Milk and Money


The Bear Distracted with Talk of Honey, Allaert van Everdingen, c.1645

From PN Review:

In October 2016 The Bookseller reported the highest-ever annual sales of poetry books, ‘both in volume and value’. According to Penguin’s poetry editor, Donald Futers, this boom was due to the emergence of a ‘particularly energetic and innovative’ generation of young poets, who come to publishing with a significant and ‘seemingly atypical’ following. Figures released on National Poetry Day this year confirm this is no fad: sales are up by another fifteen percent in volume. In 2016 and 2017 the bestselling title, which has outstripped all others by a staggering margin, has been Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey. Here is a typical poem from the book: ‘she was music / but he had his ears cut off’. Here is another:

i don’t know what living a balanced life feels like
when i am sad
i don’t cry, i pour
when i am happy
i don’t smile, i beam
when i am angry
i don’t yell, i burn
the good thing about
feeling in extremes
is when i love
i give them wings
but perhaps
that isn’t
such a good thing
cause they always
tend to leave and
you should see me
when my heart is broken
i don’t grieve
i shatter

Following the example of New Zealander Lang Leav (with whom she now shares a publisher), Kaur amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram before self-publishing a collection of her poetry online. Alerted to its popularity, Andrews McMeel Publishing – a specialist in the gift book market, now with a developed (as far as sales revenue is concerned) poetry arm – picked up the collection and issued it in print. By May 2017 it had sold 1.4 million copies (back then just over one per each of Kaur’s Instagram followers). Commenting on the appeal of Milk and Honey, Kaur’s publisher Kirsty Melville insisted that ‘the medium of poetry reflects our age, where short-form communication is something people find easier to digest or connect with’.

Had we time to digest it, the diagnosis might provide cause for concern.

“The Cult of the Noble Amateur”, Rebecca Watts, PN Review

From The Guardian:

Poetry is most definitely not a broad church, but nor does it consist of 40 mutually exclusive sects, like the Plymouth Brethren. One can worship at more than one altar. You don’t have to like them all (personally, the strange hymns of the experimental school still remind me too much of my time as a flame-tongued evangelical, even if I enjoy the sermons), but your allegiance to one alone can turn you into a poetic sectarian.

Spoken-word poetry might “fail” by Watts’ own favoured house rules but it has its own code, by which it deserves to be judged – a distinct aesthetic partly borrowed from hip-hop, where song-like rhythmic “flow” and ingenious rhyming and metaphor are often prized, but where “authenticity” seems valued most of all.

The spoken-word crowd can smell the inauthentic at a thousand paces. I wish the “page” poetry scene would show the same critical discrimination when they encounter poems that do little more than tick off this week’s fashionable signifiers, and that the poet clearly doesn’t mean a word of.

“Curses and verses: the spoken-word row splitting the poetry world apart”,