Instapoetry: What happens when the verse goes viral
Think social media is mostly for fashion and food? Think again. Digital poets are cropping up all over the world and their main aim is to ensure good poetry is just a click away
While the world was obsessing over filters, hashtags, glamorous photos and most-followed celebrities, a slow but steady movement was gaining traction - and followers - on Instagram. Dubbed 'Instapoetry', it often went under hashtags like #writersofinstagram, and was filed by poets looking for ways to express themselves. These poems are short - usually not more than five or six lines - but they paint vivid pictures, tell stories and leave behind lessons. In the oft-shallow world of social media, they feel like a breath of fresh air.
The creators of Instapoetry - or 'Instapoets', as they are popularly called - are just like other poets. However, being digital-savvy means that they have hit a gold mine: by combining brief inspirational write-ups with a 'shareability' feature that online users love so much, they are able to reach out to more fans than even before. Today, many Instapoets have massive followings and their work is shared by celebrities and other people around the world - making them stars in their own right. And they're making sure poetry is back in the limelight.
"I think poetry is perfect for a medium like Instagram," says Tristan Fitzgerald, a Dubai-based Instapoet with 139,000 followers. "It's something you can do really quickly."
Tristan has written professionally in the past, but it was while he was working in the advertising industry in Dubai that the idea of posting poems on Instagram came to him. "I was posting drawings," he said. "And in advertising, some of the best ideas are a combination of words and pictures, so one day, I just happened to post a short poem I had written alongside an illustration - and it was a hit. The great thing is that once I started posting, I found other people who were doing the same thing and it connected me to a community of writers I didn't know existed. In the early days, writers had to come together physically. But today you can connect with people all over the world because of your shared passion - and that creates a sense of unity."
REVIVING THE ART: (from left to right) Afra Atiq, Tristan Fitzgerald, Anne McGrath and Jamil Adas are all making poetry popular again, in their own way
It was through this community that Tristan met his fiancé Anne McGrath, an Instapoet from New Jersey. Anne has been writing since the age of eight, but it was only two years ago that she started posting the poems on social media. "The best thing about Instapoetry is that it makes it possible to peep into the mind of a poet halfway across the world," she says. "That being said, we do currently live in a world of instagratification - give people a 'post' button, and they tend not to think a lot before posting. So, you have to wade through some horrendous writing sometimes."
With anyone and everyone having the ability to share their work online, finding less than mediocre material is naturally one of the many pitfalls of Instapoetry. Afra Atiq, an Emirati spoken word artist and poet believes that the ease with which people can become instapoets actually lowers the bar. Moreover, the pressure to constantly post can affect the quality of work. "Like all art forms, there are some fantastically talented Instapoets out there and some who need to improve," says the poet, who currently posts some of her work on Instagram, but prefers keeping it on her website. "The issue is that some are only concerned with increasing their number of followers and so, instead of becoming a community, it becomes a competition. It all depends on intention - whether it is for the love of poetry and community-building, or for ego and followers."
However, in the end, quality and quantity matter when it comes to Instagram. Many Instapoets who have amassed a huge following have done so because they commit to continuously posting poems that are appreciated by fans all over the world.
A sample of Tristan's work. For more pictures, you can follow him on Instagram @mysticTris
"If you stop by the poetry section in a bookstore today, you'd be surprised by how many of the poets there have started out on Instagram," says Tristan. This is certainly true for poets like Indian-Canadian Rupi Kaur, whose book Milk and Honey (a collection of short poetry) went on to become a New York Times bestseller, and Tyler Knott Gregson, an Instapoet who has already published two books. And then there are poets like Atticus Poetry, whose work has been shared by celebrities and poetry lovers alike, but who remains anonymous.
"There are a lot of people who write great poetry out there - but are very shy about it," says Jamil Adas, the founder of Dubai Poetics, a website that pairs poets with visual artists and releases online poetry editions every month. Dubai Poetics works on submissions from local poets and Jamil often has to coax people to have their name published along with their poetry. "Being anonymous gives people more freedom to write," he explains.
Poetry may be coming back in style, due to the wonders of technology and the digital world, but there are several noticeable differences between traditional poetry and those being shared online. For starters, Instapoetry is shorter, almost haiku-like. Does this have something to do with audiences' shortening attention spans? "Probably," says Tristan. But the more probable explanation is the fact that platforms like Instagram are very visual in nature, he explains. "People do not go on Instagram to read a 100-stanza poem. When I write something longer, I know it will get less 'likes' because it is something people have to spend more time on. But it's great that people are waking up and discovering poetry again through social media. Earlier, poetry was stuck in academic cycles. But now that it's more accessible, it's resurfacing."
So, is Instapoetry the poetry of the future? Most poets have mixed opinions on the subject, with some stating that it very well could be, and others expressing dismay at the thought. In the end, Anne sums it up perfectly. "I think it makes sense to keep poetry short if you can write something truly honest. But if we keep catering to an attention span that is almost non-existent, it will affect the writing. I hope the current trend makes people realise that poetry is relevant and encourages them to put down their phones and go out to buy poetry books as well. I hope it gets people back into bookstores."