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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Fine Arts

Instagram poets catapult dying art to one of today’s hottest trends

CoogSlam member, who goes by Deo, shared his works at an open mic night last Tuesday with the open audience. l Photo by Billion Tekleab/The Cougar

The rise of social media has changed the way we communicate and consume content, shaking up the foundations of an age-old literary art form. Social media has revitalized the lifeblood of the poetry genre, as Instapoets with thousands of followers are romanticizing the art.

Poetry — usually seen as an art form created specifically for an elite group with rigid rules — is flourishing under the democratic nature of social media. Just about anyone can make an Instagram account or a Twitter account and post their work for free.

Co-captain for CoogSlam and political science junior Jazzib Akhtar finds that having a poet perform his work has a deeper effect on the intended audience, something that is not shown through the online medium.

“The proper way, I would say, to enjoy poetry is hearing the poet in person, through actual performance. Having a poet post his work online leads to a disconnect,” Akhtar said. “You don’t know what the poet looks like or how he would perform it — that all has an effect on the audience.” 

It seems poetry is adapting to the changing world of media. It is twisting the rope of the lyrical art form into two distinct strings: the high-brow artists and academics along with the growing brands of Instapoets. 

Usually, the internet isn’t seen as a welcoming place to foster new intelligent art forms. With the new wave of Instagrammable poetry, however, it is now challenging this perception at first glance.

Canadian poet Rupi Kaur‘s meteoric rise is a case study of the increasing popularity of poetry in the online world. With more than 3.4 million followers on Instagram, Kaur has created a strong following, publishing the two poetry collections “milk & honey” and “the sun and her flowers.”

Kaur started her career by posting her work to Tumblr before gradually switching to Instagram, where she has amassed an aesthetically pleasing collection of powerful and all-reaching stanzas. Her work most often focuses on heartbreak, loss and the challenges of finding strength in one’s self to reach one’s dreams.

Her work appeals to such a wide range of audiences that even the most poetry-adverse person can eagerly consume her work, translating to thousands of likes.

The rise of Kaur in the mainstream media has introduced many other struggling poets to posting their work on Instagram, using it as an outlet to share their poetry with the world or hoping to gain commercial success with publishing deals.

“Now, poetry is more accessible to a younger generation that’s really entertainment driven. For most of recent history, poetry was never mainstream, but with the rise of Instapoetry it’s starting to be,” said Keney Young-Odor, a CoogSlam member and Instapoet @kendryk_youngblood.

The rise of Instapoets like Kaur has led to a sort of romanticizing in poetry that attracts the so-called Generation Z, which grew up with social media and finds the definition of art to be flexible.

The lines between what is or isn’t art have been blurred. For some, the wave of Instapoetry isn’t welcomed. To others, however, this is the uprising of their careers as poets. 

In a harsh essay criticizing popular Instapoet Hollie McNish, poet Rebecca Watts described Instagram poetry as amateurish and craft-less commercial fodder that anyone can breezily snack on.

“Artless poetry sells,” she wrote. “The reader is dead: long live consumer-driven content and the ‘instant gratification’ this affords.”

As Instapoetry reaches new heights of popularity with a younger generation of consumers, traditional poets question, “How much of it is becoming a business-driven opportunity instead of writing for art’s sake?”

Many, like Watts, think that it waters down the art at the expense of making money and building a brand that has led to many positive opportunities for poets.

“This is something very controversial: I am both a traditional poet and an Instapoet. I’ve seen (Instagram) both help poetry and ruin poetry. People between the ages of 18-24 are now into poetry,” Young-Odor said. “The downside though is that a lot of Instapoetry that is well known tends to be very obvious, in my eyes. I feel like it’s had its good effects as well as bad.”

Despite its criticism, Instapoetry is changing poetry from a dying genre to a flourishing industry. It is allowing the image of the starving artist — specifically the starving poet — to become a cliche of the past.

To young poets like Akhtar and Young-Odor, social media has become a way to get support and redemption for an artist’s work, something that poets lacked compared to artists of other well-known mediums.

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