March 26, 2021
A few days ago, Rupi Kaur, a Punjabi Canadian artist and arguably the most famous internet poet, joined TikTok, the short video app built for instant gratification — an app particularly suitable for her bite-sized poems. A TikTok video of Kaur performing a poem from her debut collection, Milk and Honey, where she gesticulates with her fingers, soon made it to Twitter and has since garnered 4.7 million views and over 22,000 retweets and quote tweets, many of which are not kind. (Kaur has since taken down the TikTok video.) Kaur is so intensely popular that even mockery of her rakes up ridiculous numbers; Kaur ended up trending on Twitter for two whole days. Though I do not particularly care for Kaur’s poetry, something about the latest round of trolling against Kaur rubbed me the wrong way.
I’m not suggesting that Kaur’s video isn’t easy bait for trolling. But it’s too easy to criticize Kaur for her work, to point out that her poetry is devoid of complexity and compelling imagery and language, to bristle at her success in mastering the art of marketing and selling poetry in a way the genre hadn’t seen. This is why criticism of her is often incredibly clichéd and often misses the underhanded ways in which other poets sell their work. It also misses how essential Kaur’s voice has been to Indian politics, especially as she highlights the farmers’ protests in India.