The Gold Millennial book club met on Friday via livestream to discuss our November read – Rupi Kaur’s The Sun and Her Flowers. You can watch the recorded version of the livestream here. We thought this would be a great book club pick since Kaur has garnered a reputation for being “The Millennial poet,” and both of her books of poetry have topped the New York Times Bestseller’s list. In this blog post I will recap my rant during the livestream so that you can all get a good feel for my impressions and thoughts on this famous collection of poetry!
I eased us into the discussion by reading my highlights from the “about the author” and “about the book” sections at the end of the book:
“There is a simplicity and nuance to [Rupi Kaur’s] work that has found a home in the hearts of millions… The Sun and Her Flowers is about grief, self-abandonment, honoring one’s roots, love, and empowering oneself. It is split into five chapters. wilting. falling. rooting. rising. and blooming.”
1. Did you find that the chapter headings helped inform your understanding of or insight into the poetry?
I actually didn’t notice the chapter titles as I was reading. I was reading on my Kindle app with the new scroll feature and I just sort of scrolled past them. But I imagine it would be interesting to go back and re-read some sections with the idea of its title in mind as an over-arching theme.
I found that Kaur’s poems were a bit scattered and not cohesive at all in the framework of the book as a whole. I do like the metaphor of sunflowers turning to face the sun each day. I’m sure there is something about sunflowers and the sun that I am supposed to link up as a common thread through all of it, but whatever that was was obscure to me.
Each chapter seemed to be about its own story entirely, that was not connected to the story before. The first chapter “wilting” is about a bad breakup. The “rooting” chapter is about how Kaur’s parents immigrated to Canada and spends a lot of time talking about her mother’s personal suffering.
I know that this book is supposed to be a collection of poetry that doesn’t necessarily have a unifying theme, but for some reason I was expecting one and was disappointed that I didn’t find it.
2. What are your initial/general impressions and thoughts after having read the book?
I have to be honest here and admit that I’m not a huge fan of this book. I wasn’t immediately impressed by it. My primary criticism of it is that I just didn’t learn anything new from it. It didn’t blow me away. And as a New York Times bestseller I was expecting it to blow me away. I think my expectations were just too high, and if I hadn’t gone into reading it expecting to walk away with epic, enlightening new ideas, I don’t think I would have been disappointed.
I found the themes Kaur tackled to be trite, and that was unsatisfying. I think that people who don’t typically read poetry would like this book, and people who do regularly read poetry might not love it so much. The word that kept coming to me as I was reading was “accessible.” This poetry is accessible.
In reflecting on why Kaur’s work “has found a home in the hearts of millions,” I concluded that it must be because her themes are so simple. It even said in the book synopsis in the book itself that people love Kaur’s work “for its simplicity.” This fact at least cannot be argued. Lots of people can relate to the emotions behind her stories if not to the stories themselves. What I interpret as being “cliché,” others likely interpret as strumming on their heartstrings.
In my livestream I wondered if a thing can be so cliché that it crosses a boundary into a space where no one can relate to it anymore because it is so cliché. I wondered if I simply exist/experience the world in the space across from this boundary, whereas others might be yet on the other side. Well you know what they say, the grass is always greener!
3. How much did you relate to Kaur’s stories? Did you find her poems relatable?
I personally could not relate to any of Kaur’s stories because I have not had experiences that were similar to hers. I do concede that this may put me somewhere outside of the “box” that most Millennials fall into, but that makes a lot of sense, as my life experiences have, in many respects, not fallen in line with “most Millennials.” For example, I didn’t wait to get married and have kids – I got married and started a family when I was 22. I don’t have student loan debt or medical debt. Because my husband was in the Army, we have always had solid medical insurance and used our VA loan to buy two houses.
All of this to say that I do understand why I couldn’t necessarily relate to Kaur, and I don’t want you, Reader, to think that I don’t believe her poems are relatable at all. I can see clearly how they could be very relatable to a wide variety of people of all generations. All I am saying is that they were not personally relatable to me.
I did have many a “bad” breakup in my day, however I did not react by succumbing to this debilitating grief that Kaur talks about for pages and pages and pages in the first chapter. Hate me if you want to, but I kind of wanted to scream at her character, “Get over yourself already!!” The way I always reacted to bad breakups was not with sadness or sorrow, but with anger, and often a desire for revenge. I’m not saying I wanted to kill my ex or anything that extreme, but burning down their house or dropping their iPhone into the toilet were not necessarily ideas I did not entertain.
I am also not an immigrant and do not personally know anyone who is and immigrant in the sense that her parents were, so I did not have personal stories or experiences to match up with Kaur’s on that note either.
That being said, I did appreciate learning about the painful breakup perspective and the immigrant perspective and hearing those stories, because they offered perspectives I don’t already have experience with. Poetry does not have to be relatable to be good!
4. What are some of your highlights from the book that you would, say, put on your refrigerator?
Here are some of mine:
“Love is understanding we have the power to hurt one another but we are going to do everything in our power to make sure we don’t.” p. 27
“Why is it that when the story ends we begin to feel all of it?” p. 48
“a lot of times we are angry at other people for not doing what we should have done for ourselves – responsibility.” p. 56
“Why do I punish my body for being exactly as it’s meant to be?” p. 73
“Worth is not something we transfer.” p. 78
“I do not weep because I’m unhappy. I weep because I have everything yet I am unhappy.” p. 90
“First I went for my words. The I can’t. I won’t. I am not good enough. I lined them up and shot them dead then I went for my thoughts invisible and everywhere there was no time to gather them one by one I had to wash them out.” p. 98 (Taking the negative language out of our vocabulary and out of our lives – very Millennial.)
“When it came to speaking she said do it with commitment. Every word you say is your own responsibility.” p. 113
“Perhaps we are all immigrants trading one home for another. First we leave the womb for air then the suburbs for the filthy city in search of a better life.” p. 122
“I am made of water. Of course I am emotional.” p. 170
“If we can’t learn to be kind to each other how will we ever learn to be kind to the most desperate parts of ourselves.” p. 185
“Give yourself to a few and to those few give heavily.” p. 194
“To hate is an easy, lazy thing but to love takes strength everyone has but not all are willing to practice.” p. 196
“What is the greatest lesson a woman should learn? That since day one she’s already had everything she needs within herself. It’s the world that convinced her she did not.” p. 221
“To heal you have to get to the root of the wound and kiss it all the way up.” p. 224
“The road to changing the world is never-ending.” p. 233-
“If you have never stood with the oppressed there is still time – lift them.” p. 237
5. Was there anything in the book you did not agree with? If so, why not?
Yes there were a few things for me. One thing I talked about in the livestream was Kaur’s stories of her mother in the rooting chapter. She says on page 126,
“We did that to you. It is not your fault.”
Reading this upset me because I don’t like the way she displaces her mother’s responsibility for her own life. I believe that we are always responsible for our experiences, and to deny anyone the full brunt of their own responsibility is to take away some of their power, some of their autonomy. Autonomy means taking full responsibility for oneself in all aspects of one’s life, and is a noble, albeit life-long endeavor.
I have been reading and thinking a lot about autonomy recently in light of my upcoming free birth, so every time I read the word “responsibility” or “fault” or anything along those lines, it really stands out to me. I felt that in this particular story, Kaur could reconsider her removal of blame from her mother, and let her mother’s stories be instead a testament unto themselves. Her life was what it was because that is simply how it unfolded. Kaur taking the blame for her mother’s suffering does nothing to change the past, introduces unnecessary, damaging guilt, and disempowers her mother.
Another thing I read that I did not agree with was on page 226:
“When my daughter is living in my belly I will speak to her like she’s already changed the world. She will walk out of me on a red carpet fully equipped with the knowledge that she’s capable of anything she sets her mind to.”
If you’ve been following our blog for even a short time you’ve probably already read one my rants about this. This is how Millennials were raised and it’s fucked us up. I am quite passionate about this subject because I already have two gen z daughters and I believe that we need to teach our children that life sucks. They need to expect that life will suck and not get too downtrodden about it when it does. Live on.
We are not capable of anything we set our minds to, and neither are our daughters. There are plenty of very real boundaries and limitations all around us in the world. They do exist. Sending our kids off to college with the idea that they can “do anything” is analogous to letting them continue to believe in Santa Claus. It’s a lie and a disservice to their entire generation.
We discussed this at length last month in our book club meeting for Leaders Eat Last. The world’s next generations need to see that there is a mountain in front of the summit. And sometimes we don’t make it up the mountain. Sometimes we die. A lot of people have died climbing Mount Everest. I’m just saying! If my daughters learn nothing from me when they leave this house except this one thing, I will feel that they are at least equipped to live in the world.
I’m glad we got a chance to read this book together for the Gold Millennial book club. I might not have loved it or learned a lot from it, but it gave me a few things to think about. Let us know what you thought in the comments! Feel free to tell me I am totally off-base and you’re in love with Rupi Kaur 😉 And please, tell me if you found the sun and her flowers somewhere in the book where I couldn’t integrate their meaning. I would like to know.