Instapoetry. Cultural Innovation or Dangerous Liaison?
An almost forgotten form and totally not resonating with the general public. This was poetry. Years ago. But, all this would change with authors going digitals and discovering Instagram. And Instagram catapulted to celebrity a whole new generation of poets, called InstaPoets. Loved or hated for their talents or fiercely criticized by the establishments, they are young, famous, surrounded by fans, and making tons of money. But, let’s have a closer look at this phenomenon.
Rupi Kaur. Before 2012, she was just a girl. She started to publish her short verses on Twitter and Tumblr, after moving to Instagram. And she gained popularity. In 2014, she decided to release her first volume ‘Milk and Honey’. A huge success, it sold 2.5 million copies worldwide and was on the top of the New York Times bestseller list for a year. And then in 2017 launched the second volume, The Sun and her Flowers. She succeeded to be in the list of BBC’s 100 women, Forbes list of talented people under 30, and on Jimmy Fallon show and has 4 Million insta-followers.
Rupi Kaur is considered to be the leader of a whole new trend: Instapoetry. Short verses, easy to be shared, that attract crowds. Atticus, Amanda Lovelace, Hollie McNish, Kate Tempest are just a few that will follow. All of them have huge Instagram followers, succeeded to build a community around them, and the books sell crazy. We could even call them cultural influencers.
And there is not just poetry they sell. Like real entrepreneurs, some developed additional products, such as T-shirts or hoodies, or masks, such as Atticus. Collaborations within other brands were set up.
So slowly, but stubbornly, InstaPoets with entrepreneurial blood are conquering the markets and being responsive to their buyers.
InstaPoets are socially engaged – Cleo Wade set up a collaboration with Kate Spate and an employee-owned factory from Rwanda, and produced together poetical handbags. Also, having a discourse on women’s rights!
InstaPoets are responding quickly to trends. Or should we say: they know their customers? “Stay wild’ campaign by Atticus is focusing on travelers’ trends and mentalities and living life on your own terms!
InstaPoets are cool and trendy! Insta-sensation Rupi Kapur paved again the way when nine poems of hers were translated into fashion by Elle. Can you imagine a better win-win situation?
InstaPoets are living in this century – tech-savvy, socially engaged, responsive towards minorities, women’s rights are high on their agenda, responsive to trends, cool, they know their customers, and stay close to them!
But, on the other side, it is an establishment – the critiques!
But InstaPoets are not without critiques. More people from the literary circle raised their voice, labeling it as superficial, focused more on marketing and not values, and in the end: amateur. The Cambridge based writer, Rebecca Watts was among the first who raised her voice in a reference article published in leading literary magazine PN Review, The Cult of the Noble Amateur. Watts warns that marketing ability does not necessarily mean literary value, writing that the “ability to draw a crowd, attract an audience or assemble a mob does not itself render a thing intrinsically good” – comparing the phenomenon to Donald Trump. In addition, she argues that the ‘accessibility’ of the writing that makes these poems so sharable, is ‘rejection of complexity, subtlety, eloquence and the aspiration to do anything well’, because ‘the reader is dead: long live consumer-driven content and the ‘instant gratification’ this affords”. In the same line, Vinu Casper slams Instapoets for their superficial verse churned out in order to gain followers, at the expense of writers who are carefully designing their verses. “Poets who spend years honing their craft, carefully writing and rewriting every line, practicing their performance over and over before they take to stage, are being beaten to the punch by influencers with a steady social media presence and masses of followers. These so-called insta-poets get away with blanket statements and empty metaphors under the guise of poetry.”
An interesting experiment was done by journalist Andrew Lloyd who describes his success as a fake-instapoet, and how he developed to be successful! Writing ‘kitsch’ poems, in the first week, he had 50 likes/post and almost 300 followers – which is a lot! After 100 poems, he had almost 700 followers, in 1 month! And a positive review from famous insta-poet Atticus. So, it works!
Just some questions…
InstaPoets are all crafted with abilities and knowledge to attract crowds. And it is the internet that simply smashed walls, and made an entire world possible for people. Becoming a poet before internet culture was hard, the art world was considered sophisticated and hard to penetrate, with its own rules. WIth its intellectual pretentious, staying on the piedestal of geniuses. And you needed that world to get you published. Now, you don’t need that world anymore.
Poets using Instagram are not only creators, but entrepreneurs, and approach this as a business proposition. Is it good? Is it bad? If 30 years ago the question was how to become a better creator, now the question is how can you become a more entrepreneurial creator? And at all…what happens to those good creators, who do not possess the entrepreneurial “blood”?
Rebecca Watts accused Instagram poetry of rejecting complexity, but isn’t it this the reason why it is so successful? As in other forms of art, what people can understand and digest, they will consume. If we look at statistics, we see that people are reading less literature and buying more poems. A statistic from 2018 from the UK says that poetry sales increased with 66% from 2013, and sold at over 11 million pounds (Nielsen BookScan). Is it a genre preference shift or it is because the preference is for ‘short’ readings. It is a general tendency to read less, to watch fewer videos, marketers know that. People don’t have time.
Watts criticizes the “crowds’ but isn’t it exactly what the internet and social media created in the last 10+ years? A whole new job of “influencers” young people that have the ability to speak to masses and gather crowds. The film industry was ahead and collaborated and developed these influencers. Only if we look how many “Game of Thrones” theories were made, with youtube influencers, that all were fighting to give predictions, some working closely with the production team – with true and or false leaks.
In regard to tendencies, we can look at how business models developed and how technology shifted industries and came up with new roles. If we look also at how Facebook disrupted an entire industry such as journalism and ads. Pre-facebook era, small business owners could not afford to work with big ads agencies. If you had to make a promotion, you did it with flyers – you gave away flyers at events, clubs, on the streets. You put posters in institutions. Facebook changed the whole “game”. You could put everything online, pull in a small amount of money, and do a Facebook ad that reaches people. IG was doing the same for artists and creatives? You put images and text and you can reach out to your audience directly – you do not need anymore to convince a publisher, editor, and so on to get to publish you. You gain success over the IG and publishers will come to you! From a business perspective, who would not want to work with somebody already followed by millions, and those millions will guarantee the sales?
And meanwhile, young writers who learned social media skills and promotions, the establishments, did the real talents get closer to the digital world? Did anyone trained marketing experts that will push literary talents, and find new ways of business models in a digital-first-era? Were real efforts to get closer to the consumer and start a dialogue about its complex verses or train communication people to translate complexities while not hurting the values? And related to the future, where it will lead us? Towards more and more art-influencers or experts-art-world will invest more in the digital world?