Instapoetry has been taking over the once gloried world of Shakespeare and Byron, Ginsburg and Dickinson. As every generation of poets has done before, the #instapoets have taken an ancient form and, in the ultimate act of cyclical artistic rebellion, made it their own. And like every generation before, accusations of tastelessness and artless pandering are echoing through literary circles. But what is it about this new form of poetry that has people either loving it or hating it?
First, some background: instapoetry, also known as micropoetry, is a form of poetry that is more concerned with brevity than style and language. It is, at its most basic, a poem, usually under 40 words, that can be read easily within the space of an instagram post or tweet. With such a small window, instapoets cut out nearly all superfluous language and unnecessary metaphors, choosing instead to present straightforward thoughts and emotions to their thousands of followers, with the hope that quick understanding and instant relatability on the part of the reader will not only elicit an emotional response, but also likes and shares. It is the poetry of the social media generation, and whether you love it or hate it, it is what it is.
Naturally, in a form that has traditionally relied on descriptive imagery, intense and prolonged metaphors, and a lot of language play, many poets and literature lovers don’t consider instapoetry poetry at all. Arguments can be made for both sides, with the pro side arguing mainly that people are reading poetry and that’s a good thing, and the con side arguing that putting line breaks in a sentence and tagging #poetry doesn’t make it a poem.
I’ve always been more of a prescriptivist when it comes to the art of words, falling heavily on the idea that catering to bad taste is a good way to create a tasteless society, so my natural inclination is to agree with the naysayers and haters that instapoetry is a blight on the name of good literature.
That was until I started really getting into it.
Rupi Kaur is, by a large margin, the most popular and most well-known of all the instapoets. Boasting over three million followers on Instagram, she alternates simple poems and hand-drawn doodles with fashion model shots of herself. Her poetry is frequently themed around empowerment, female friendship, belonging, and lifting others—in short, all the things that are trending with millennials and generation Z. She largely resonates with female audiences, and that’s who she mainly writes to, but she’s far from exclusive. Her books have sold millions of copies, and her work is frequently shared across all social media by people of every gender.
Other names have risen to the top of the ever-growing pile of instapoets, too—Lang Leav, Amanda Lovelace, Tyler Knott Gregson—and all of them are selling self-published books left and right as the general public laps up their short, straightforward, empowering work.
No one can honestly argue that instapoetry is, as a whole, good literature or that it’s anything other than culturally significant thoughts with random line breaks. But once you can get past that argument, instapoetry reveals itself for what it really is: a snapshot of a generation. Like the beat poets but with less drugs, like 90s grunge but again with less drugs, instapoetry is the voice of young people in cultural turmoil. It’s not trying to be high art. It’s not trying to go down in the annals of history. It’s a creative outlet for disenchanted, angry people looking to save the world.
There’s a line in Rent that has always stuck with me for how right on the money it is. In the midst of their bohemian anthem glorifying everything from rice to masochism to masturbation, one character sings, “the opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.”
Instapoets, like every great artist before them and every great artist to come after, are simply responding to their surroundings, to the current cultural climate, to the emotions they can’t name, and they’re doing it in the only way they know how—with art. With creation. And it’s resonating with so many people.
While I wish that instapoets would care more about language and prosody and the actual features of real poetry, I can’t object to people coming together over art to try to make the world a better place.
Most likely, instapoetry will fall out of trend and be lost to the deep recesses of forgotten social media. There’s nothing special about it, nothing outstanding, nothing profoundly beautiful. It doesn’t reveal the truth of a generation, it simply echoes popular sentiments. And while there may be a few gems hidden within the thousands of poems on each instapoet’s page, finding them isn’t going to be worth anyone’s time. They don’t add that much to world outside of an instantaneous and fleeting feeling. But isn’t that one of the defining features of this generation?
Society is what it is, and there’s only one question left: where do we go from here?
Will we make the next phase of poetry into something grand and elegant? Something gutteral and raw? Will society move into an actual appreciation of the arts? A reflection of quality and loving care? Or will we take it even farther from Keats’s beauty and truth to call
even the simplest
and most meaningless