Happy New Year! I’m back to share more poetry musings with you.
The poetry world looks a lot different today than it did even 5 years ago. Not that long ago, sales of poetry books were falling fast and interest in the genre wasn’t what it had been in the past. Then came Instagram and Instagram poetry. Now poetry sales are growing each year and books from Instagram poets consistently become best sellers. There are entire publishing presses and agents who are devoted to finding up and coming poets on Instagram and turning them into published authors. But even though poetry is booming, some folks feel a way about Instagram poetry claiming it isn’t real poetry. So that is what I wanted to talk about here.
You can check out the video to accompany this blog post here.
So to start, I want to make clear the difference between a poet who is on Instagram, and Instagram poets and their poetry. A poet who uses Instagram is similar to a musician who uses Instagram, the majority of their work happens offline. So for example, the majority of their poetry can be found in books, journals, anthologies, or something like that. Instagram poets use the platform as the primary way to access their work. That isn’t to say it’s all one way or another, but generally, those are the differences.
The best-known example of an Instagram poet is probably Rupi Kaur. After growing a large audience for her poetry on Instagram, she went on to publish two books and perform her work around the world. Her first book, milk + honey has sold over 3 million copies. I actually own it, and I like a lot of the poems in it. Her work is characterized by having a few short lines with lots of enjambment, usually accompanied by a hand-drawn illustration. Her writing addresses themes of womanhood, love, the immigrant experience, and body image to name just a few.
Why do people choose Instagram to showcase their work?
It is hard to get published and don’t let anyone tell you any different. I have been writing and sharing my poetry for years and I’ve only just started to have my work published. There are thousands of poets and only a handful of poetry magazines or publishers. Most poets will follow a similar path toward publishing their first collection: they will study poetry at a university level or they will live in a literary hub like London or New York, they will be published in a few journals or magazines, maybe they will have a chapbook/ pamphlet published by a smaller press in their area, and then, after all of that, they might go on to have a collection published through a larger publisher or imprint or one of the poetry specific publishers in the UK or the US.
Instagram disrupts all that. People can post on Instagram without any formal training or participation in the poetry world. Anyone with internet access and an email address can share their poetry and grow a global audience regardless of where they live. Instagram poets are building a brand around their work. They are able to control how their work is presented, they can connect with their readers directly and can keep the profits from any merch or brand deals they do. Traditionally, poets have day jobs, but with a big enough following, the new Instagram poets are able to become professional poets full time.
What are some of the cons/ negatives of Instagram poetry?
The reigning argument against Instagram poetry is that it isn’t actually poetry because it doesn’t have the familiar structure, techniques, or craft elements common in poetry. The line breaks in an Instagram poem can seem a little random like the author was loose with the return key. As most Instagram poetry deals in themes of love and overcoming life’s challenges, it can read more like motivational posters or can seem like it is pandering to readers by speaking to life situations so general that everyone could connect. It’s fake deep, and kinda self-helpy.
Often the work hasn’t been edited which could be understood as a sign of authenticity, but can also make the work seem sloppy and carelessly presented. It feels like these poets are cheating because some are able to grow an audience of thousands in short periods of time, posting only one or two lines of fairly straightforward work with the occasional hand-drawn illustration or stock photo. For folks on the more traditional path or who, like me, labor over every word and its placement, it can seem like Instagram poets are skipping through the process where everyone else is stumbling.
I feel about Instagram poetry the way I feel about all other genres of poetry: some of it is great and a lot of it is garbage. This is the case with music, fiction, art, etc. There is too much poetry out there for me to ever be able to read all of it so I have had to come up with a few guidelines around what I like. Humans do this with everything. There is a lot of Instagram poetry that I don’t like, but there is a lot of poetry offline that I also don’t like.
Instagram poetry is accessible. It is usually easy to understand where other poetry can be abstracted and academic in tone. The whole reason why I started making videos and writing about the things I’ve learned about poetry is to hopefully give some information that can make poetry more fun and easier to read. I want people to find and love poetry. I think that there is a poem out there for everyone. If people feel drawn to reading and writing poetry because of something they came across on Instagram then I think that is a positive thing.
The publishing industry is hard to break into, especially if you are a young person, or a person of color, or if your poetry deals heavily in LGBTQ or disabled experiences, and so much more. Instagram and social media, in general, is great way to get poetry in front of others without having to navigate a system that was not made for everyone to participate in it. I think that is positive too.
How do you feel about Instagram poetry and Instapoets? I would love to hear about any of your favorites!
Here are some of my reference articles if you are interested in this topic: