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The rise of Rupi Kaur’s poetry is stunting the progress of aspiring poets.
There’s a specific type of poetry that has become popular among modern poets: a very simple version of confessional poetry. The confessional genre focuses on a person’s reflection of their personal trauma and typically uses direct language. Sylvia Plath wrote amazing confessional poetry in the ‘50s that depicted deep layers of inner turmoil.
However, modern confessional poetry is extremely simple in that it does not require any poetic knowledge. It can be understood in one reading and does not take long to write. There are many poets who have books published with this genre, but the most famous one is Rupi Kaur.
I have talked to other beginner poets and they tell me they only read Kaur’s poetry and their writing is clearly influenced by her style. Many of them do not appear to have any interest in reading other poets or developing skills. This makes me wonder if this is the next step in the evolution of poetry or a potential first step towards its destruction.
Simple confessional poetry has rejected all rules and traditions. It does not break the rules of poetry; it ignores them completely. Does poetry need to follow rules or use traditional forms? Not always. But a poet should know the rules to understand their own poetry and the writings of others. If poetry was a science, then the rules would be physics. Rules tell you what sounds work together, how to depict images, layer ideas and form. Some equivalents in music would be the beat working with the melody, alliteration in rapping or harmonizing. It is alarming that simple confessional poetry comes with a rejection of basic poetic knowledge.
Someone might counter this point by arguing that poetry is about self expression and it shouldn’t matter how one expresses their feelings. I agree that poetry is about expression, but why would anyone choose to express themselves through poetry specifically if they ignore everything about creating poetry? Only writing in a simple confessional style is like a painter who uses one type of brush in one style and refuses to look at paintings different from theirs. It is a director who does not use camera angles or costumes. Why express yourself this way?
Poetry is about pushing the limits of language and describing aspects of life that cannot be explained. When the rules are used or broken properly and the metaphors are laid just right, it makes a piece truly beautiful. This type of poetry produces goosebumps. It is like a symphony swelling. You stand on your desk and yell “O Captain, my Captain.” Simple confessional poetry will never be capable of getting this reaction because it does not care to. This doesn’t make simple confessional poetry invalid as a genre, it just makes it disappointing.
It makes little sense that it’s so popular. I think it’s because it hits a sweet spot between reading poetry without having actually read poetry. Likewise, it is writing poetry without actually having to write authentic poetry. It is participating in an art without putting in the effort to understand that art. This makes me believe that simple confessional poetry won’t always be the thing to make someone a bad poet, it is their lack of engagement with writing and simple confessional poetry exacerbates that lack of engagement.
Are Kaur and simple confessional poetry going to kill poetry? No, poetry can never die. It’s just very disappointing. Poetry is one of the oldest forms of written storytelling and one of the oldest forms of art.
Throughout history, poets have been theorizing about how to write poetry, what poetry is good and what it even is in the first place. Every new generation of poets build on what came before. The simple confessional genre ignores what has happened before and cannot benefit from past poets. Simple confessional poetry would be better suited if it was written on a picture of a landscape like an inspirational quote rather than a poem.
I would never tell someone not to buy a book of Kaur’s poetry. She is a Canadian, a feminist, a trauma survivor, and an amazing person. However, she shouldn’t be the only poet someone reads. There are many modern poets whose work builds on the foundations of poetry — Billy Collins, Gemma Gorga, Alice Munro and Mary Ruefle — and aspiring poets should open themselves to as many authors and genres as they can. It is the only way to learn how poetry helps you express yourself and therefore to understand what it has to offer.