I guess before we explain what is Milk & Vine, it is best to explain the original book which it parodies from, Milk & Honey by artist-instagrammer Rupi Kaur.
Milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.
-summary from GoodReads
With over a million copies sold for this #1 New York Times Bestseller, this book that professes a collection of poetry by the aforementioned artist-instagrammer Rupi Kaur, proved to be what I called an indie darling come too far for its own damn good. To provide context, Rupi Kaur rose to Instagram stardom back in 2015 after she initiated a protest on Instagram upon the deletion of her now infamous image – a self portrait of her back turned against the camera, menstrual blood leaking from her pants, a small patch on the bed. The image was initially deleted by Instagram for violating its policies regarding showcasing ‘offensive’ or ‘transgressive’ material. She rebelled and reposted the photo with a caption saying,
“I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak,”
It’s a small but powerful message that helps to break the taboo surrounding menstrual blood and the collective efforts to normalize bodily functions. And yes, I would agree on the notion, not to necessarily “push” menstrual blood in the face of social consciousness, but to reaffirm that this is okay, bleeding out of your hoo-haa is completely normal – that the indirect shaming of menstruating women has got to stop. If Instagram does not actively crack down on gore, nudity and other transgressive material on their platform, why was this singled out? Why is transgressive material selectively more taboo than others? Incidentally, I wrote my entire thesis on feminist art and the use of menstrual blood as aggressive gender politics on top of the difference in approach between Eastern and Western practitioners, though I digress. Rupi Kaur was an interesting case at the time and when years later she decided to release a poetry collection called Milk & Honey, I was intrigued to say the least.
Through my introduction to Kaur as a somewhat empowering figure in the plight of feminist discussion, I had built up a decent expectation for what Milk & Honey potentially had to offer. Enlightening thoughts perhaps or a mindset that would potentially pave the way for artist-Instagrammer activists – I didn’t know. What I got instead was a pretty solid opinion on the book.
Milk & Honey is not…very good. In fact, I think it’s quite terrible and you could imagine my surprise to hear how the book did so well, if at all.
Milk & Honey is a book on the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity; with each chapter helping the reader to tackle different pains and healing needed in their life. It takes a very minimalist approach, with each page a small doodle to accompany a short prose or poem written by Kaur herself. It is a brand of “micro-poetry” that is bland in both its approach and presentation that implies depth but leave you waddling in the shallow end of the mind pool. She is no master in allegories or word play and I take particular discomfort in how the illustrations do not amplify the message of her text by providing some sort of visual ambiguity, but rather dumbs down the already superficial messages that Kaur has. I mean, just take a quick look at the samples below from her book:
This looks and reads like high school poetry from a tumblr user – I still cringe a little when I read them out loud. What are the underlying messages that she is trying to imply? Is she saying that the human heart is strong, and if so, nothing can rhetorically break it? These micropoems incite direct and bland imagery that provides no new contexts or ground-breaking thoughts. Does it need to be and why was I so particular on this?
Though okay, if we are to believe that the poems are not meant to have intellectual depth, does the writing, word choice or style provide any sort of rumination or emotionality? I’d argue that it doesn’t either..
Look at this poem from William Carlos Williams (poet of the infamous The Red Wheelbarrow), this one is called A Sort of a Song:
Let the snake wait under
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
—through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
It still has that brand of micropoetry but the visual imagery, tactileness and allegories are on a level above it’s own. Sure, this may come across as an argument between apples and oranges; between two separate writers, though this is to emphasize how lackluster Kaur’s writing actually is by comparison. Her writing represents a bland taste, akin to “premium” TV frozen foods you might find at the store. They taste alright, some might even call them acceptable, but to call them “good” or a suitable source of sustenance is a fallacy and you know it. Harsh? Perhaps so.
If you enjoy Milk & Honey, hey, more power to you and I can see the appeal the book has to a wider general audience as a whole.
To reach for a universal sentimentality that thrives on being as basic as possible without providing fresh perspectives on anything new. This format right here was so widely regarded as overly pretentious and a bunch of nothing, that it became a meme to be celebrated as parody. Then we have, this…
Milk & Vine is the lovechild resulted from that and oh boy, does it have its own set of issues and problems.
Milk & Vine as the borrowing of the name suggests, is a parody of Kaur’s Milk & Honey book. A compilation set of proses and poetry put together by Adam Gasiewski and Emily Beck, a young couple who were students at Temple University in Philadelphia. The book even snatched the title as the #1 New Release in American Literature at one point. Yes, it was that big!
— Adam Gasiewski (@adam_gasiewski) November 6, 2017
I say they “put together” the book because here’s the catch; all of the proses and text are not written by them – They are all quoted from viners on the now defunct Vine.com.
Which may not seem like such a bad idea, you know, taking what silly thing we used to hear viners say or do and transpose them into this overly pretentious brand of bleh that Kaur has established. The whole thing reeks of parody genius, until you consider that these viners who came up with these memorable silly catchphrases, or were known for coming up with particular quotes were never credited, and much less so, never saw a single cent in this compilation which was dedicated to remembering and loving Vine.
They have since released a statement regarding the copyright issues of Milk & Vine, citing that “our book doesn’t infringe on any copyrights” for reasons that were not made entirely transparent to the public.
Copyright Statement for Milk and Vine: pic.twitter.com/eBokkFyxCi
— Emily Beck (@emiilybeck) November 9, 2017
Whether this does infringe any copyright laws is best left to experts on the matter. Though from truly an artistic standpoint, they have lost further credibility in their book and upcoming projects, provided they stand up to creative integrity in due future. What started out as an interesting parody book filled with potential, the play on the hammed up minimalistic style by Kaur, text that have very little depth ripped out of the mouth of viners of all people – the book is still here and available for purchase.
Two books with both two very different intents and purposes, both failing, in my opinion, in very different ways. Though if soaring sales are to be regarded as the criteria for success, what am I to really argue with that?