This article was written by Anna Spirochova.
Most of us have seen the Netflix series Riverdale. Whether you randomly came across it during one of your lazy late-night Netflix browsing sessions or you’ve seen it from the beginning because you couldn’t miss Cole Sprouse’s comeback – we have all heard of Riverdale. Most of us have also heard of Lili Reinhart – the shining star of the show, the advocate for natural beauty and a mysterious, secretive celebrity. Completely unknown before her outbreak in Riverdale, Reinhart has gained a huge following due to the show. In August, Reinhart posted a photo of her boyfriend, Cole Sprouse, and in the description, attached a short poem for him: “I tried to find a poem/that I could send to you./Because my words were failing me./But I searched and found nothing that did you justice./All of these love poems can’t get it right./No one else’s words could ever fit./They haven’t known the fortune it is to love you.”
In early October 2019, she announced a book of her poetry titled Swimming Lessons to come out in May of 2020. The book was described as being “bite-size yet profound” and will feature “illustrations alongside poems”. Rings a bell? Yeah, I know, me too. I must’ve seen that somewhere before.
Before I make any judgments, I need to address a really important portion – Lili’s long-lasting love for poetry. She has been writing poetry ever since she was a teen suffering from mental illness, experiencing young love and her growing fame. Her poetry then and now often still reflects these themes: “His voice is the only music I need to hear”. “She becomes the black swan when she drinks”. All of these themes can be found on her minimalist Tumblr page devoted to posting some of her poetry.
Reinhart has been active on the page since 2011 and first shared some of her poems in 2017, her writing being described as “cryptic” and “idyllic” by fans. When Reinhart’s not writing poetry or busying herself with Riverdale, she makes sure to expand on the aforementioned themes by publicly speaking about them. She gave a speech at a Glamour convention late last year talking about her problems with body image. The speech was essentially about how natural beauty and imperfections should be preserved rather than altered or tailored. I mean, it’s great that she’s raising awareness about body dysmorphia and encourages her young fan base to be more confident, but that is kind of overshadowed when she begins to talk critically about those who do decide to change something about themselves in pursuit of said confidence. What if I’m insanely insecure about my nose and a nose job would increase my confidence? Do I just stay insecure for the rest of my life? The message is very twisted and almost seems manipulative, considering her influence, as she is essentially giving her teen fans imperative lectures on morality. But where’s the freedom in that? Post whatever you want on social media. Get a nose job if you want to. Who am I to tell you how you should look or how you present yourself? Although I do appreciate the effort she has made to normalize natural beauty and to boost the confidence of those with insecurities, the message gets kind of twisted. My fear is that Swimming Lessons could appear to be something similar – a maze of flawed messages delivered straight to the minds of the impressionable reader.
But I digress, my main focus is her poetry collection, not criticizing her personal opinions and values. I know what you’re thinking: How can you already denounce the book when it hasn’t even come out yet? And you’re right, I can’t really. However, I have read enough of her work by now and I can safely say that my expectations are not too high.
Swimming Lessons will most certainly be another prime example of a genre called “instapoetry”. You may nor may not have heard of this newly established term, however, you have certainly heard of Rupi Kaur’s books Milk and Honey or The Sun and Her Flowers which essentially started this genre. They consist of simple, short and aesthetically pleasing verses that are very attractive to the eye as they are accompanied by lined artwork. It has received immense praise all around the world and is extremely popular. However, it might be a good idea to think twice before applauding it. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think short poetry is bad at all. Poetry isn’t good because it’s complex, but it also isn’t good cause it’s simple – that is the reader’s choice.
However, Kaur’s poetry, for example, is mostly underdeveloped and misses meaning (“stay/i whispered/as you/shut the door behind you”). Poetry is being, like everything else, simplified to be more digestible and appealing to a wider demographic. This new wave makes classical poetry look unnecessary and undesirable when in actuality it is not. Classical poetry is the foundation of all modern poetry and a part of literature that should be respected rather than overlooked. But I do have respect for Kaur, she is a self-made successful woman of color who did not come from a place of privilege. Although her work might not appeal to me, I still respect the way she built herself up and created a career and a name for herself. Lili Reinhart, however, is very different. She was given a career by being on a Hollywood production TV show for kids and is now milking every last penny from her sudden fame with minimal effort.
But I know that Swimming Lessons will top the charts in no time (in fact it already has with pre-orders) and will be everywhere for a couple of weeks. View it as the second coming of Rupi Kaur if you will. The poems will be short, simple and most importantly, Instagrammable (even MTV says it “should be good for the ‘gram”). It will be extremely readable and easy, and you will get a rewarding feeling that you are exploring different types of literature. Your parents will pay their respected $20 for you to read some “poetry” and all will be well. Enjoying reading Swimming Lessons, I’ll be in the corner drowning in the fear of my own future with Lili right next to me, drowning in your parents’ cash.
Anna Spirochova is a 17-year-old writer from Prague, Czech Republic. She is the editor-in-chief of her school’s literary magazine and is interested in poetry, politics, cultural trends and the world of publishing.
Featured image via People