Book Reviews, Reviews

The Sun and her Flowers Review

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Rupi Kaur’s first book of poetry, Milk and Honey, was one of those books that took the Internet Book community by storm when it came out. It was a regular feature in Bookstagram posts, mainly for the gorgeous illustrations (also done by Kaur) that accompany the poems. So I was surprised that there hasn’t been more hype around the release of Kaur’s second book which is equally as vibrant and beautiful as the first.

Kaur’s poems are the kind I like best, with a lot of emotional heart and personal connection. She draws inspiration from throughout her life, splitting the poems into themes: “wilting” (moving on from a failed relationship), “falling” (depression), “rooting” (her mother’s experiences as an immigrant and in her marriage), “rising” (a new relationship and falling in love) and “blooming” (feminism and femininity). Sectioning her work like this does mean that reading chronologically can get slightly repetitive, but that just means that The Sun and her Flowers works best as a book to dip into.

Her poems range from a couple of pages to just one line, but she mostly works in short stanzas that focus on one emotion or thought at a time and it creates some beautiful ideas that float on the page but don’t linger too long. They’re accompanied by line drawings that are incredibly simple but somehow lyrical and sit alongside the poems to emphasise the themes and emotions.

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It’s very difficult to write about or review poetry without either becoming too technical – clinical, even – or focusing too much on the emotions you felt while reading. I can only say therefore that anyone, but especially women, should absolutely go and find a copy of either this or Milk and Honey and just lose yourself in it.

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Book Reviews, Reviews

Our Numbered Days Review

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I was introduced to Neil Hilborn by a friend during my I Hate Poetry phase that I had in high school, and I credit him with providing the turning point when I realised just how stupid and stubborn I was being.

Hilborn writes mostly from his own experiences with a heavy focus on mental illness. He’s found a cult following amongst those with their own struggles and as one of their number I can absolutely see why. Hilborn is refreshingly honest throughout his poetry. It’s definitely not all sunshine and puppies because mental illness isn’t like that and it’s wonderful to hear someone expressing that instead of trying to paint over the painful moments. Our Numbered Days embodies one of my favourite quotes from Alan Bennett’s The History Boys:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met […] And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

But he doesn’t fall into the very common trap – which I know I have – of writing about depression as though everything and everyone is terrible with the paradoxical sense of superiority that can only come from feeling worthless (for examples of this see The Catcher in the Rye, or literally anything ever written by a teenager). Hilborn comes across as a man who knows that the world is good even if he can’t feel it. His work is punctuated with moments of true hope and emotion, and many of his poems had me bawling. I would be interested to hear what someone without experience of mental illness makes of his work seeing as how deeply rooted a lot of his poems are.

Hilborn’s style manages to be sophisticated without seeming pretentious or overworked. Reading his work feels like talking to a friend, albeit one who has a wonderful way with metaphors (and boy does he have some beautiful ones. Plus there’ll always be a place in my heart for the “slutty chicken” simile.) His roots in slam poetry are evident in his writing, but this works to create a personal connection with the reader rather than being distracting. That said, if you have the chance to see him read his work I would absolutely recommend you leap at it. I had the pleasure of hearing him at the Bullingdon in Oxford at the end of August and he is a brilliant performer as well as one of the funniest people I’ve met.

To finish, here are two of Hilborn’s poems. The first is OCD, his most popular poem and the one that went viral to gain him his following. It’s based on his own experiences with the illness and is a captivating performance from him (and it’s just as spellbinding in real life):

The second is The Future, which isn’t in Our Numbered Days but is my absolute favourite of his. It’s another personal look at his struggles with Bipolar Disorder, and the final note of hope never fails to make me cry.

My Writing, Poetry, Writing Stuff

Space

I originally wrote this a few years ago in response to a relationship with a friend that turned sour, although it wasn’t all that sweet to begin with. It’s a little strange, but it was what I needed to say at the time and definitely helped me process what happened; the therapeutic power of writing.

You take up all the space.

You stretch elegantly, feline, filling every corner with yourself. And, like a cat, you have claws for those who cross you.

I feel them as you laugh lightly and place your hand on my thigh, exactly the way you know I hate so much. Your smile says you mean nothing by it, but in your eyes I see the challenge. Say something.

I never do.

I am a chosen one, privy to the barbed wire of your tongue as you spit venom about someone who has no idea they have invoked your wrath. I pity them, whoever they are, but I pity myself more as I hover too close to your sharp edges.

You tell me secrets that you create from thin air to bring us closer and I thank you for trusting me as though they were a sacred gift. All I really want is someone to tell my own secrets to, for they weigh heavy on my shoulders, but my life holds no interest for you and you tell me so. I bite my tongue and wait for the day when maybe you will like me enough to let me speak.

I am lucky you like me, you claim, as though you have an armoury stored away specifically to pierce my heart were I ever to fall from your good graces. I cannot think if anything I have done that you could use, but I strive to be better so you have at least a few less bullets with my name carved into them.

Were you anyone else, I would say I was weak for letting you drag your nails across my skin. But I convince myself it is for your own good, for rather you scratch me than yourself. I will bleed so you don’t have to, and never mind that I’m draining myself dry. If I can stand your poison for just a little longer then maybe your bottle will be empty, and then all it will take is to pour you full of perfume and we shall all smell sweeter.

Then one day you deploy your arsenal with military precision. Which do you want first, my head to mount above your mantelpiece, or my heart to roast on a spit? There was a time when I would have given you either.

You take up all of the space even now you’re gone. The places in me you used to occupy echo with the emptiness, the crumbling ruins of a temple I built for you.

For now I blame myself. Maybe just one more day would have changed things, one more day and you would have smiled at me just once without bared teeth.

But at least now your hand is not on my thigh, and for that I am glad.

My Writing, Writing Stuff

Vacuous

I kissed you and you tasted vacuous

You are a void,

a chasm into which I would have willingly thrown myself

just for the thrill of the fall.

I know that you do not love me.

Why should you? Ghost that you are,

solid things of earth hold no interest for you,

and I have too much substance.

My body is flesh and blood and bone and you are air.

I am altogether too human,

too full of hopes and fears and crushing reality to hold your attention for long.

You who float freely above my head,

the tips of your toes brushing my outstretched fingertips.

Perhaps I could grasp your ankle and rise with you

to dance with you amongst the treetops and bed myself down in the clouds next to you.

But I fear that you will drop me

and laugh at my shattered body from above.

If I am to reach your lofty heights it shall be my blood that is spilt in sacrifice

and the offering I make shall be at my own temple

not to your tempestuous god.

I used to think your heart was made of rubies and your words of gold.

But now I know.

There is a black hole where your heart should be.