Though you hear murmurs in the wind that no-one reads anymore, characters at the pub who adore chit chat and casual conversations will also exclaim poetry especially, is a dead form of expression. These remarks tend to be ignorant and as hollow as calling a bunch of left-wing millennials snowflakes. The fear from the mouths of traditionalists, especially when it comes to poetry is not only ignorant, it’s actually untrue. Well, depending on what you class as poetry.
With the book market set to go above 2 billion in 2017, and poetry sales increasing in its sales of over 50% in four years, with a 13% increase just in 2017, who even is reading this poetry? It may just be the snowflakes.
“Instagram poetry” – shoutout to its predecessor Tumblr and Pinterest poetry too – has become the kid on the literary block to cause a controversial debate. With the likes of poets such as Rupi Kaur, Nayyirah Waheed, Atticus and many more leading the way. Passing through our social media apps and into their publisher’s bank accounts, these new-age wordsmiths are gaining attention by the work of a few lines. A string of words, a captivating sense, a limited green juice concoction instead of a buffet of meanings.
When asking and looking around poetry circles, it felt as though there was a divide on how many felt about this form of contemporary poetry. Some didn’t class it as “real poetry” whilst others were creating, uploading and sharing it. So does Instagram poetry suffice as poetry or are we getting watered down versions of what poetry is supposed to be? Would Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson, Hardy and Blake stir in their graves or do we simply not care anymore?
By speaking to spoken word poet and activist Lisa Luxx on her thoughts on Instagram poetry, Luxx explains that “It has become a genre of its own”. And maybe what the collective frustration towards Instagram poetry is what we assume poetry to be in the first place. “There just seems to be an easiness with [Instagram] poetry, maybe in our heads we’ve had this idea that poetry should take time, it should be poured over, you have to know the details and tools which is why possibly, this kind of poetry is freeing”.
The author of “The 4th Brain”, a poetry collection on the relationship between technology and nature, defined what the difference between her poetry and say, contemporary poetry such as Instagram poetry is. Luxx explains “It’s about freedoms and different freedoms. Poetry is a way to find different freedoms. My poetry is spiritual activism, there is a purpose to it and it’s not just to reflect myself but to reflect others within myself. It’s a communal wake up – we are all to wake up together.
If we’re talking about the ocean of poetry – I’m all for the shore – laps over other cultural outputs. Instagram poetry is quick and doesn’t take long to decipher. It’s for a reaction thus why it’s easily relatable.”
It’s this accessibility, Jemima Khalli states, that allows more people to enjoy poetry. It’s not for the elite anymore, men from closed off bourgeois circles, “the highly intellectual lardy da people... it’s to the point. No faffing around”.
Not a fan of purple prose poetry, author of poetry book Lands and who could be seen as an ‘Instagram poet’, Khalli describes her poetry to be “quite minimalist and stripped back”. Though growing up being encouraged to read, Khalli recalls not wanting to study poetry due to feeling as if it was “above me., I wanted to challenge the stereotype of poetry”.
When conversing about the pessimism towards Instagram poetry, Khalli explains the double negative. “People see a poem and maybe because it’s short and succinct they think a lot of work and effort hasn’t gone into it. They don’t relate to the few lines and then on top of that it’s on Instagram with thousands of likes which people already dislike and are negative about. It’s moving with the times, it’s a vehicle for championing such amazing poetry.”
Khalli hastens to add however, “Something can be short and shit and something can be short and powerful. Instead of looking at the themes it uncovers, and the skill in choosing and being selective with words – to give a reader a certain feeling – that’s what I call my poems: feelings, we may share the same form on Instagram but we do not all talk about the same things. People choose to be sceptical.”
Maybe the reason why Instagram poetry is being dismissed as ‘poetry’ is not just because it’s online but because there is this democratic idea that anyone can do it and that there is no talent or technique in the formation and turn of the words. As so much of Instagram poetry is about stirring an emotion within you immediately, this burst of feeling becomes synonymous with an image that the writer has simply sat there and inspiration has erupted which then manifests into a few lines before the writer goes off with their day. In an age where many glamourise the struggle of working in the arts, and the struggle is real, could it be that our problem with Instagram poetry is that we think it’s an easy bish-bosh job to do?
Coincidentally, both Luxx and Khalli state how they couldn’t write each other’s type of poetry. The digitalised presentation of an Instagram poem misleads the reader into thinking the construction of this format is quick and easy. The labour only to be recognised in a poem pages and pages long. The latter explicitly asks you to explore for meaning whereas the first can be taken for face value - if you’re low on time.
But there is a large upside to Instagram poetry – or poetry if we were to call it in layman’s terms. This form may be what makes people interested in a range of poetry and lets people’s minds roam in unknown reading territories. Poetry hasn’t been for the mainstream in many decades, the immediacy of having it pop up as an Instagram post or tweet allows this shift to happen. It stops people from saying they don’t like poetry when frankly, as they are reading it on their phones, they do.
Khalli proposes readers stop looking at the form and instead, the content. “You need to dive into the words even if there are a few on the page”.
Words by Tahmina Begum