Why Rupi Kaur and Her Peers Are the Most Popular Poets in the World

Like McKuen’s, Kaur’s work is often called “greeting-card verse,” but it would be a mistake to reduce her (or the bisexual, depressive McKuen) to that. Kaur writes movingly about immigration, domestic violence, sexual assault and other substantial subjects, though she follows quickly with self-empowerment affirmations to alleviate the sting. The same holds of Lovelace’s “The Princess Saves Herself in This One.” The boys acquit themselves worse — Gregson’s “Wildly Into the Dark” and Atticus’s “Love Her Wild” are loaded with sensitive-cowboy-mystic peacocking, monotonously mansplaining love to their stardust-kissed muses.

But it’s less the content than their plain conversational style that gets them dismissed as “not real poetry.” The Instapoets don’t do much for me aesthetically either: It’s often said of Ashbery that his poems actively resist paraphrase of their meanings, to slip from thought to thought like a dream, like music. These poets, on the other hand, print the paraphrase. But my tastes aren’t the point here. They’re those of a 20th-century leftover who has spent decades reading poems on pages. These poets’ directness suits their media, at their best disrupting never-ending streams of gossip, selfies and opinion-mongering with stark emotional clearings that aren’t entirely unlike the mental stillness and “othering” fostered by poetry’s traditional techniques.

They are also aimed at nontraditional readers, who may think of poetry as the literary equivalent of opera or ballet, a privileged-white-male establishment hostile to their interests. (And they’re only partly wrong.) Kaur has said her style grew in part out of her struggles when she was learning English after moving to Canada, wanting her work to be accessible to such readers. It was also shaped by her experience doing spoken-word performances, another populist branch of poetry that’s often slammed (pun intended) for its ignorance of…

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