Are Instagram Poets Actually Poets?

April 25, 2019 | 1

Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur and Atticus have been polarizing forces in the literary world: on the one hand, they have millions of followers (and sell books in similar numbers); on the other, they tend to ignore existing poetic traditions, and pretty much everything else that print poets consider essential to the genre. So, is what they write really poetry? And according to whom? For the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog, poet and scholar Timothy Yu considers in greater depth the significance of these Instagram poets in the larger world(s) of contemporary poetry and writing, “It’s very easy to respond, as many have, by dismissing [Instagram poets] as ‘not real poets’ who pander to untutored readers. But isn’t there also a tinge of jealousy in our response? A sense that our work and the work of our peers should be recognized, and rewarded, by a larger audience? And an uncomfortable awareness of how small and closed our ‘actual’ poetry world can sometimes seem?”

is a staff writer for The Millions. Born and raised in New York, she now lives in the Midwest, where she is a PhD student in American literature.

One comment:

  1. But hasn’t there always been this caliber of poet, self-publishing simple, feel-good work, often with little black-line illustrations? Second-hand bookstores are full of them, many from the 60s and 70s of the last century, and all at about this level of craft. Self-publishing is at least as old as Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, and, in a narrow sense, Emily Dickinson, who put the “self” into self-publishing with her brilliant “fascicles.” I think they would approve the method, at least. Being a lovely, mediagenic young presence sure doesn’t hurt, as the poem painted onto her bare back will attest.

    At any given moment, there are scores and scores of folks feverishly trying to publish poetry, even in the “quality” venues, and at any given moment only a teeny, tiny, nano-sized portion are truly interesting, never mind great. But they are of the moment and, for whatever reason, they speak to people right now, especially young people for whom sentiments like, “the sun will rise again tomorrow” and “i do not need you to fill the empty parts of me i want to be full on my own” are apparently new and breath-taking. (I may have mis-quoted). For whom the lack of punctuation is a novel and ground-breaking innovation. The author’s beauty and glamor, paired with her good will and apparent sincerity, are the perfect byte-sized poetry morsel for today’s busy young’uns.

    Hey, I read Kahlil Gibran and Sara Teasdale as a kid, thinking them profound, which they briefly were, since it was all new to me. Then I grew up, but I don’t regret the trajectory of choices that inform my mature tastes. So I can’t begrudge the kids their own Gibrans and Mckuens. And I like to think that today’s equivalent poets offer a simple, positive messaging to confused and miserable adolescents, whatever their chronological age. Not a bad thing at all.

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