Instagram is known for many things: filtered selfies, health gurus, hashtags, and perhaps surprisingly a vast collection of writing. “Instapoetry?” the academics scoff. “Instapoetry!” the digital generation proclaims. Well, what exactly are these musings in the spotlight of scrutiny and adoration?
Poetry on Instagram is characterized by simplistic backgrounds and typically consists of three to five lines (34th Street). Along with being aesthetically pleasing, instapoetry tends to focus on mental health, romance, feminism, sexuality, and domestic violence (Study Break). The most notable figure in the realm of instapoetry is undeniably Rupi Kaur. Her poems on heartbreak and womanhood have become a sensation, earning her a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Racking up millions of followers on Instagram and publishing wildly successful collections, she sits like a queen on top of the literary world. In her work, Kaur utilizes simple language and comprehensible themes. This technique propelled her to widespread fame allowing her to even outsell The Odessy, which has been a classic for thousands of years (The Cut). However, along with much love, she has also received quite a bit of ridicule.
After Kaur’s Milk and Honey collection was released, many took to the internet and created nonsensical, “poems” in the same format. A trend even emerged of writing quotes from famous vines in Kaur’s style. The trend was so popular that a parody of Milk and Honey titled Milk and Vine was released. Due to the support of sarcastic Twitter users across the world Milk and Vine, a 74-page saga of the internet’s most beloved seven-second clips and a few poorly drawn sketches skyrocketed to Amazon’s No.1 best-selling book (34th Street).
Jokes aside, professional writers are less than pleased. Many argue the success of instapoetry can be attributed to its accessibility and marketable nature, rather than containing imaginative material. It’s easy to digest and throws out any sort of rhythmic rules or elegant narratives that notable past poets used. Rebecca Watts, a poetry critic, described instapoetry as a “complete rejection of complexity, subtlety, and eloquence” (Vice). Writers that have worked for years if not decades perfecting their craft, feel outraged that small snippets of sentences on the web have a far greater influence than what critics would consider “real poetry” (Study Breaks).
Despite its numerous shortcomings, instapoetry certainly cannot be summed up as bad. In 2012 fewer than 7% of Americans reported reading poetry. Now that number is up to 28%, the highest in two decades (Study Breaks). This dramatic rise in interest can be directly correlated to the rise of instapoets. Unlike the complicated metaphors and impossible-to-decipher-imagery of the poems introduced to us in educational institutions, instapoetry is concise and luminous. It has opened the door for people who previously couldn’t access the writing style such as women and people of color, granting them the ability to connect to an audience (InsideHook). Jen Beka, the President & Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, agrees with this perspective. Beka noted in a statement “So many of the critiques of poetry on social media are about how poetry shouldn’t be performative, or how social media has made poetry too simple…but the comparisons aren’t helpful. This is a community of energized, creative young people creating and expressing, and that is of unbelievable importance, and overwhelmingly positive for the culture at large, particularly in this time” (InsideHook).
Instagram poetry may not possess the dignified, intellectual appeal of writers from the past century, but it has created a resurgence of interest in poetry; something that has often been sustained by the reliable “snobbish intellectual” culture. Most importantly, poetry is back in the hands of young people who have a desire to create awareness and change. Although Shakespeare may not have approved, this thriving new poetic landscape demonstrates, that all things, even something we would not expect-must always evolve or face death.