“Milk and Honey” has sold 2.5 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 25 languages. Over the last two years, it has spent 77 weeks on The New York Times Trade Paperback Best-Seller List. Her second book, “The Sun and Her Flowers,” was released this week and is No. 2 on Amazon’s best-seller list.
But Instagram is really where she publishes. Some of Ms. Kaur’s poems are just a line, like “i think my body knew you would not stay.” It lends itself to parody. Her themes don’t vary too much: heartache hurts, love heals, women are strong, loving yourself is key to most things. Her work has been criticized as “disingenuous,” and it’s true that Ms. Kaur stays remarkably on brand.
Ms. Kaur too has been accused of writing about experiences that she hasn’t had herself. Asked about this, she shrugged. “It’s so complicated,” she said. It’s also not, historically, a requirement for poetry. Writing poems is how she processes the news and the world around her, she said, and for what she hasn’t lived, she tries to understand.
The underlying message of all this criticism is that Ms. Kaur’s work isn’t “real literature.” The literary world doesn’t have a great track record of embracing or even acknowledging artists like Ms. Kaur, who are different in some notable way, but who attract an enormous and fervent audience.
This dynamic has cropped up recently with the writers Lang Leav (with whom Ms. Kaur shares a publisher) and Tao Lin. Like a Kathy Acker or even a Patti Smith before them, these writers also weren’t seen as important, largely because of their too-youthful or too-female readership.
“Critics might think that Kaur’s readership is young and female, so her work can’t be serious, which is obviously wrong,” said Matthew Hart, a professor of English and comparative literature Columbia University. “Her style doesn’t seem naïve.”