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.