instapoet

The moment I came across Milk and Honey was a definitive moment in my life; I realized how fascinated I was about the publishing industry. I read poetry in high school, analyzing form and meaning in Emily Dickinson poems or Shakespeare’s sonnets, but it was always so confusing to me. I often wondered why poets couldn’t just get to the point or describe their thoughts in metaphors that make some sort of sense within the first read. To my surprise, Rupi Kaur and this poetry book happened, the poetic phenomenon that changed the poetry community. The feeling was instant, ironic to what this new age in poetry publication is called: Instapoetry.

 

Instapoetry is an adaptation of traditional poetic ideals into a transformative Internet subgenre. Poets have turned to Instagram, a popular social media platform, to share excerpts of their work in hopes of publication. Instapoetry refutes traditional poetic forms, and instead, polarizes a new style that entwines art with literature. Molly McElwee, in an article for Gibraltar Magazine, shares that Instapoetry is the use of this “photo-sharing platform [giving] poetry a much-welcomed fresh feel… the poems are bite-size, they fit within the square Instagram frame; their font is carefully selected, an aesthetic extension of their work. And, when well done, the platform has skyrocketed amateur writers to the literary mainstream.” [1] Since Kaur’s arrival, it was as if poetry was culturally relevant again. According to Booknet Canada, Kaur continues to dominate all book sales across the world, where “for the second year in a row, unit sales in the poetry category increased significantly. [2] In 2016, poetry sales increases by 79% over 2015, and between 2016 and 2017 the units sold increased by another 154%.” [2] Andrews McMeel Publishing announced that Milk and Honey “sold more than one million copies in print after just over a year… and are currently in their 16th printing.” [3] In this age of new media revitalizing poetry, shaping the poetry publishing industry, what is the legitimacy of Instapoetry? Thus, in the scope of this essay, I strive to explore what Instapoetry means in publishing, and defend the relevancy of Instapoetry, analyzing how it saves the poetry community by counteracting conventional poetic norms.

 

Michael Warner, in his scholarly paper, “Publics and Counterpublics” foregrounds a crucial theory that helps explain how Instapoetry has been so successful and unstoppable. Warner explains that a public is self-organized, a “space of discourse organized by nothing other than discourse itself” and “the circularity is essential to the phenomenon.” [4] In order to create this circularity, there must be participants that contribute to the discourse, which in this case are the poets and the readers. Warner considers that “a public is never just a congeries of people… it must first of all have some way of organizing itself as a body, and of being addressed in discourse.” [4] To organize itself, the public is “a social place created by the reflexive circulation of discourse.” It is constantly interactive and linking social interpretation together because social networks are a collective effort and exists in relationships between all participants. Instapoets produce Instapoetry solely for the intention of the poems being read. Without the Instareader, the poems would mean nothing and would not be circulated. This has become an important criterion for the public sphere to function coherently. Moreover, Warner explains that “a public is poetic world-making.” The contributions to a public are often performative acts, that the engagement itself can transform and shape the public. A unique correlation exists between the public and the text. An example is the form in Instapoems that can be adapted and used in other discourses, like Kaur’s iconic line breaks inspiring the works of several new Instapoets: Atticus, Nikita Gill, Amanda Lovelace. Ultimately, it’s quite intriguing and comforting for Instapoets to put their work on 800 million and counting content- creator generated social network service as if a guarantee that there will be a certain readership if the right amount of tags and hashtags are used. Instapoetry will always be a public between the intersection of Instagram and the Poetry Community, and in order to have an “on-going life”, it must have the supporters that continue to produce and contribute to the discourse.

 

In midst of this digital technology storm, it is uncanny to believe that technology has no effect on books, reading, and publishing. Technology is a blessing and a curse. It strives to simplify our lives, making basic human tasks almost disappear by the robotic programming of completing a task within the touch of a button (i.e. meeting someone face to face versus a quick text). The introduction of eBooks led many people in the industry to believe that print publication would be dead; however, studies show that specifically in poetry, Canada had the greatest sales yet in 2016. [6] Accordingly, Andrews McNeel Publishing proves to be the most successful publishing house that understands the market of Instapoetry and uses it to their advantage, publishing “eleven of the top twenty best-selling poets last year.” [6]. Kirsty Melville, president of Andrews McNeel, explains that “as a publisher, we go with where the culture goes.” [6] She continues with stating that “the digital age has facilitated a connection between writers and readers. In addition, although these poets share their work online, publication in book form is also cherished. The book is one of the oldest, most successful, and most valued inventions for sharing ideas.” [6] It is as if Instapoetry acts as a complementary tool that revitalizes poetry genre in the publishing industry, where readers are compelled by these strong desires and interests after reading Instapoetry to do something about these feelings, to physically purchase the poetry book and contribute to the monetizing of poetry. Evidently, Instapoetry becomes a gateway drug that revives the public’s cultural interest in poetry, and by this inherent interest in poetry book sales, the poetry community lives on.

 

Why is Instapoetry hated on or seen as “a pop phenomenon with little connection to the literary world”? [7] Vinu Casper shares this fair and common critique on Instapoetry: “Poets who spend years honing their craft, carefully writing and rewriting every line, practicing their performance over and over before they take to stage, are being beaten to the punch by influencers with a steady social media presence and masses of followers. These so-called Instapoets get away with blanket statements and empty metaphors under the guise of poetry.” [5] She questions if these simple posts are more “for sake of engagement” as if a marketing ploy that schemes for likes or comment responses from Instagrammers instead of the poetry itself. Similarly, Tham Young, an English teacher critiques Instapoetry, calling it “fidget spinner poetry”, as if it demonstrates a millennial flaw. He suggests that millennials uphold short attention spans that make it harder to critically comprehend and analyze traditional works of poetry. [8] Instapoetry is then seen as laziness, that the incompetency to create a similar product of poetry based off of ancient standards is deemed as illegitimate or unworthy of the same value and praise. This furthers the generation gap within the poetic community, that the older traditionalist poets refuse to accept or learn to understand new styles of poetry. Instead, they turn this misunderstanding into hatred and exclusivity, a poetic culture war.

 

As a fellow Instapoet, I like to think that there are many reasons why Instapoetry is so favourable; an important one being that “they pack so much meaning into so little language.” [3]. They entwine “the internet’s love of an inspirational quote with artful typography and immediate share-ability.” [3]. One Instagram account called @Poets follow Kaur’s outburst of simplistic aesthetically pleasing visual/ phrases.  It features many poets that write one-liners/ one stanzas that sound like every day phrases or thoughts. An example is (insert image): “I aspire to be/ an old man/ with an old wife/ laughing at old jokes/ from a wild youth.” written by Atticus, a current popular Instapoet following the steps of Kaur. [9]

Or another that is simple: “you are in/ everything/ I see/” titled “six word poem – poets”. [10] As much as it sounds like everyday dialogue or thoughts, they are very relatable, shareable, “screenshot-able”, and “easy to recall if one is in need of an inspirational quote or late in the day mantra or an impulsive Saturday night tattoo.” [11]. They can be instantly felt and emoted, and if it is so easy to relate to them, it sparks the heavy desire to read more or read on; both that contribute to supporting poetry publishing. As well, Instapoetry becomes more accessible to the everyday reader as more contemporary themes are addressed: love, culture, feminism, gun violence, domestic violence, war, racism, LGBTQ, and other social justice topics. Perhaps it isn’t about replacing traditional works or forms, but using the current medium to foster the appropriate cultural relevance or representation to the era in which the new media poetry is produced. It’s an “innovative progression” [11], one that lures new readers into the inherent simple language in Instapoetry and understands deeper meanings about the life around them, all while using flowery language and poignant metaphors.

 

Whether it’s continuing to buy print poetry books in the store or reading online content, in the end, poetry is poetry; art is art. Who has the power to constitute what is right and what is wrong if arts and literature are subjective to the reader? In a world that becomes more and more complicated, isn’t it nice to come across poetry that can be simple yet make the reader feel an intense array of emotions? It’s not really different from older poets like Keats, Shakespeare, and Byron; Instapoets continue to “examine their present moment and turning that moment into art.” [11]. They lead a cultural revolution of introducing new, raw, emotional storytellers, while utilizing a simpler writing style, into the community. Sometimes I also find a hard time understanding how posts like “you are in/ everything/ I see.” can be seen as poetry, but perhaps there’s a poetic aesthetic to finding meaning in something so simple. It’s these wonders that continues our curiosities with poetry and makes us continue reading, scrolling.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPmXIbIj0qC/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

 

WORKS CITED

[1] McElwee, Molly. “INSTAPOETRY – The Age of Scrolling Literature.” The Gibraltar    Magazine, 25 Oct. 2017, thegibraltarmagazine.com/instapoetry-age-scrolling-literature/.

[2] Canada, Booknet. “Poetry Sales Increase Again in 2017.” BookNet Canada, Mar. 2018, www.booknetcanada.ca/press-room/2018/3/7/poetry-sales-increase-again-in-2017.

[3] Flood, Alison. “Poet Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey Sells More than Half a Million Copies.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 Sept. 2016, www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/13/poet-rupi-kaurs-milk-and-honey-sells-more-than-half-a-million-copies.

[4] Warner, Michael. “Publics and Counterpublics (abbreviated version).” Quarterly Journal of Speech 88.4 (2002): 413-25. Web. 20 Jan. 2017. <http://knowledgepublic.pbworks.com/f/ warnerPubCounterP.pdf>.

[5] Casper, Vinu. “Challenging the Insta Poet Community.” PSU Vanguard, 13 Apr. 2018, psuvanguard.com/challenging-the-insta-poet-community/.

[6] Maher, John. “Can Instagram Make Poems Sell Again?” PublishersWeekly.com, Feb. 2018, www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/75976- can-Instagram-make-poems-sell-again.html.

[7] Millner, Maggie. “Instapoets Prove Powerful in Print.” Poets & Writers, 2 Aug. 2018, www.pw.org/content/instapoets_prove_powerful_in_print.

[8] Gurtis, Alex. “Instapoetry – the Polarizing New Poetry Style That Is Making Poetry Relevant Again.” The Odyssey Online, 10 Jan. 2018, www.theodysseyonline.com/instapoetry.

[9] https://www.instagram.com/p/Bni6ktpgki-/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

[10] https://www.instagram.com/p/Bndd8SIg7Ei/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

[11] Miller, E. Ce. “We Need To Talk About Why People Hate ‘InstaPoets’ So Much – And Why They’re Wrong.” Bustle, Bustle, 31 July 2018, www.bustle.com/p/are-instapoets- destroying-the-art-form-reviving-it-a-defense-of-social-media-poetry-8530426.