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Is Insta-Poetry the Death of “Real” Poetry or a Rebirth?

As with anything concerning social media and the proliferation of an internet-centric culture, Insta-poetry is treated with the usual package deal approach of hate and love. Despite the abundant successes and enthusiastic fanbases of poets such as Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav, Amanda Lovelace and Yrsa Daley-Ward, a creeping sense of disapproval veins through it all. From writers to “poetry traditionalists” to casual readers, the assertions leveled at Insta-poetry ranges from constructive discourse to outright revilement.

Insta-poetry has been labeled as derivative, prosaic, unoriginal, insipid, stagnant in both meaning and artistry, and is often the subject of mockery on social media in the form of parodies and memes. Many critics accuse this Insta-poetry of being the product of the general sense of impatience that has pervaded society, as technology becomes more efficient and people begin to live by the seconds — Insta-poetry, allegedly, satisfies this constant restlessness with digestible content at the expense of being stimulating.

A satirical poem by Thom Young (courtesy of PBS)

Thom Young, a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, conducted a social experiment on Instagram after being confounded by the “pop poets” that somehow sprang up overnight, while those who labored arduously to hone their skills were left in the shadowed crannies. He created an account of his own for the sole purpose of posting banal poetry, and immediately he reported gaining thousands upon thousands of followers. This was back in 2017, and since then the popularity — and infamy — of this flavor of poetry has skyrocketed, while these doubts are being voiced with greater volume and graver earnestness.

To reach a more general consensus on how people see Insta-poetry, I asked those I know and received a variety of responses: Some referred to the vague definition of poetry and contended that since it was a boundless genre it shouldn’t be held accountable to social constructs. One relegated the transient minimalism to more of a saying or an aphorism, and another expanded on this comparison by attributing it to the “fake deep” aura some Insta-poetry has. More leniently, a friend debated that it was real to some extent and that writers might prefer it because it doesn’t require a brilliant wordsmith or hours of agonizing to craft.

Overall, it’s safe to conclude from my mini-survey that the stances on Insta-poetry reach far and wide; however, there is a panoply of variables and what-ifs that render Insta-poetry in murky depths.

Courtesy of Sandrachile. 

On the contrary, while critics will claim that Insta-poetry doesn’t deserve the same approbation as Dickinson, Poe and Whitman, advocates rebuff that it’s also unfair for anyone to judge another’s mode of creative expression, no matter how it’s executed and received. Furthermore, while it’s unfortunate that those who pour their training and their hearts into their art feel dismissed, the fever pitch seems to have adopted an accusing tone lately, raising another query: Why should people’s art be lessened and scoffed at just because they aren’t award-winning?

Posting poetry on an Instagram account is completely separate from pursuing a rigorous career in STEM, where standards are understandably oblique and there’s a high emphasis on skill. Despite this, Insta-poets experience heavy amounts of backlash and scrutiny as if they are expected to write in the perfect fashion. In an effort to be as transparent and authentic as possible, I reached out to a few poets on Instagram and asked them about their take on Insta-poetry and how it has affected them.

It’s a way to be able to relate to people and not feel alone. People might find it refreshing to be able to scroll through their timeline and see people be real about their feelings instead of posting constant highlights reels. It’s exciting that we’re able to use this form of art to comfort each other and even create friendships. — Nicole Rose

I came to find that poetry, in both the traditional and contemporary sense, is just about feeling. I think that’s what I love the most about Insta-poetry. It allows everyone to be a poet, dabble into the art, and tap into themselves to find anything … I’ve been able to dig deep down and write beautiful long pieces just from a one-to-two lined poem I’d post or read on Instagram. — Harper Nightingale

I believe Instagram users love Instagram poetry so much because of two things. One, it is a free form of entertainment no matter how quick or simple it may be. A simple square image can bring layers of thoughts for people. I also think they like it because it is possible for authors and artists to release pieces of work every single day. I appreciate the medium to share my thoughts but I also appreciate print in the ability to share my books. —April Hill

If just a few words can help a person better understand their own feelings, or see a different truth, or change a perspective, those words are worth remembering and sharing. I believe these snippets and excerpts still has the same desired effect of traditional poetry (just the delivery has evolved), so perhaps it’s not as different as critics say. What comes from the heart, touches the heart — so long as poets continue to share their genuine words with the world, the world will listen and we can continue connecting through shared emotions. — Arch Hades

Courtesy of Thought Catalog

Based on these statements, it’s clear that there are upsides to Insta-poetry in that the literary world has expanded its sphere of influence. Poetry, typically thought of as an elitist art form that only stuffy English majors dabbled in, is now mainstream and viral. Now, heavy amounts of annotations and head-scratching aren’t required to glean meaning from poetry as readers are able to empathize more efficiently and deeper. While some scoff at the colloquialism of Insta-poetry, others are viscerally impacted by the emotions Insta-poetry can transmit through only a few lines — something that pages and pages of poetry about an ancient mariner may not achieve so readily.

Insta-poetry may be the fruit of a restive, technologically-consumed society, but it may also be a counter against the vapidity of social media. Perhaps, it is in actuality an astute way of fighting back against the tide of redundant content that clogs Instagram, and it is utilizing social media to communicate sincerity.

Overall, I believe it all boils down to personal preference, like many parts of life. It’s alright to enjoy Insta-poetry despite its veneer of shallowness and brevity, and it’s alright to enjoy old-time poetry despite its reputation for superfluous pretension. Poetry is a versatile term, and everyone should have the freedom to stick with what calls to him or her best. This discussion of the merits and shortcomings of Insta-poetry will likely stay ongoing, but it can be summed up with this age-old maxim: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Photo Courtesy of Luke van Zyl

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