Instapoet vs. Facebook Poet?

“Instapoet” is a loaded term. It was dubbed to refer to the cohort of millennial writers who have taken to sharing their poetry on the visually centric social media platform of Instagram. Some poets embrace the label, actively shredding the negative connotation that originally shrouded it.  Others reject the term, seeing it as an unnecessarily classification, choosing instead to see themselves as poets who utilize social media to network and showcase their work.

And they have a point. Are we differentiating Instapoet from a “book” poet? Is such a label for the greater benefits of poets? And what about poets like me, who consciously decided to become Instapoets, only to become Facebook poets instead?

To be brutally honest, despite basing my poetry sharing model on Instagram, I am having very little success with that specific platform. No matter how much hashtags I add nor how much I engage with other Instapoets, I am just not gaining any traction. But do you know where I am excelling? Facebook.

One poem shared on Facebook reached 25,000 people in a little less than two days. My engagement is thriving. What is it about Facebook that hooks people into my poetry in a way that Instagram just doesn’t? I don’t have an answer. But for now I’m choosing not to fight it and to go with what’s working for me.

 

 

Why I’m Self-Publishing My First Book

Like many artists, I was often discouraged (sometimes lovingly, sometimes viciously) to play it safe at the nine-to-five job, to not waste my energy or time on creative pursuits. But finally, I decided that in 2019 I was going to take the plunge and write my first book. I currently have several novels in my head and even part of them on paper, but for my first book I decided that I would publish a poetry collection.

If I knew how easy it was to self-publish with Kindle Direct Publishing or other self-publishing platforms, I would have gotten into it years ago. Disclaimer: I’m using the adjective “easy” quite loosely here. I’m not saying “easy” in the sense that self-publishing is itself easy. It takes work to ensure that a book is self-published well (editing, teaching oneself formatting and digital illustration if you don’t hire the labor out). I think the better word here is doable. For so long I didn’t think I could do it because I was confusing self-publishing with vanity publishing, that I would be out thousands of dollars without the support of a traditional publisher.

Like many have stated before me, I like the creative control that self-publishing permits. I also enjoy the lack of time restrains. If I want something done, I don’t have to wait on anyone but myself.

In some ways I wish I had started self-publishing earlier, yet at the same time I am glad I am only starting now as the stigma slowly fades away. Even now the judgment still persists, and it’s not just at the publishing houses, either. Authors are torn on whether it is worth taking self-publishing seriously. Here is a quote from someone in one of my writer Facebook groups who did not mince his words in regards to his opinion on indie authors.

Most self-published books are poorly edited, and are riddled with grammatical, continuity and layout errors. Dialogue punctuation is the biggest source of problems, which immediately tells me, despite what the author may claim, that the book has not been professionally edited. A lot of the time, an indie author will consider their own editing to be enough, yet when questioned on it many of them will claim it has been professionally edited (ie lie).

Qualified, experienced editors are worth the money, and as far as I can tell, virtually no independent authors will spend that money to get the editing they need. It baffles me that someone would spend years writing a book and then not care if it is polished, or at least of sufficient quality for publication.

 

The comments on this post were straight down the middle, with half happily agreeing and the other half being deeply offended. Myself personally, I’m not the type to condemn an entire style of publishing just because some people are looking for a quick-fix to their writing careers and thus do not put in the approriate effort. Part of my decision to self-publish was that with every self-published book that is done well, I hope the perception illustrated above will become less commonplace.

I think my opinion to not judge comes from my experience with fan fiction. If I began a fan fiction story that was starting to look bad, whether because of grammar or anything else, I would simply stop reading it and move on. This has happened more times than I can count in my decade-long experience with fan fiction. Yet I never became so incensed that I gave up on fan fiction entirely. There are some traditionally published books that I’ve picked and wondered, “How the hell did this get published?” And then there are fan-fictions so beautifully written that I still keep them on my computer, going back to them for reference.

Both realities are true, that self-publishing can be plagued with bad writing, and that traditional publishers can be too narrow-minded to take a chance on something new. Nowadays I feel no author should be shamed for choosing one path or the other. It just depends on what are the preferences and priorities of a given author.

 

 

My Thoughts on the “Cult of Noble Amateurs” Article

After some deliberation, I finally decided to read the infamous “anti-Instapoetry” article penned by Rebecca Watts in the PN Review back in February 2018. As someone who has already turned to the Dark Side, (aka, has already become an Instapoet), I knew from the get-go that I would disagree with many of author’s assertions. However, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to read what criticism is out there so one may intelligently defend the genre.

Watts’s review was so scathing and wrought with raw emotion that it was difficult for me to take seriously.  The language used was something I would expect to see in a personal blog post such as this one, not in a professional journal/magazine.  Watts could have at least tried to give the illusion of a balanced view in the beginning and then offered her arguments one by one to illustrate that her eventual contempt for the Instapoetry genre was more than justified. Instead, she starts off the article with this.

“Why is the poetry world pretending that poetry is not an art form? I refer to the rise of a cohort of young female poets who are currently being lauded by the poetic establishment for their ‘honesty’ and ‘accessibility’ – buzzwords for the open denigration of intellectual engagement and rejection of craft that characterises their work.”

Already Watts is painting herself into a corner by claiming she is in a privileged position to dictate what is and is not art. I would take her more seriously if she framed her argument by explaining why Instapoetry is bad poetry, rather than try to pin an impossible definition on art and poetry. To be frank, the image that came to mind was a petulant child. By starting off so strongly and negatively, she immediately becomes an easy target for accusations of literary snobbery. She could have easily avoided this obvious lens of elitism and given more credit to her criticisms by engaging with the material in a calmer fashion. But therein lies the problem.

“I was supposed to be reviewing it [the poetry], but to do so for a poetry journal would imply that it deserves to be taken seriously as poetry.”

She is so condescending towards Instapoetry that she cannot even bring herself to engage with it, for better or for worse, as real poetry.

A large chuck of Watts’s article consists of comparisons to the darker power of social  media and how that power aided Donald Trump in winning the American presidency.

“Twitter co-founder Evan Williams registered his dismay at how social media platforms were helping to ‘dumb the entire world down’, lamenting specifically the role Twitter played in Donald Trump’s election victory.”

We should be afraid of the power social media has to normalize dangerous ideologies such as white supremacy and chauvinism. However, the use of Instagram to promote “bad poetry” is not on my short-list of precursors for an impeding dystopian society. Watts tried to delegitimize the large following that some Instapoets have garnered by comparing the consumption of Instapoetry with the evil forces that mobilized the masses to vote an outrageous candidate into office.

“The ability to draw a crowd, attract an audience or assemble a mob does not itself render a thing intrinsically good: witness Donald Trump.”

To be fair, Watts is not the only one to connect these two phenomena. In Ariel Bisset’s #poetry documentary, UCLA Professor Johanna Drucker also brings up Trump in relation to the “honesty” and “accessibility” of Instapoets.

“Rupi Kaur is a benevolent and benign example of a phenomenon that we have in the most socio-pathological form in our current government…because we have the Tweet President. That is truly dangerous and truly destabilizing and truly terrifying because there is no constraint between the thumbs, the screen, and the broadcast. So…you know…give me Rupi Kaur any day!”

I am in full agreement with Professor Drucker that having no filter or gatekeeper in the Instapoetry scene is not the same as someone like Trump using social media to treat the presidency like a reality TV show. To make this suggestion weakens her position significantly, at least in my eyes.

Back to Watt’s article. Watts paints herself as the martyr that is prepared to call out Instapoetry for what it is, unlike others who are too paralyzed by political correctness to speak out against the sloppy genre.

“Whether socially or as a writer, admitting pride in an attitude of slobbishness is a way of shielding oneself against criticism or condescension. Yet McNish needn’t worry. The middle-aged, middle-class reviewing sector is terrified of being seen to disparage the output of young, self-styled ‘working-class’ artists.”

For as strong as the popularity for Instapoetry has been, the literary criticism condemning it has been just as strong since its inception. To suggest otherwise would imply that she is in the minority, which she most certainly is not.

There is good poetry and there is bad poetry. There are some Instapoets I like, and there are some that I don’t. This has to do with personal style and nothing to do with their decision to showcase their poetry on the “common” platform of Instagram. To brand the majority of Instapoets as suffering from the same stylistic issues and that those issues are unquestionably linked to social media is lazy and uninspired.

After becoming an Instapoet myself, I know firsthand that, despite the shorter length, Instapoetry is not just vomiting out whatever comes to mind. Sometimes it takes me days to think of something I deem worthwhile. I take it just as seriously as my longer poems. Hopefully in time the stigma of Instapoetry will ebb further away.

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. 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.