Instapoetry: Renaissance or Death of a Genre?

Several days ago I watched Ariel Bisset’s superb documentary about the new trend of poets posting their work on social media, particularly Instagram. They’ve been branded “Instapoets,” and their work inspires both love and hate. Love from the thousands or even millions of followers that these Instapoets can boast, and hatred from the long-established academic, literary communities who view this watered-down accessibility to poetry as a death of the art form itself.

This documentary was timely as I’m currently in the midst of writing my first collection of poems. As I get a clearer understanding what the writing and publishing world looks like in 2019, I find myself digging deeper and deeper into the wider debates of traditional versus self-publishing, print vs digital, and literary vs. commercial. So what are my thoughts?

Personally, I am not one to lament the death of quality, to bemoan that literature is dying or to whine that the commonality of social media robs the art of what little merit it had. When it comes to literature, I’ve noticed that I tend to be quite socialist. I don’t complain that a poet was able to get such as massive following on Instragram even if I personally dislike the poet’s style. I don’t question the poetry’s right to exist or the poet’s decision to use social media as a means to market their art.

As I consider this issue I cannot help but recall a quote from the Pixar Disney film, Ratatouille, where the quasi-villain Anton Ego, a grim food critic, gives his moving monologue at the end of the film.

But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and the defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, and the new needs friends.

New art, and the new mediums people utilize to share it, will always meet resistance from those that feel they are losing power to the “nouveau riche.” It is a common reaction to change, especially for change that is seen to not serve one’s self-interests.

There is no doubt that some criticism comes from a degree of snobbery and jealousy mixed together. I read one Medium article where the writer can’t help but hate Instragram poetry after all the hard work she has invested in writing “legitimate” poetry only to have it passed over for what she perceives as sub-par four-liners. And it’s hard not to feel her pain, to watch someone you see not doing the hard work and yet getting all the credit.

That’s her opinion and she and other like-minded individuals are entitled to it. But for myself I would rather spend my time thinking about what I could do to make myself better, how I might incorporate the style/strategies of Instapoets without compromising what I believe to be quality poetry. Alas, it is always easier to tear someone else down than try to pick one’s self up again.

As Ariel states in the documentary, we seem to have made peace with the fact that there are both literary and commercial categories of fiction, but not quite for poetry, and I think this debate will continue until a new orthodoxy of poetry dominates the current one.


Why I Don’t Use a Pen Name

The decision to take or not take a pen name is a very intimate one. Each writer and each case is different. There is no good or bad, simply pros and cons to each scenerio.

As you can see from the title of my blog, I have my nickname of “Pagan Poetess,” but I am not using that in total replacement of my real name. The only time I have used pen names was for fanfiction. This was because I used fanfiction purely as practice. I neither expect nor desire to use those works to bolster my fledging writing career. As much as I am pro-fanfiction, I think it would be unethical for me to showcase those writings to gain recognition for myself.

After some reflection, I’ve come to realize that my reasons to keep my real name as my writing name fall into three categories.

1. I’m Rebelling Against Conformity

I myself am white, but I’ve taken my husband’s name, whose is Iranian-American. Part of keeping his name for my writing persona has been my small way of not contributing to white-washing.

I know there are authors who write under a pen name because they feel their foreign-sounding name will be a hinderence to their marketability. I don’t deny that there may be some truth to that, but for me persoanlly I believe one should try to push through those challenges, otherwise nothing will change.

2. I Have Nothing to Hide

An author may have perfectly legitimate reasons for keeping their writer persona separate from daily life. Maybe their genre clashes heavily with or would outright hinder a writer’s profession in another field. Yet for me I feel I have no justifiable reason to do so. My innate nature is to wear my heart on my sleeve.

3. I’m Making a Personal Point

My choice to write under the name Sophiamehr derives greatly from why I chose to take my husband’s name in the first place. Several years ago my husband was the victim of a vicous cyberbully, one that was relentless in trying to assassinate his character by whatever means possible. This bully’s petty activities included trying to sabotage our relationship.

While it was always my vision to take my eventual husband’s name, I espectially took Amin’s name because I wanted to make the point that, no matter what lies this cyberbully was spewing, I was not going to be shamed into minimizing my association with my husband. I am proud to be his wife and I shall forever flaunt his name shamelessly.

A Few Words on the English Language

I would like to jot down a few words regarding my relationship with my native language. English is my only mother tongue, despite how I desperately wish that I was bilingual from childhood. I always regret that my father’s side of the family did not retain Danish and that my mother’s side abandoned Italian. As it is, English remained my only language at home.

As someone who has devoted a significant portion of my professional and personal life to mastering other languages, English is not a language that I often take pride in. From my study in linguistics I long ago realized that English, as the global lingua franca, possesses a sociopolitical monopoly over other languages, a monopoly that I do not agree with and believe to be unjust.

While my decision to study the languages I do is partly rooted in personal taste, I must also concede that I can pick whatever language I want to study because I can already boast fluency in the most economically viable language. From my privileged position as a native English speaker, I never need to worry that I’m wasting my time with any other language.

That is not true for others. I remember announcing my decision to learn Turkish to my friends in Morocco. Much to my dismay, some were downright discouraging. “Turkish?” they said. “Why on earth would you learn that? Take Spanish or Portuguese.”

At first I was insulted by their lack of support, but upon further reflection I could see how they were coming from a pragmatic, strategic standpoint. For Moroccans, Turkish holds no promise of socioeconomic mobility, therefore they considered the pursuit wasteful and foolish. Non-native speakers of English must choose their foreign languages wisely so they do not devote too much time and energy to a language that will not yield the career results they want.

From the realization of my linguistic privilege I have sought to deemphasize English. In  that way I internalized international students’ perception of English as unromantic and strictly communicative, so much so that I rarely wrote poems in English. Poetry, as a art form celebrating the beauty and rhythm of language,  was originally a literary exercise for my foreign languages like Arabic and Turkish.

But I do love to write, especially fiction. It is through the written form of prose that I can admire the English language as something beyond mere communication, a language that can be beautiful and artistic. When I’m describing a character’s emotions or painting the picture of a scene with words…that is when I truly connect emotionally with English.
Blogging has also increased my appreciation for English within the last few year. From journalistic articles to more personal narratives, I’m using English more often to express my feelings to what in going on around me, both at the macro and micro levels.

I still have a long way to go in fully appreciating the mother language that has been given to me, but hopefully through blogging, creative writing, and more poetry in English, I can see my native tongue as one that has its own charm that shouldn’t necessarily be concealed in my personal life due to wider societal issues with intolerance of linguistic diversity.

Hate the Book, not the Author: A Defense of Twilight and Stephanie Meyer

I first got into the Twilight series because my sister was raving about them, and yeah, I’m not afraid to say that I enjoyed them. What I really appriciated about them was Meyer’s daring to go so far outside the typical vampire templete, giving them a twist that we had never seen before. She went farther outside of the box than I intend for the vampires in my would-be paranormal romance. And for that she has my respect as a fantasy writer.

I could never get into the movie adaptations. I watched the first one, thought many of the creative desicions made were awful, and chose not to engage with the rest of the films. But that didn’t deter my appreciation for the books. Yet unbeknowst to me, there was an entire counter-cultural crusade against the Twilight series and Stephanie Meyer herself that went on during the late 2000s. YouTuber Lindsay Ellis made a phenomenal video about the hate Meyer got, which I highly recommend.

Ellis gives thoughtful insight to how “we, and by we I mean our culture, we kinda hate teenage girls.” So because Twilight was shamelessly geared towards this demographic, it became a target for that wider, societal contempt.

I’m not saying that there isn’t any legitmate criticism that can be made against the Twilight series. There are a slew of feminist arguments that can be made for the sublte and sometimes overt misogyny represented, but a cultural phenomenon such as this in literature and film should be taken in stride as a learning lesson, not as a call to grab one’s pitchfork and set the author’s house ablaze.

The popularity of Twilight and the like reveals unflattering elements of the human condition that many wish just didn’t exist or at most were restricted to a small minority of teenage girls and wine moms. But with over 100 million copies sold, this reveals the painful reality that we haven’t evolved as a society as much as we would like the think we have. So rather than analyze why some unhealthy social constructs represented in books still have a dangerous hold on our collective psyche, people instead choose to lash out at the author for the unforgivable offense of writing the book in the first place.

I find the distain for Meyer in a small way comparable to the distain for Trump. The current president makes himself very easy to hate, but I must admit that I don’t so much hate Trump as I am saddened by the sizable chuck of society that gave Trump power. Before Trump I would have thought American society as a whole has moved beyond racism and sexism at least enough to easily dismiss someone like Trump. The fact that he now runs the United States is very telling of all the blind spots our society still has.

In short, we shouldn’t hate Stephanie Meyer nor think of Twilight as this blasphemous stain on modern literature.  She didn’t do anything that society didn’t allow her to do. Twilight is not the worst in the YA romance genre when it comes to promoting sexist stereotypes, but because the series grew to be so big, Twilight and its creator have been highjacked as the ambassadors for everything we despise about certain social problems that we still face.

You can hate Twilight, but that hate should be directed towards something constructive, not mindlessly fuel disgust for the author and anyone who dares to enjoy Twilight.



The Market of Exploiting Aspiring Writers

The Facebook Algorithm Gods have taken note of my shifting interests. My newsfeed was once peppered with Fashion Nova and interior design ads. Now it is littered with blurbs for writing workshops, editing services, and “fail-proof” self-publishing packages, all of which, if I even click to inquire, costs at least several hundred dollars.

Now don’t get me wrong; some of these things can be quite useful, and I’m a firm believer in the philosophy that you get out what you put in, whether on a specific project or in any aspect of life. However, I can’t escape the clawing feeling in my stomach that there are those waiting to capitalize on aspiring writers’ dreams without any intention of actually helping to make those dreams come true. I don’t want to think about the doe-eyed aspiring writer who gets sucked into an unfair deal not out of stupidity, but simple inexperience of what one should expect.

The world can be cruel, and there are too many people who view naiveite as something to cash in on. Scammers are down there in the lowest scum of the earth, in my opinion. I find the monetization of human vulnerability disgusting and reprehensible. I think they are either too lazy or too incompetent to make a living in any honest way and thus resort to scamming. That and they must have no souls, or at least they allow the anonymity of the internet to desensitize them from the human being on the other side of the screen.

Of course scammers are not restricted to the publishing arena. I myself almost fell victim to a scammer posing as a legitimate business. Fortunately, I had the wits to detect that something was amiss and called the bank to stop the check from going through. They never got the $750. Tough cookies, scammers!

The publishing world is fraught with potential scammers, from shady agents to vanity presses whose major income come not from the sales of books they publish, but rather from desperate authors fronting the costs of publication. Fortunately I’m not yet at a point that I need to be thinking about dodging scammers yet. I first need to cough up a first draft.

Nevertheless, as I find myself being lured into these advertisements on Facebook, I need to remind myself that if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. I believe in the romanticized life of a novelist, but I mustn’t be blind to the hardships that can come with that territory, and that anyone trying to completely discount those hardships is undoubtedly selling something.