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“home body” Cuts Through the Numbness

5 Stars

Cover art of "home body"
Cover art of "home body" By Courtesy of Andrews Mcmeel Publishing
By Nuri Bhuiyan, Crimson Staff Writer

“home body” is the newest collection from Rupi Kaur, the pioneer of social media poetry whose first collection “milk and honey” stole the position of best-selling poetry collection of all time from “The Odyssey.” Kaur communicates everyday experiences of womanhood, trauma, migration, love, loss, and self in the form of straightforward, minimalist poems accompanied by emotionally honest line sketches. Her latest release, “home body” is an organic continuation of her previous two works in style and subject material. Rather than being redundant, it is Kaur’s distinctive emphasis on the self that firmly grounds her poems, along with her deeper exploration of heavier material — like depression, anxiety, and self-hate — that provide more substance to undergird her characteristically lavish and radical affirmations. A deeper vulnerability, coupled with her poems’ famous but oft-ridiculed simplicity, creates an uncomplicated, powerful final product.

What sets “home body” apart from Kaur’s previous collections is how it seems to settle on an origin story for the human condition — on a source for all our problems and our joys: “my mind / my body / and i.” Most of her poems relate to these abstractions in some way. Pain is traced to each of them, like how the “mind keeps running off to dark corners / and coming back with reasons for / why i am not enough,” how one can feel “foreign” in one’s body, and how our tentative identities feed anxieties that “i’ll disappoint the people who are counting on me / that i’ll never learn how to be happy…” Kaur discusses them through other lenses, such as love, rest, and wakefulness. One of the purest joys in life comes from their synergy, embodied in the first poem of the book[:] “after feeling disconnected for so long / my mind and body are finally / coming back to each other / - home body.” By placing this sentiment at the very front and back cover of the book, Kaur literally bookends the collection with the mind-body-identity relationship, asserting it as critical to living fully.

Kaur’s verses use metaphors and similes that spatialize and give form to mind, body, and identity, helping to conceptualize how each plays a part in our emotions. She alternately characterizes these elements as objects, imprinted upon by our experiences, or as individual beings with their own sense of agency. For example, the poem “there are miracles in me / waiting to happen / i am never giving up on myself” poses the self as divine and also mysterious, consisting of unexplored portals. The poem “there is a conversation / happening inside you / pay deep attention / to what your inner world / is saying” makes one conscious of the different components that coexist to make up a person. Through this internal world-building and grandiose, celestial imagery, Kaur provides a compelling understanding of the human body that doesn’t just deserve to be loved, but demands it.

“home body” provides much-needed truth-telling in face of the events of the past year. Kaur has written about people of color and immigrants before, but fleshes out their stories in this collection with specific anecdotes such as one about an immigrant father who must “keep [his] head down” and “work until [his] bones become dust.” She weaves in some more targeted responses to the resurgence of Black Lives Matter like “no one on this planet / is in more denial / than the white man / who … / still thinks racism and sexism / and all the world’s pain don’t exist.” She writes about productivity anxiety, a concern on many people’s minds as quarantine and remote working make it difficult to focus. She discusses the failings of an economic system that equates our value with our production, sure to be well received by a millennial and Gen Z generation more and more willing to embrace anti-capitalism. These political poems balance out the personal and individualistic pieces, giving voice both to the broader social issues of our times and the intimate anxieties they feed.

In “home body,” Kaur sets up a holy trinity for a rich life — one of mind, body, and identity. She uses her accessible and relatable writing to directly enlighten the reader. She holds space for vast emotions and, at the same time, scatters bite-sized images and pieces of language that act like rafts for the reader, providing a way out of negative rabbit holes and into portals to self-love, community, and justice. In a society where so much is wrong, Kaur assures us that all salvation ultimately comes from ourselves. When we are open to the universes inside of us, there are no limits to what we, and our world, can be.

— Staff writer Nuri Bhuiyan can be reached at nuri.bhuiyan@thecrimson.com.

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