Emily explores the rise in Instagram and spoken word poetry and the current debate over whether these forms count as poems.
I remember the first time I stumbled across Insta poet Rupi Kaur. Her period post (a picture of her blood-stained clothes and bed) had gone viral.
So viral, in fact, that Instagram removed it for being indecent and violating its community guidelines.
A brief delve into her Instagram account reveals excerpts of her world-renowned collection of poems Milk and Honey. These are deeply personal poems about her sexuality, femininity and culture.
Today her Instagram brandishes many videos of her performing her poetry. In my mind she is a hybrid of both a spoken word and Insta poet. If you Google Insta poet images of her work pop up.
But the truth is that Insta poets like Rupi Kaur aren’t always highly regarded, with some people believing her brief style of free verse and prose doesn’t qualify as true poetry.
“The rise of Insta poetry doesn’t signal the death of traditional poetry- it is the intertwinement of modern media and art.”
In an interview with Vogue earlier this year, Rupi Kaur explained her belief that the term Insta poet is often used to describe “lots of writers (published and unpublished) who are young women and whose readers are predominantly young women” and adds that it is often “used to invalidate and disempower”.
This belief rang true in a 2018 article in The Guardian, in which poet Rebecca Watts slammed not only Rupi Kaur but also Kate Tempest and Hollie McNish for “the open denigration of intellectual engagement and rejection of craft” that she attributes to the rise of the “cohort of young female poets”.
“If we begin to criticise the poets, rather than the style itself, it becomes a personal attack on female poets“
My concern with the degradation of this style of poetry is related to its association with “young female” poets, who are already facing obstacles in order to enter the industry.
If we begin to criticise the poets, rather than the style itself, it becomes a personal attack on female poets, and one that I find to be particularly tactless coming from Rebecca Watts.
The rise of Insta poetry doesn’t signal the death of traditional poetry- it is the intertwinement of modern media and art. A lot of people view the free verse style of Insta poetry as an inadequate form, with no technical structure of metre and rhyme.
In response to this criticism, many advocates of free verse poetry have pointed out that in order for poetry to evolve, we must embrace the emergent forms of free verse and prose poetry which have become icons of twenty-first century art.
Of course, I don’t expect everyone to love it, but I hope people can better appreciate Insta poetry and spoken word as forms of storytelling. There is something exhilarating about hearing poetry being performed, with its rhythm and emotion that brings the often biographical story to life.
Poetry reading in itself is indeed a performance. The poet seeks to portray a story that we may have read a hundred times but will never tire of.
Poetry readings are an experience that transcend the page, and modern media has allowed these readings to be shared with millions of audience members around the world, not just in the room.
“If poets can no longer progress on Instagram despite their huge following, what does this mean for the future of Insta poetry?”
Unfortunately, Instagram itself may not be a feasible platform for young poets to showcase their work for much longer. Famed for its accessibility and infamous use of the poetry hashtag, the social media site is an easy way to share poetry through affiliation without the need for a publisher.
Whilst #poetry currently boasts 33.9 million posts (some of my own included in this figure), the Financial Times has warned that the social platform’s algorithms are “commoditising Insta poetry” so that less of the audience is able to see the posts.
If Instagram’s algorithm were to hinder the distribution of an artist’s work it could be a step back for the progression of modern poetry.
The whole system of Insta poetry is reliant on social media connecting poets with their audiences. If poets can no longer progress on Instagram despite their huge following, what does this mean for the future of Insta poetry?
As a strong advocate for Insta poetry and spoken work poetry, and a writer of both, I have found a great deal of support within this creative community that I feel I would not have found by printing my poetry in a magazine.
Therefore, my advice for all of you dislikers is this: if you don’t like Insta poets, just unfollow the accounts and leave us to hashtag to our hearts’ content.
- Financial times: https://www.ft.com/content/7a84b216-6849-11e9-9adc-98bf1d35a056
- Rebecca Watts writing for The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/23/poetry-world-split-over-polemic-attacking-amateur-work-by-young-female-poets?fbclid=IwAR3TsZf1byysNztNqSipQICta4j3D989aQBuy–_DX5wpHyXti8bPnMymTE
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Featured image courtesy of Lauren Winson. Article image 1 courtesy of @rupikaur_ via Instagram. Article image 2 courtesy of Hollie McNish via YouTube. Article image 3 courtesy of @holliepoetry via Instagram.