hosts annual poetry readings. This year features faculty member Victoria Chang, author of the recently released Barbie Chang and The Boss, and MFA Alum Reader Kirsten Imani Kasai, author of the novel, The House of Erzulie, and the series, Ice Song and Tattoo. Also reading are students Danton Stone and Lisa Croce.

They promise wine and soft drinks, appetizers, and books for sale. Free parking passes are available.

Location: Antioch University, 400 Corporate Pointe, Culver City, CA, 90230, Room A1000

Date & Time: Feb. 13 at 6 p.m.

Tickets: Free admission

For More Info: https://www.antioch.edu/los-angeles/event/literary-uprising-4/

Courtesy of Stories BooksandCafe

7. Voices from Leimert Park Redux Anthology

Stories BooksandCafe is a bookstore located in Echo Park that caters to the larger literary community of Los Angeles. They host an array of events, from book release parties, comedy shows, live music, and community meetings. Voices from Leimert Park Redux is a poetry anthology that encapsulates the diverse writings of the Leimert Park area. It features African-American writers and other writers of color embracing new radical voices; one of the vehicles for their voices is this spoken word performance. The poets have been confirmed for this reading, but more details are TBA.  

Location: 1716 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026

Date & Time: Feb. 23 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: Free admission

For More Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/322309301617627/

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