A Commentary on Instagram Poets
I post my poetry on Instagram, however I would not call myself an "Instapoet".
The trend of Instapoets is not only fascinating, but it is without a doubt revolutionizing contemporary poetry as we know it. It is bringing the genre back into the mainstream; it is exposing poetry to people who never would have read it otherwise because social media is the most powerful tool on the internet.
However, with great power comes great responsibility. And with something which has such influence, there are pros, but in my opinion, there are mostly cons. Let's start with the positives.
PRO: People are reading more poetry, therefore people are taking it more seriously.
Poetry is becoming less alienating. Awesome.
"The popularity of such poetry on social media 'demystifies this idea that poetry is some high, academic art of white men brooding in corners, trying to write poems that nobody understands,' says Rob Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, which appoints the U.S. poet laureate." — The Washington Post
This is great. I often don't share my own work with my friends or family just because I'm afraid they won't understand it or feel like it is "some high academic art" that is inaccessible or pretentious. What Instapoets are doing is shattering this ideal, making people more open-minded about the genre.
PRO: People are reading more poetry, therefore people are writing more poetry.
I am not just speculating. This is a fact. 28 million people read poetry last year. Would you have believed that? The thing is, we can't dispute the contribution of writers like Nikita Gill, Amanda Lovelace, and Rupi Kaur. This is their doing. Once they were able to write, they made it to the Bestselling shelves. Their faces were the front of bookstores. This made people read poetry. And, this will hopefully increase registration rates in universities for aspiring writers. Writing programs are a dying trend; they need revived, and this is a great start.
CON: People think Instapoets are what poetry is now; it gives the illusion of ease while simultaneously asserting the necessity to be confessional and controversial.
The above is not what I would consider poetry. It is a fortune cookie, at best. Contemporary writing, because of Instapoets, is rife with poetry of this nature. They are short, pathos drenched aphorisms which are confessional. Confessional poetry does not lend to a mature group of readers, as is the stereotype. This is the type of poetry I would associate with middle schoolers who are driven by angst and lack of worldly experience, but want to write their words on paper anyway. You should always be writing, don't get me wrong. But be critical, be discerning.
Alongside "poems" like this are overtly feminist works, for example. Though feminist poetry is something we need, it is hardly crafted with poetic intent—it is merely there to make a statement, to be controversial. Just because poetry is bringing up needed issues like racism, femininity, abuse, among others, it should not excuse lazy writing. In short, writers should not be praised just for bringing up these issues. Just because you write about it, doesn't mean it's good, no matter how many people are fooled by it just because of its message.
CON: Instapoets are changing the contemporary poetic canon.
This can take manifest in a few different ways. One is that poets who’ve experienced viral fame should be wary that book sales may become more important than the verses themselves. This is the nature of greed, and this could potentially yield even lazier writing once those big numbers become part of the poetic equation.
One of my peers in my MFA program illuminated me on something this week, as we discussed concerns with the current state of the publishing industry in regards to poetry. I stated I felt hopeless, that I would never have a chance because of the current climate. My poetry is more experimental, lyric, subtle. How could I, or any of my wonderfully talented friends who write in such an "avant garde" way in comparison to what's popular, ever stand a chance? These are legitimate concerns I have, and this is a definite con of Instapoets.
However, I would like to end this concern with a positive note: my peer encouraged me to think the opposite; that this is just the first step, "training wheels" if you will, to an ever-evolving future on the poetic publishing world. It takes one person to submit a manuscript that changes what the public wants. It takes one person's belief in them and the craft. So even if the artistic sphere isn't about what you are about, don't stop art-ing.
When I feel lost about my art, I always consider Kurt Vonnegut.
I read Instagram poets for a reason. To steal a phrase from one of my dear friends, Mary Cart, as an avid critic and reader, she sometimes engages with material she doesn't enjoy to have a "well-informed hatred". I think it is important if one wants to become a well-rounded media critic, they must know diversity. They need to be just as familiar with what they love as with what they don't.
There are numerous other reasons on both sides, but I am not here to write a book. Ultimately, what I think needs to considered is how the definitions of what constitutes contemporary poetry should always be shifting and evolving in order to keep writers stimulated into creating new, stylistic content; if writers weren't pushing boundaries and breaking definitions, form and style would never change. However, I think with that, we need to accept how much we need to emphasize critical analysis of new work (and old.) Just because it is new and popular does not make it good or even thoughtful. Just because it is new also doesn't mean it's poorly written or lazy. There are both sides to every coin.
Thanks for reading! Cheers!