As a frequent reader of poetry, I’d like to begin with the bold claim that poetry is experiencing somewhat of an overt Renaissance. Despite pessimistic cries that poetry is well and truly dead, the struggling art form has found a new lease of life online. Since 2015, the way in which poetry is consumed and created has changed dramatically. The role of sharing sites, such as Instagram and Tumblr, have helped ensure that an increasing number of individuals are exposed to an era of social media poets.
In recent years, multitudes of people have ventured online to post their own poetry and utilise everything the web has to offer. A plethora of ‘Insta’ poets demonstrate that poetry not only isn’t dead, but has found a distinctive new way to thrive. These so-called modern day bards are named after the fact that they have received relative fame after building up their immense followings on social media.
One significant example of a new era of social media poets is native Canadian who goes by the alias, Atticus. Famous for both his short form poetry and his elusiveness, Atticus has built an immense following of 436,000 on Instagram who adore his work. Talking to Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, about the impact of social media, he has stated ‘there’s a huge resurgence of poetry and it’s because of social media. You’re introducing a generation of people to words and playing with words.’
Atticus’ success has manifested in his first debut poetry novel, Love Her Wild. Writing about the themes of love and life’s defining moments, his words are simple and elegant. “The way he talked of their dreams/ made her want to grab his hand / and run into tomorrow,” he writes. This poem, entitled ‘Run’, encapsulates the ‘essence’ of an ‘Insta’ poet. Of course, this is not to say that every single poem published online has to mimic this style. While Atticus favours an epigraph-like style, the term ‘anything goes’ is aptly applied to possibility of creating poetry. Online poets such as Jen Campbell, Anne Boyer and Christopher Poindexter all encompass different poetry styles.
Overall, the number of people engaged with social media on a daily basis is enormous and increasing at a steady rate. According to Business Insider, Instagram has as many as 700 million users as of April 2017. For a comparison, this is roughly a third of the entire population of the planet. The potential for engagement with new audiences is undoubtedly massive, demonstrating the power and influence of the site. Both Tumblr and YouTube also boast as many as 357 million and 1 billion followers, respectively. The presence of social media in our life has the power to infiltrate everything, so why would the consumption of poetry be any different?
Of course, to look at the success of the social media poets, we must look into the widespread perception that ‘poetry is dying.’ The once prominent form of cultural entertainment, dominated by the Shakespeares, the Tennysons and the Rossettis, has no doubt taken a hit. Once the rock stars of their day, the poets wielded significant influence and created vast legacies for themselves. Fast forward to the present, it is clear that poetry has lost the momentum it once had.
The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) seemingly confirms this notion – the number of Americans to have actively read a work of poetry at least once in the past year dropped from 17 percent to 6.7 percent between 1992 and 2012. While this study only is relevant to the United States up to 2012, it does indicate a telling international trend. Although fears about the death of poetry are grounded in hard evidence, the actual reality of so much more than that.
Undoubtedly, the emergence of Rupi Kaur as the most famed ‘Insta’ poet on the platform, offers further compelling evidence against the death of poetry. Her simple yet emotive verse poetry on diverse topics ranging from broken relationships to body image, has gained her adoration and support from as many as 1.5 million followers. If this isn’t indicative of her significance, then the unprecedented success of her 2015 debut collection, Milk and Honey, should be. As of April 2017, Kaur has sold over million copies and has frequented the New York Times bestseller list.
On the success of her first poetry collection, Kaur tells the Guardian that her ‘book would never have been published without social media […] it wasn’t even my vision. I was just posting stuff online just because it made me feel relieved.’ A quick browse of her Instagram account, @Rupikaur, reveals what has led to her poetry being published. Mainly in short truncated sentences and forgoing many literary devices often associated with the art form, the meaning of Kaur’s work is sharp and instant. In a mere few seconds, she can succinctly convey her emotions to her reader. Hand drawn illustrations, serving as visual metaphors, also accompany every poem. It is clear her poetry has resonated with millions of people, helped in part by the availability of social media.
Crucially, the work of both Kaur and Atticus all have one aspect in common – they are accessible. Sure, Kaur’s work may not be as the likes of say, Ezra Pound or WH Auden, but it does hold its own prestige. Literature, and poetry specifically, comes with its own elitist image which it has found hard to shake off. Whether this is overly complicated verse, random words in other languages or references and allegories to obscure elements, many are often put off by the trappings that poetry generally entails. In comparison, such ‘limited’ poetry that the ‘insta’ poets embody is accessible to people of all ages and doesn’t get lost in its own seriousness.
‘If you get these young people into poetry by short quote,’ says Atticus. ‘They start following poets and writing their own poetry.’ The simplicity of this concept is great – by introducing people to less intimidating forms of poetry, they are more likely to look for more complex. A lifelong love of poetry can be triggered by such simple words and the abundance of access increases this possibility. While no formal study into poetry in its modern-day form has yet to take place, there is hope that the damning statistics given by the SPPA will begin to reverse.
In a time where many despair over the social and political impact of social media, it is clear that the effect on the poetry industry is overwhelmingly positive. The Renaissance of the poetic art form is clear.