Poetry shared on Instagram – Instapoetry – has been ridiculed by some, but for millions of people it’s opening up the art form in ways that are meaningful, moving and motivational.
Poetry and poetry sales are on the rise. Statistics from the book sales monitor Neilsen Bookscan show that sale of poetry grew by just over 12 per cent last year. Two-thirds of buyers were younger than 34, and 41 per cent were aged 13 to 22, with teenage girls and young woman identified as the biggest consumers.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts and the US Census Bureau, 28 million Americans are reading poetry – the highest percentage of poetry readership in almost two decades.
I have loved poetry for a long time, and now the love of poetry has been passed on to my 16 year old daughter. It turns out though, that there is a particular type of poetry that she loves and is doing well: Instapoetry. Simply put, it’s poetry shared via the social network Instagram, a short-form work that combines words with an artful image and typography that is immediately shareable – and popular. According to Bookscan, 12 of the top 20 best-selling poets in 2015 were Insta-poets, and nearly half of poetry books sold in the US last year were written by these poets.
Christopher Poindexter has more than 300,000 Instagram followers and two successful books of poetry. RM Drake, or Robert Macias, is known for being reposted by the Kardashians and is the author of several bestsellers. Other notable names are Lang Leav, Nayyirah Waheed, Nikita Gill, Charly Cox, Tyler Knott Gregson, Amanda Lovelace and Warsan Shire.
We have plenty of copies of these Instapoet’s books in my home. I read them as well; some I find absolutely amazing, but some of the authors seem to have a hard time letting go of a past relationship. Entire poetry books are dedicated to their devastation, and honesty their books are exhausting to read. Maybe it’s because I’m not a teenager in high school, or because I’ve written my own poetry book, or my extensive knowledge of poets throughout history. Regardless of my personal feelings towards each author individually, there is something to be said about Instapoets.
Probably the most widely known poet in this area is Rupi Kaur, an Indian Canadian with millions of followers on Instagram. I had the chance to watch her perform this past summer at the GirlBoss Rally at UCLA. Rupi, in my opinion was one of the best guest speakers they had at the Rally. Her writing appeals to a huge audience of young woman who use Instagram, with its themes of self-esteem and empowerment. Kaur’s first collection, milk & honey, has sold over 3.5 million copies, stealing the position of the best selling poetry book from Homer’s The Odyssey and remaining in bestseller lists.
Rupi’s success probably stems from the fact that she focuses on things that really matter to her target audience. Like the poem about hairy legs (“the next time he / points out the / hair on your legs is / growing back remind / that boy your body / is not his home / he is a guest / warn him to / never outstep / his welcome again”) – seeing that for the first time must pretty much blow your mind. Womanhood is complicated, often a hostile planet, and she brings it right back down to Earth.
The content of Instapoetry may not appeal to everyone, but for its core audience there is a feeling of sincerity and feeling. Many of the poems read like motivational quotes, and the tone and vocabulary are reflective of the self-help movement. The language isn’t complex, but inspiring, and it’s for this reason that many people have found it to be a useful tool for wellbeing.
Rather than alienating or seeming elitist, there’s a sense of real connection through universal emotions. Audiences who might feel shut out from poetry ordinarily find something accessible and relevant, giving voice to feelings and experiences they may not be able to articulate themselves. Poetry therefore becomes something with which to fully engage, rather than something intimidating or remote.
The Instapoetry world is supportive of and welcoming to voices often marginalized in conventional publishing. Many poets repost each other’s work and promote their book releases, so Instagram poets who might not ordinarily thrive in the mainstream literary establishment have risen to prominence on their own. There are more women and LGBTQ+ individuals. The trend is democratic for writers and readers.
Not everyone is a fan, however. Hollie McNish’s work was criticized by poet Rebecca Watts for not being the work of a poet, but of a “personality”. Watt’s also said that Instagram poetry is amateurish and craft-less commercial stuff that is consumer driven. Many lept to Hollie’s defense, stating that poetry must adapt to the changing world. There were punk poets in the 1970’s, hip-hop poets in the 1980’s, and now we find ourselves in challenging times and poetry is responding to that.
The exposure that Instagram has brought to the genre is surely a good thing. When I visit my local bookstore the poetry section actually has a section and is steadily increasing in size. I’m even able to find poetry books by some of my favorite non-Instapoets like Maya Angelou, Billy Collins, and Walt Whitman.
Is the medium itself the interesting point? Perhaps the focus should be on the words themselves – words that are often inspiring and heartening, and provide a sense of hope and wellbeing for the reader. There’s a connection between reader and writer that has benefits for both.
The purpose of art is communication – human beings talking to other human beings about something important. If Instapoetry is doing this, then it is a success.
What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy Instapoetry? Let me know in the comments below.
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