The Rise of the Insta Poet

Poetry in the last few decades has moreover become a less than popular profession and has certainly not been regarded as a medium in which one on can sustain oneself financially.

In fact, many people are quick to dismiss poets, chalking the sheer activity of poetry writing up to a sort of adolscence arrested development.

Novelist and poet Ben Lerner explains this best in his book “The ­Hatred of Poetry,” which explores specifically why poetry is so often loathed.

He writes, “If you are an adult foolish enough to tell another adult that you are (still!) a poet, they will often describe for you their falling away from poetry: I wrote it in high school; I dabbled in college. Almost never do they write it now. They will tell you they have a niece or nephew who writes poetry.”

What follows is a self-reckoning that one may be detached from one’s humanity since poetry is in essence an expression of the self, and one’s place in the world. “There is embarrassment for the poet, — couldn’t you get a real job and put your childish ways behind you? — but there is also embarrassment on the part of the non-poet because having to acknowledge one’s total alienation from poetry chafes against the early association of poem and self.”

More importantly, however, it is the high stakes of poetry-the expectations and demands of how a poem should make one feel-(which it inevitably can’t achieve) that leave people angry.

“This is one underlying reason why poetry is so often met with contempt rather than mere indifference, writes Mr Lerner, “and why it is periodically denounced as opposed to simply dismissed: most of us carry at least a weak sense of a correlation between poetry and human possibility that cannot be realized by poems. The poet by his very claim to be a maker of poems is therefore both an embarrassment and accusation.”

As hated as poetry may be, there has been a poetry resurgence like no other, bubbling up in social media right underneath the selfies and the food cataloguing. It’s a poetry more modern than the modernist poetry of T.S.Eliot, Whalt Whitman, Djuna Barnes and alike. At least the digital platform itself is. This poetry, Instagram Poetry aka Insta-Poetry, has slowly risen to the top of the charts and there are actual poets making a living off of their art.

Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur, is #1 on NYT’s best seller list of 2017 and has spent 38 weeks on the list under the Trade Fiction category.

Ms. Kaur is a 20-something, Punjab-sikh Canadian poet who reached notoriety on Tumblr and Instagram after battling with Instagram over a photo she had posted that portrayed her with a small menstruation leak. She argued, “I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be okay with a small leak” thus spotlighting what isn’t a secret: that Instagram is OK with the naturalism of naked women’s’ bodies, but nothing beyond that.

Nevertheless, Ms. Kaur’s youthful feminist awareness is a concurrent trend among popular insta poets, both male and female.

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Many Insta poets lack the restraint and poise that sophisticated scholars might expect from great poetry, and because of this, they also obviously run the risk of stirring much hatred and scorn, just as Mr. Lerner has demonstrated is possible.

However, the poems, in their emotional urgency, and condensed formats, do resonate with a larger young Instagram demographic who grapple with common themes, like personhood.

Nikita Gill, with 113K followers, is a perfect example of this genre. Her poem, “If He Truly Loves You,” demonstrates the simpleness and effectiveness of words packed into a single Instagram: “If he truly loves you/he will love you/when you are an ocean breeze/but also when you are a summer storm/you were not meant to be loved in parts/you were meant to be loved as a whole” 

Other widely popular insta-poet include Lang Leav, Tyler Knot Gregson, Atticus, Christopher Pointdexter, R.M. Drake, many of whom have published books since their rise on Instagram.

Tyler Gregson Knot’s latest book, “All Words Are Mine” has outsold the classic greats according to this NYT article. Mr. Knot’s book “recently hit No. 3 on Nielsen’s top 10 best-selling poetry titles, ahead of Dante, Homer, Seamus Heaney and Khalil Gibran.”

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The styles and formats of insta-poets vary greatly. Mr. Knot’s style is sometimes prose, sometimes haikus: “You have never had to steal my breath away/Somehow you have always managed to convince me to hand it over freely.”

Contrary, Atticus, who is a mystery man and has not been publicly identified, writes almost always in the same, haiku style: “I let you into/My soul/But wipe your feet at the door.

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Lang Leav, another best-selling insta-poet, predominantly writes poems that revolve around love and heartbreak. From her book, “Love and Misadventures:” “It was a question I had worn on my lips for days/like a loose thread on my favourite sweater I couldn’t resist pulling/despite knowing it could all unravel around me/“Do you love me?” I ask/In your hesitation I found my answer.”

With so much digital poetry diversity, who has time for hate?

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