For many individuals, poetry has long become synonymous with boredom or pretension, evocative of school-day encounters with William Shakespeare’s sonnets and over-enthusiastic English teachers. With traditional poetry’s bad rap, it’s no wonder that Instagram poetry has become such a trend in recent years; it speaks plainly, looks pretty, and can be read in a few seconds. It allows people to feel connected to art in a quick and easy way. But the fact remains (at least, a fact according to me): most Instagram poetry isn’t good poetry.
Atticus is a popular Insta-poet with four books under his belt who—according to his website—“has taken the world by storm with his beautiful poetry and powerful, simple themes of love and strength of the human spirit.” Let’s take a look at one of his poems to see if it lives up to the hype:
Immerse Education explains that “[t]he major difference between [prose and poetry] is that poetry is a form of writing that uses rhythm and rhyme to create a musical or chant-like effect, whereas prose is a form of writing that is more straightforward and doesn’t rely on rhyme or meter.” If this is the case, can Atticus’s poem really be considered poetry?
If the above ‘poem’ is read aloud, the enjambment comes off as awkward, especially with the pause created by ending the second line with ‘the’. If Atticus’s poem truly were poetic, wouldn’t it use rhythm to enhance its message? Since it isn’t rhythmical, is it not prose? It’s clear to see that the grammar and space (or lack thereof) could have been used much more diversely in order to create an actual rhythm such as the following:
the dream I had been searching for
to wake me up.
Furthermore, Atticus’s poem is weak because it lacks emotional depth. Is there bitterness attached to this poem? Happiness? The reader doesn’t know because the words that Atticus employs don’t convey any emotion. Even rhythm could have aided in conveying emotion if Atticus had used any. Rather, he uses neutral, unemotional words to state an event that happened. For a writer who claims to be taking the world by storm with his poems, his words don’t create much force for me.
Similarly interested in the quality of Instagram poetry, Arts at Michigan compares the style of Rupi Kaur (another well-known Insta-poet) to the style of William Carlos Williams (a poet well-known for his uncluttered, Imagist style), ultimately deciding that Kaur’s poetry is mildly interesting but lackluster.
Let’s compare Atticus’s poem to “Love Song” by William Carlos Williams:
I lie here thinking of you:—
the stain of love
is upon the world!
Yellow, yellow, yellow
it eats into the leaves,
smears with saffron
the horned branches that lean
against a smooth purple sky!
There is no light
only a honey-thick stain
that drips from leaf to leaf
and limb to limb
spoiling the colors
of the whole world—
you far off there under
the wine-red selvage of the west!
Which poem is more emotional? More rhythmic? More evocative of the sensation of love? Most people would probably say “Love Song” by William Carlos Williams.
Mashable argues that individuals find Instagram poetry to be resonant because “rather than alienating a young audience with convoluted language or complicated form, the ultimate goal of the Insta poets is always to connect directly with their audience.”
The goal to connect with audiences is a worthy one, but are Insta-poets truly making this connection? In my opinion, no.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the New York State Summer Writers Institute where I participated in poetry workshops with fellow writers from around the United States. It was during this time that my teacher, Henri Cole, told us that a poem—specifically a poem written to be shared with readers—is self-indulgent if it doesn’t convey a message to readers.
If Atticus is trying to connect with an audience, what is he trying to say through his emotionless quasi-prose statements? Without a clear message, Atticus’s poetry seems self-serving.
On another note, there are Instagram poems that convey a message such as the following, written by Trista Mateer:
This poem conveys a clear, emotional message, especially through the use of the word ‘destroy’, encouraging readers to sympathize with the speaker. Though this poem doesn’t employ much rhythm, it does do a better job of emotionally connecting to readers.
All of this isn’t to say that Instagram poetry has to increase in length or use fancy words in order to be considered ‘good’, nor do Insta-poets don’t have to have an academic background in order to write good poetry. Art is subjective; however, craft is not. If poetry is, by definition, writing that incorporates rhythm and a message, then that is what Insta-poets must implement (or purposefully not implement) in order to write good poetry.
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