I received one of Raur's books for my birthday, and the same book again from someone else for Christmas, from two well-intentioned people who assumed that the bestselling poetry book of the year would be the perfect gift for me, because they know I like poetry.
(Which is, BTW, also how, in past years, I have made the acquaintance of books by such poets as Mattie J.T. Stepanek
, which I found to be about as juvenile as one might expect a book written by a kid to be, plus a few Pulitzer prizewinners that I found impenetrable.)
Frankly, I like Raur's work much more than I have most years' poetry bestsellers.
Raur uses a lot of clichés. But so do popular songs. Clichés become clichés because they are powerful and memorable and meaningful to a lot of people. Orwell's essay on Kipling
gives substantial attention to this point, and not in a complimentary way: "A good bad poem is a graceful monument to the obvious," "records...some emotion which very nearly every human being can share," "is a vulgar thought vigorously expressed," etc. Orwell also mentioned the intersection of clichés and sentimentality in such popular works: "however sentimental it may be, its sentiment is ‘true’ sentiment in the sense that you are bound to find yourself thinking the thought it expresses sooner or later; and then, if you happen to know the poem, it will come back into your mind and seem better than it did before."
That said, a large part of Raur's success is precisely that she's NOT exploring "some emotion which very nearly every human being can share." She is focusing on gender and culture-specific experiences familiar to many women and minorities (and other used and abused people), who may not have seen such parts of their own lives represented in literature before.
You and I have. Many poets these days are writing about "edgy" topics and minority experiences. But they tend to write mainly for a highbrow audience, which is regarded by many poets as the only audience that really counts. Raur is writing about these things in a way actually designed to be accessible to people like her own young, brown, female, first-person narrator, rather than just to connoisseurs of literature (for whom imagining themselves as young, brown, and/or female may be just an exotic and somewhat unpleasant vacation, rather than a lived reality).
Most poetry--even here at Eratosphere--is directed to a fairly limited and erudite audience, who won't need footnotes to catch clever classical allusions, recognize and appreciate arcane forms, etc. (Look how insulted some readers get if we have the temerity to give them a footnote that they didn't need.)
But the over-educated are not the only section of humanity that needs what poetry can offer.
In writing about traumatic personal events that many others have endured, Raur is giving a voice to the voiceless. True, the harrowing nature of the content sometimes--okay, often--overwhelms the craft. But at least she's actually speaking about these things in a way that others find meaningful, which is more than I've managed to do with all my careful craft and avoidance of sentimentality.
So good for her. I'm sincerely glad that she's reaching an appreciative audience--one that, by the way, she actually worked very hard to cultivate, all by herself, through years of posting social media content that real people found accessible and relevant to their own lives.
Raur built a huge social media following before she published her first poetry book, and therefore had a ready-made market. Yes, I know, there may be some sour grapes because that's not the way most of us poets do it. Most of us spend years honing our craft and carefully placing our poems in this and that journal, and we only think about building a fan base after we finally publish a book, and suddenly realize just how much space the unsold ones will be taking up if we can't manage to unload them at readings and such.
But the spotlight that Raur is getting is not taking any attention from poets that I enjoy more. It's not as if those poets would be getting marketed to that wider demographic if Raur weren't getting such buzz right now.