Rupi Kaur: The Instagram Activist and Feminist Poet Everyone Needs To Read

Rupi Kaur: The Instagram Activist and Feminist Poet Everyone Needs To Read

A review of "milk and honey," a book of poetry that emptied me and filled me up all at once.
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my heart woke me crying last night

how can I help i begged

my heart said

write the book

This is the epigraph to “milk and honey,” a new, achingly beautiful book of poetry by Rupi Kaur. I recently read “milk and honey” and still cannot stop thinking about it — the poems have completely engulfed me and then left me out to dry. It is the kind of book that makes me wish I have not read it yet so I could go back to the beginning and experience it for the first time all over again. This is my attempt to show you what a magical book “milk and honey” is in the hopes I convince you to read it asap.

Kaur covers a range of heavy topics throughout the book: assault, abuse, love, loss, racism, and feminism. But “milk and honey” is ultimately a book about healing from traumas and overcoming our past and present demons. The book is divided into four sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. The titles speak for themselves; Kaur takes the reader through her dark times, her struggles to find self-love and her journey of healing and finding peace.

If the style of “milk and honey” seems a little Tumblr-esque, you are not far off — Kaur has garnered a large following by posting poetry on social media. A twenty-first century poet, she uses the accessibility of social media to spread her message. Remember last year when Instagram removed a photo of a girl lying on her bed with a period stain on her pants? Yup, that was Rupi Kaur. She created the photography series “period.” to challenge the taboo nature of and disgust associated with women’s bodies. Her feminism shines through her poetry as well, challenging patriarchal norms and uplifting female readers.

Like its title implies, “milk and honey” is thick yet sweet to read; it is smooth going down but congeals into deeper meaning, which is contrary to what the simplistic writing style first suggests. Kaur lays her soul bare, discussing sexual abuse, love, breakups and beauty all in the same minimalist yet powerful style. Her lyrical words pack a punch, and the minimalism only makes their meaning resonate more. The poems sometimes make you feel uncomfortable, aching, and hopeful all at once. And many are provocative, with the intention to make a statement, finding the perfect balance between personal and political.


Kaur’s style is also unique in that she uses no capitalization — everything in “milk and honey,” title included, is written in lowercase lettering. She also does not use any punctuation marks besides periods, which are used sparsely at that. This gives the poetry not only a distinct visual style, but also acts as a sort of equalizer of language. All the words are given the same structural emphasis, so their weight hits you solely based on their powerful meaning.

“milk and honey” is also unique in its illustrations. Throughout the book, Kaur has sprinkled simple, sometimes even childlike drawings that correspond to certain poems. But like the minimalist language, the simplicity of the illustrations do not detract from their poignancy. The drawings are angry, erotic, symbolic and blatantly provide an image to the searing words. Sometimes an illustration is vital to complete a poem.

Reading “milk and honey” can feel like you are examining Kaur’s painfully personal diary, yet the words have the ability to seep into you and resonate with your own story as well. In a way, the minimalist writing style and simple illustrations makes the poems less threatening and more accessible to a reader. Many of the poems are provocative, evoking difficult imagery. But they also beautifully speak to the reader, especially in “the healing” section.

Reaching the end of “milk and honey” gives you the feeling right after a rainstorm — the clouds have passed, the air is fresh and new, and the sky looks hopeful. The rain, like the words, is cathartic.

Do yourself a favor: pick up a copy of “milk and honey,” devour it — and then read it again.


Cover Image Credit: Toronto Desi Diaries

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An Open Letter To The Meadville Medical Center And Its ER Staff

When did kindness become a deserved thing in the healthcare field; and only if you're not on drugs?
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Yes, that cover picture is me, coming off a ventilator...at Magee Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh, a two-hour drive from my house, not at Meadville Medical Center.

This is very difficult to write. We live in a small town, and you are the only hospital for over twenty miles. In fact, I live so close to you, that I can see your rooftop from my back garden. I can walk to you in about ten minutes if it’s not overly humid out. The Life Flights pass over my house as they arrive at and leave your facility, and my young daughter and I pray for every one of them.

My daughter had to call an ambulance on May 30th, as I had a sharp and horrible pain overtake me so suddenly, that I thought my neighbor (who I threatened to report for dealing drugs) had shot me through the dining room window at first. There was no blood to be seen, but the pain was so severe, that combined with the cold sweats and dizziness, I was genuinely afraid I was about to die.

I can’t express in words how proud I was of my girl as she explained to the 911 operator what was the matter and where we lived. She was brave and helpful as they took a blood sample, handled what I later learned was a seizure, and kindly got me into the ambulance from my difficult entryway. She called her Auntie and calmly told her to meet me at the ER. And while memories of the horrible experience I had in your ER twenty years ago still haunted me, the care and attention the ambulance drivers showed me encouraged me that I would be okay.

If only.

There were so many people, and I was half delirious with pain and inexplicable symptoms. Thank God my sister in law, Sheri, was there to help me fight for my life. For the sake of our small town and six degrees of separation, I will call them Nurse A, B, C, and D, and Doctor H. Your staff literally, unapologetically bullied me within an inch of my life.

When I arrived, it was apparently Nurse A who triumphantly announced to everyone involved in my care that I was on drugs, case closed. Despite Sheri and I repeatedly telling them that I hadn’t taken any narcotics, and I won’t take anything stronger than Motrin 800, they persisted in asking what I took. At one point I heard Sheri saying, “She does everything naturally, you're wasting time.” No one cared.

When Nurse A informed me that they needed a urine test, I told her to straight cath me, as I couldn’t stand up. It was Nurse A who told Doctor H that I faked two seizures on the way from my house (I am still amazed by her mystical powers that she could surmise this), and insisted again that I was faking everything. With utter disgust Doctor H said, “She can stand, get her up.” At Sheri’s protest, Nurse A reiterated, “If she can move her legs she can stand.” My legs, which were almost involuntarily moving to find relief from the pain in my abdomen, gave out on me when she insisted I put myself on the bedside commode. I passed out again and urinated on her.

When I woke up to Sheri frantically calling my name, I was greeted by an absolutely disgusted Nurse A, who complained that she needed to go change her clothes, and rolled her eyes at my faking another seizure. She informed everyone who came in next that I was faking these symptoms, and four attempts to straight cath me failed. In that moment, I was sure I was going to die.

Everything after that came in blurry and fragmented vignettes, like an awful out of body experience. There were Nurses B through D or more, all repeatedly asking me what drugs I took. Everyone scowled and frowned, passing on the information that I was faking everything. There were four of these nurses when I woke up on the way to a scan, and all but one asking me what drugs I took, and telling me to stop faking as I hysterically screamed that I could not breathe when I lay flat. I was terrified, confused, out of my mind, and unable to breathe when I lay flat, and they reported that “she hyperventilated herself” in the scan lab.

All the while, Sheri valiantly insisted they would find no drugs in the blood work, and that I probably hadn’t been to a family doctor in years. I lay in your ER cubicle and reconciled myself to God, convinced that I was going to die and be labeled a drug addict.

At some point, something shifted, and suddenly I received the blanket I had asked for hours before. Apparently, my temperature had dropped so low, their fancy thermometers couldn’t read anything. I remember a young man trying to find a vein and saying, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m not trying again.” My head was elevated, and the panic of not being able to breathe alleviated somewhat.

Suddenly Doctor H was almost kind, and I heard him telling Sheri something about “a mass” and “blood in her abdomen” and how some other hospital was better equipped to help me. She told me she okay-ed it, and I recall telling her, “I trust you. Just get me out of here.”

In fact, knowing someone else would care for me gave me such peace, that I literally lay completely still as an older man inserted an IV line into my neck with no anesthesia.

We assume the blood work came back and the scan verified what we desperately tried to tell everyone from the beginning; I wasn’t on or seeking drugs. But there was no apology from Nurse A, her fellow nurses, or Doctor H. I may be corrected, but I spent five or six hours in your ER defending myself to the same people who should have been fighting for my life.

As I lay there, talking to Yeshuale, three people in what looked like tactical suits came alongside my bed. The first was a woman who looked like she was speaking into a walkie talkie. Behind her two men. I thought to myself “Oh, state cops. I guess I’m just going to die in prison.” I was so out of it, confused and weary of being asked what drugs I took, I believed your ER staff had called the police and they had come to take me away. All I could think of was what would become of my young daughter.

Thank God, I was mistaken. The blonde woman wasn’t a police officer, but part of the helicopter team, on the phone with Magee in Pittsburgh so she could begin administering blood to me. Blood. Something your staff considered less important than accusing me of using and seeking some weird drugs. Behind her, a tall, blonde man smiled at me and explained that he was taking me in a helicopter and I would be fine. It was like hearing from an angel, and I remember saying, “Todah, Yeshuale!” repeatedly in my head and in a whisper. “Thank You, Jesus!”

Four blocks away, my daughter and the friend she was staying with waved as we flew over my house.

To my surprise, I woke up two days later, attached to a ventilator, one of my sister friends sitting beside my bed. I learned that I’d had two masses in my uterus, which tore itself open and bled into my abdomen. I’d lost four liters of blood and had a transfusion in the Life Flight. When they took the vent out, (my friend took the picture above) I made a joke about being a tough Jersey girl as I signed to the ICU nurse, but inside I was an emotional wreck. Still, as the days went on, I determined to treat everyone with kindness, and was treated the same way at every turn.

Kindness. The one thing I never received from your staff.

What was so special about me that your staff felt interrogating me about my apparent drug use was more important than helping me? My address? Because for some reason all the drug dealers in town seem to want to take over my block? So, we’re all on drugs, then? Do you realize that half my neighbors brag about going to your ER to get pain pills, and how easy it is? I never asked for anything but a Tylenol, and that was on the Life Flight. So, again I ask, what made me so unique?

And, I must say, it’s not even that your staff didn’t believe me. They were mean, hateful even. Rolling their eyes, talking about me like I wasn’t there, saying everything I did was a ruse to get drugs. When did it become okay to treat anyone like that? How was it alright for your nurse to walk in and determine that I was on drugs? How was it alright for her to set the tone of disbelief, unkindness, and abuse? How was it alright for the doctor to allow this and roll with it?

Yes, I said abuse. When someone is screaming that they can’t breathe and you tell them to stop faking, that is abuse. When you berate someone, and accuse them of something to the point where they believe they’re being taken to jail to die, that’s abuse. When you refuse to give someone a blanket, hold them down to the point where they’re bruised, that’s abuse. When you waste time to the point where an ambulance won’t get to the next hospital fast enough… that’s abuse. Your staff verbally, emotionally, and physically abused me.

Not only were they abusive, but they were comfortable with it. Your staff was comfortable with it, and didn’t care what it would cost me or my family. All but one nurse, who Sheri now tells me insisted that there was something wrong with me and took me for the scan. That nurse saved my life. People are comfortable with abuse because they get away with it. Abusers get smug, arrogant and even careless, because those they abuse say nothing. Your staff was smug, rude and uncaring to the point that they displayed a sick sort of disgust for me that was completely obvious. My sister in law later confirmed to me that it wasn’t all in my head.

At what point did this behavior become acceptable? Is it because you’re the only hospital for a 30-minute drive?

And, so what if I had been seeking drugs or high on some unknown concoction? Would that have made it okay for your staff to treat me thusly? Would Nurse A have been justified in declaring my altered state and treating me like garbage? Would Doctor H have been justified in how he treated me? When did nursing and healing give anyone that sort of power? When did people cease to be worthy of kindness, quality health care and gentleness based upon their drug use, or the address they live at?

When did you decide who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and who does not? When did your medical staff earn that right to decide also?

If we’re completely honest, most of the people I know who abuse pills go to your ER at least once bimonthly to get refills. Your ER physicians pass out opioid scripts like candy and then mistreat the people they’re supplying? Thanks to you, I must hide the pain medication I loathe to take now, because someone will surely break in to my home and steal them if they know I have them. You, and other hospitals like you, are feeding addicts and creating innocent bystander victims like me, but that’s another conversation.

This is difficult to write, because you have your hooks in all over this town. This is difficult to write, because the trauma of that night is still fresh in my mind, and I often cry when I think about it. This is difficult to write, because the reality that I have had to now teach my child to ask any ambulance we ever need to call again to take us to Erie shouldn’t be necessary. This is difficult to write, but it needs to be said, especially since I’ve been finding out that I’m not the only person this has happened to.

You need to address these issues. You need to stop handing out scripts like promotional coupons, and perhaps you won’t have nurses and doctors assuming everyone’s on drugs or seeking them. You need to discourage the abusive and toxic behavior of your staff, and hold them accountable when patients complain. Let me put this into perspective for you: I’m pretty sure Nurse A is the same age as my oldest daughter, and my child would eat mud before she treated anyone like that. Why? Because my kids were never allowed to behave that way in the first place, but to stay on topic, she grew up with consequences, and as an adult still recognizes their severity.

As the events of that night become clearer to me, and I continue my peaceful, miraculous recovery at home, I am determined not to hold on to bitterness about what happened to me at your ER. I am determined to make the most of the second chance at life I’ve been given, and leave your abusive staff in the past. I’ll probably pass some of them in the super market, or sit behind them in church, our town is so small. And while you and your toxic staff will cease to haunt my future, I will surely haunt yours. Nurse A, Doctor H, and Nurses B through whatever… will never forget the night the woman with the blue hair nearly died because they were too busy wrongly judging to actually care.

I am determined to walk out the rest of my life in kindness, the very discussion I had in a blackout with God while your nurse accused me of faking a seizure. I will pray, hoping with all hope that kindness will once again be requisite for employment in your ER and every area of your corporation. Believe me, it’s possible and good for profits. The entire time I spent in Pittsburgh at Magee I never encountered a single unkind staff member from the surgeons to the housekeepers.

I know you can do it.

Cover Image Credit: Heidi Owens

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5 Songs to Add to Your Playlist This Month

Spring into finals week (and the summer) by "cleaning up" your playlist

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Here are some fun, fresh new tracks to check out as you finish out the rest of the school year and help you get out of your "music comfort zone!"

“Patience” by Tame Impala 

Genre: Electronic/Alternative

Tame Impala FINALLY released new music (!!), and this track is absolutely stunning. With frontrunner Kevin Parker staying on brand with the band's psychedelic, seemingly ethereal style, it sounds like a combination of 70s soft rock and waves of modern-day electronica, with Parker's voice drifting in and out in a kind of otherworldly, mellowed-out manner.

“Harmony Hall” by Vampire Weekend 

Genre: Alternative/Indie Pop

Vampire Weekend is also releasing an album, entitled "Father of the Bride", on May 3rd. From the looks of it, this track relates to the theme of marriage/weddings present in the album's title, and it is a fun, upbeat song that I have been listening to a lot in the morning as I'm getting ready for class! Ezra Koenig's voice is so unique and can cover a broad range, and I highly recommend listening to some of the band's other work as well ("Step" from their 2013 release "Modern Vampires of the City" is one of my all-time favorite songs!).

“Ready to Let Go” by Cage the Elephant 

Genre: Alternative/Alternative Rock

So many great artists are (finally) releasing new albums this year, and Cage the Elephant falls into this category. This track is an absolute banger and doesn't stray much from the band's style in that it includes a lot of loud guitar and dynamic vocals. Like Vampire Weekend, Cage the Elephant has been around since the early 2000s, and I highly recommend checking out some of their earlier work as well (big fan of their most recent album, actually!)

“Apple Orchard” by Beach House 

Genre: Indie/Electronic

Beach House is one of my favorite bands of all time, as I find a kind of an ethereal, beautiful sadness in the dreamy style of instrumentalist Alex Scally and lucid vocals of singer Victoria Legrand. This track is from their 2006 self-titled debut and is probably one of my favorite songs they've ever released. The lyrics are poetic and perfect for the post-finals enjoyment of spring weather, in that they preach relaxation and restfulness, and the song's electronic rhythms echo the essence of spring as well. If you like this song, then I highly recommend checking out the band's other albums as well (Depression Cherry is one of my favorite albums of all time).

“April Come She Will” by Simon & Garfunkel 

Genre: 60s Pop

No spring playlist is complete without a little Simon & Garfunkel! This song is a classic, its timeless, poetic lyrics capturing the epitome of the coming of spring and all its glory. In fact, I consider the entire album (entitled Sound of Silence) to be perfect for the pleasantness and feelings of renewal/natural revitalization associated with the coming months, so be sure to give it a listen if you haven't heard it before!

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