The rise of Instagram poetry certainly didn’t happen quietly. Becoming the bone of much contention, the worlds of social media and literature collided. Characterised by stripped back verse and hand-drawn illustrations, ‘Instapoetry’, as it is sometimes referred to, has reached an audience with which the likes of Auden and Keats fail to engage. With the most popular poets reaching an audience of millions, publishing on Instagram gives a platform for both new and seasoned writers to experiment and publish their own work. However, with many neglecting to even regard Instapoets as ‘real poets’, their position within the world of literature, and society as a whole, is certainly not without judgement.
Instapoetry’s popularity is largely down to its broad accessibility. It can be read and written by anyone. There is no rule book; it demands only for the poet to write what they feel. ‘Feeling’ is one of the greatest distinctions between classic works of poetry and Instapoetry, with Instapoetry mainly centred around self-reflection and reclaiming one’s self. This, partnered with the anonymity that social media can provide, has become the winning combination for thousands of new Instapoets. This includes Sian Wilmot (@srwpoetry), who writes under the initialisation s.r.w and gets hundreds of likes on poetry posts as simple as “i hope you know/ that you are the sun,/ even on days when nobody/ is in your orbit.”
She said: “Writing for me was a way to express the words I couldn’t say out loud – I’ve always been anxious and shy and not very good at speaking or articulating words out loud, so writing them down seemed like the only option for me to get my thoughts out.”
The anonymity of the internet empowers deeply personal writing, and the online space allows for immediate feedback on their work with a simple like, comment, or follow. For many, writing poetry to be published on Instagram is a cathartic experience and an act of self-care.
Wilmot’s page is a classic example of Instapoetry: poems with lowercase letters and concise stanzas, artfully curated in a recognisable format that is both easy and pleasing to read. However, this typical stylisation has become Instapoetry’s greatest criticism. Arguably written more like epigrams than verse, Instapoetry has become subject to relentless ridicule for its allegedly shallow aphorisms and clichéd subject matter.
While Wilmot has attained over 5,000 followers, providing her with an audience to sell ‘poetry postcards’ to via her Esty page, others have captured followings into the millions – an audience sizable enough to secure book deals. It has been this transition of Instapoetry from digital to print which has garnered the most heat.
Rupi Kaur is certainly the most famous Instapoet in regards to audience size, having attained 3.7 million Instagram followers. She is the author of two poetry collections, including 2014’s New York Times Best Seller, Milk and Honey. From an initial glance at her Instagram account, you could easily mistake the 26-year-old for a fashion influencer: beautiful images of Kaur in elegant outfits fill her page, yet alternating between these are her short poems, often accompanied by simple illustrations. One recent poem simply reads: “the irony of loneliness/is that we all feel it/at the same time.”
However, Kaur’s unique rise to fame has put her work in the firing line. Her work is often used as an example in the criticism of Instapoetry’s encroachment on market space formerly reserved for ‘classic’ poetry. Yet neither Kaur nor the form of Instapoetry is trying to compete with the skill and nuance of classic poetry. It is an entity of its own, a new and exciting art form.
The poetic canon has consistently been dominated by white men, so this new movement of poetry allows people to celebrate their own identities, actively making room for diverse voices. Kaur, an Indian-born Canadian poet, is known for writing about her racial identity: from unyielding eyebrows in Unibrow to the colour of her skin (“the colour of the earth,” she says in multiple poems), her poetry provides a place for her to reclaim herself as a “beautiful brown girl.”
Yet, while Kaur has become a recognisable figure, many Instapoets prefer to utilise the anonymity that comes with such territory. One such account is @lonely.penguin (over 36k followers), whose simple, type-written posts are distinctly non-distinct. They said that by sharing their poetry they have been able to express and reflect on private problems in a public space without feeling scared of judgement:
“I started writing after going through a very tough time in my life some years ago and I started sharing my stuff when a friend (who is a psychologist) suggested I share them to the world on social media and see if I could connect with similar like-minded people. What a lovely safe haven it has been for me.
“Now I write because I have truly found a love for it. It is very liberating and so cathartic.”
The community that comes with Instagram poetry is undeniably an incredible collective to be a part of. The level of support which comes from such a close network of people is a far cry from the rhetoric of Instagram as a damaging tool. With a place that facilitates you both artistically and pastorally, there is an obvious reason why Instagram poetry is so enamoured.
Featured image: Top, left to right: @bysampayne, @jusmun, @lonely.penguin, @quarterlifepoetry and @robinwpoetry. Bottom, left to right: @marya.layth (art by kelletteworks), @srwpoetry, @cgcpoems, @marya.layth (art by morningaltruist) and @lonely.penguin.