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Review: Rupi Kaur at Town Hall, Birmingham
Culture writer Frankie Stott reviews a spellbinding evening of the poetry of poet Rupi Kaur, at Birmingham's Town Hall.
Rupi Kaur is arguably the most famous poet of the moment. With an Instagram following of 2.5 million, and book sales topping 1.4 million for her debut collection Milk and Honey, she has pushed poetry into the modern mainstream. It seems that her verse on love, feminism, sex, race, and immigration have resonated with the digital generation, though she has also faced an undeniable backlash against her perhaps simplistic style. On Saturday 24th March, I went to see her live in performance at Birmingham Town Hall, to see if she lives up to the hype, or if her poetry really is just an Instagram aesthetic.
“'Kaur's verse on love, feminism, sex, race, and immigration have resonated with the digital generation...'
Before seeing Kaur perform her poetry live at Birmingham Town Hall, I was apprehensive about what to expect. I first picked up Milk and Honey over a year ago after seeing it go viral online. At first, reading it was a welcome break to the likes of Wyatt and Donne on my English course, yet I found the style perhaps a little too repetitive - however, for my 20th birthday, I received The Sun and her Flowers, and it was then that I started to enjoy Kaur’s poetry a bit more. The accessibility that so characterises Kaur’s work was a welcome end to a long day on campus, and I could just enjoy the easiness of her verse. Yes – her poetry may be simpler and shorter, but following this line of argument, why should all poetry have to be overly complex, deeply metaphorical and/or exceptionally long? As a lover of all kinds of literature, I’m grateful to Kaur for making poetry even more popular again.
At the Town Hall, the atmosphere was buzzing. People were clutching their copies of The Sun and her Flowers and hurriedly taking their seats. My only previous experience with live poetry was an open mic evening in which an abundance of poets took the stage and performed some pretty angry poems, so as I took my seat I was at a loss for what the evening would entail. Honestly, I wasn’t convinced straight away. As Kaur took the stage in a stunning sari inspired blue and gold jumpsuit, she started to recite in a low, gushy and emotional voice. At first, I felt like her tone was perhaps exaggerated and overdone, especially her shorter poems such as ‘jealousy’;
the rain tried to imitate my hands
by running down your body
i ripped the sky apart for allowing it’
The Sun and Her Flowers
However, soon I relaxed into the atmosphere, and enjoyed the performance aspect of Kaur’s recital. Her voice became hypnotic, especially in her longer poems such as ‘questions’, ‘what love looks like’, ‘how we make up’ and ‘broken english’, which Kaur set to some slow instrumental music. These poems were undoubtedly the stand out moments of the evening for me as they were completely captivating, with Kaur taking the audience through the pains of heartbreak and the tribulations of emigrating to Canada from Punjab, India. It was towards the end of the evening when Kaur performed her poems such as ‘broken english’, ‘we are not enemies’, and ‘leaving her country’, that explore ethnicity, immigration and identity, that I felt in awe of her on stage. The power with which Kaur delivered the lines
‘so how dare you mock your mother
when she opens her mouth and
broken english spills out’
The Sun and her Flowers
struck me, as Kaur celebrated her mother’s bravery for raising a family in a foreign country. As she ended the performance and walked off stage, I felt like a spell had broken and I was back to the reality of rainy Birmingham. Her poetry had cast my mind into feelings of loss, heartbreak, and love, which left me feeling a strange mixture of exhausted yet rejuvenated.
“'Her poetry had cast my mind into feelings of loss, heartbreak, and love, which left me feeling a strange mixture of exhausted yet rejuvenated...'
For someone who wasn’t completely sold on Kaur, I would now say I’m a fan of her honest exploration of human emotion, and especially her strong intersectional feminist stance. Watching her poetry being recited with such conviction and feeling, it would be hard to argue against its impact. So, for anyone who is slightly sceptical about Kaur, I would encourage you to try and catch her in performance to experience her poetry in full force.
All quotes above are from Rupi Kaur’s poetry collections, Milk and Honey, and The Sun and Her Flowers, used for review purposes. More information on Rupi Kaur can be found here.