Recently I’ve fallen into I’d say quite an interesting pocket of YouTube. One in which people analyse and criticise Instagram poetry, or Instapoetry, for being bad, or just… not poetry. I’m finding these videos interesting because some of what’s being criticised is poetry that I have enjoyed in the past, and as someone who also writes poetry, I have been trying to find if any of the criticism towards others’ work could be applied to mine. Given that, I’ve also been trying to form my own opinion on Instapoetry, because I wonder whether I would have gotten as into writing it as I did, if it didn’t exist.
Social media is an interesting conundrum, because it has created a platform where anyone can be an artist, photographer, or poet, without ever having to prove so by being published, holding an exhibition, or creating such things for a living. Social media allows for people to give themselves a title such as a ‘poet’ simply by being someone who regularly posts poetry online. It makes it more accessible for the creator and for the consumer.
Because of this, Instapoetry has caused a resurgence in the popularity of poetry as a genre, and making it far more widely appreciated. But the question is… is it actually poetry?? Instapoetry is very different from traditional poetry, being that it is usually very short and quick to read, uses simple language and is easily digestible by lots of people, and doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to read or (as it would seem) write. These types of poems don’t tend to use complex language, interesting words or rhyme schemes, nor a lot of other writing techniques found in traditional poetry aside from the occasional cliche metaphor, which is where a lot of the criticism stems from. The fact that there is no distinctive rhythm or structure to the poems, often reading like could-be-tweets or streams of consciousness. Not to mention the fact that it just.. isn’t that deep.
But what makes a poem a poem? And is Instapoetry causing that definition to change? I find that most Instapoems still communicate emotions and sentiments that people can relate to but may not be able to put their finger on, or may not be able to express themselves. Even a very short poem with one or two lines can do this. And it creates a way for these feelings to be expressed where they otherwise couldn’t be. Given that poetry is such a fluid and fluctuating art form, what else would such writings be classified as? Ultimately it is still someone creating a piece of written word and expressing themselves, even if it is done so in a very simple way, therefore I think it still fits the definition of poetry even if it does so differently than we have previously known. Prior to Instapoetry, I feel like poetry was known by my generation (millennials, gen z, etc) as something everyone hated studying in class because it was difficult to understand, and we had to assign nonexistent meanings to such poems in useless essays. But now, it is something that the masses can enjoy, because it can be understood instantly.
I started writing poetry as a more ‘serious’ hobby when I was about 16, and also wrote poems throughout my childhood. I actually started writing before I knew what Instapoetry was, and before I had read any of it. The first poems I remember reading were by a girl called Erin Hanson, who is actually a very popular Instapoet, but whose work I discovered on Pinterest. Other than that, I was buying a lot of ‘modern poetry’ books and was surprised at how many of them there were since previously the only poetry I thought existed was that which I had studied in English class. But I had no idea that a lot of the poets I was reading had actually become popular on Instagram!
When I read Instapoet Rupi Kaur’s poetry (milk & honey), and Amanda Lovelace’s (the princess saves herself in this one), I remember reading it and not really understanding the hype. However I believe this is just because I couldn’t relate to it, and I can see how people who can relate, would definitely find a powerful connection to it. I have also read several books by r.h. sin, who is another popular Instapoet, and definitely enjoyed some of it, but not all. Same with another, called Atticus. But my favourite Instapoet’s work that I have read is by far Lang Leav’s. I love that she uses a rhyme scheme in her work, which makes it more interesting and satisfying to read, and I enjoy marvelling over the rhymes she creates, because it’s not as easy as it looks! Her work is quite different to the more widespread and ‘popular’ look and feel of Instapoetry, but I think it just goes to show that even within this sub-genre, it’s not all the same.
Again, I read most of this poetry in books and not on Instagram, but I feel it did create a gateway for me into reading poetry as well as writing it, and provided a starting point for me to start collecting inspiration for my own work. So while I didn’t start writing because of Instapoetry, I may not have done so quite as much if it weren’t for the easily accessible inspiration I found in it.
However, ultimately I think I’ve grown out of this type of simple, surface level poetry. Now, I gravitate towards poems that have a deeper meaning, can be interpreted several different ways, and takes multiple reads to be deciphered. And that’s not me being pretentious and trying to be deep, it’s just what I like, what inspires me, and what pushes me to be a better writer. My absolute favourite poet is E. E. Cummings. His word choice, language, and boundary pushing of the poetic form is truly inspiring. Another poet I really like is Charles Bukowski, and my favourite ‘modern’ poet is Savannah Brown, who I believe started out on YouTube doing spoken word!
Despite my sway towards more ‘complex’ poetry, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe Instapoetry has and deserves a place. And in spite of there being a lot of haters, just the sheer popularity of it and the rapid growth in people engaging in and writing poetry has to say something. It’s just a different type of poetry. I used to follow an Instagram account just called @poets which mostly just posted one or two line poems/quotes that I personally got bored of, but the page has over 2 million followers and is clearly enjoyed by many, which demonstrates the popularity of this genre! It all still does what poetry ultimately sets out to do which is to express feelings and ideas through the written word. While the lack of depth and complexity may be viewed as a negative by some people, it is a sure positive for others for whom poetry is now far more accessible and easier to relate to. Some people who like Instapoetry might not enjoy traditional poetry and vice versa, but that doesn’t negate the purpose of either. Similarly, poetry for children is much simpler and different to poetry for adults, but it still has a purpose and is targeting a particular audience: children!
Overall, I don’t think that Instapoetry deserves all the criticism and hate it gets. I believe it has and knows its purpose and isn’t trying to be anything beyond that. You wouldn’t criticise a romance novel for not having enough sci-fi in it, so I don’t think people should complain that Instapoetry isn’t complex or deep enough, when it never really tried to be. I say just let people enjoy what they enjoy and leave alone whatever doesn’t take your fancy. (I’m not going to lie though I definitely had a solid giggle at people roasting exceptionally bad Instapoetry)
To finish off, I thought it might be fitting for me to list a few poets from Instagram whose work I really enjoy 🙂