Wicked Slogans Aren\'t Just Harmless Fun

When I began working on a piece about Instagram poetry, a year ago, I had no intentions of breaking any spell. I was hoping to interview a number of working poets, booksellers and publishers about the resurgence of poetry on social media and beyond. Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur are selling like hotcakes; Maggie Smith, Danez Smith, Tracy K. Smith and other acclaimed poets (even ones without the surname Smith) have seen urgent, cathartic poems go viral on Twitter. I wanted to find what was working in a social media poetry world that has swept in so many new readers.

Versions of this story get written from time to time, and they tend toward a patronizing sunniness. “My love is like a hashtag; Instagram gives rise to new poets,” announced the Wall Street Journal last September. “Selfie age gives new life and following into poetry,” reads a Guardian headline from 2016. “In a land of selfies and shots of lunch, poetry thrives,” proclaimed the Boston Globe.

These stories map an increasingly egalitarian poetry landscape. In place of the traditional gatekeeping system is a supportive, welcoming environment, particularly for marginalized voices. Purveyors of female empowerment and romantic expression like Kaur, Nikita Gill and Yrsa Daley-Ward flourished in this ecosystem. Instagram poets who might not get a second look from the predominantly white literary establishment have risen to prominence on their own. The trend is democratizing, both for writers and readers.

Instagram and other social media, Daley-Ward told me in a phone conversation, “are a beautiful way to get the work to people for whom poetry has never been acceptable. For whom poetry has always seemed like a closed door, a certain type of person, a certain class of person, gender or color even ― which is ridiculous, because words are for everyone.” (Daley-Ward’s collection bone, which she initially self-published, was recently re-released by Penguin.)

According to booksellers and publishers, the work of Instagram poets really is bringing in a new audience. Popular internet poets “seem to have engaged a ‘new generation of poetry,’” Strand Books’ Leigh Altshuler told HuffPost last year. “Customers who may have primarily shopped in other sections are now also spending time in Poetry.”

“We have definitely seen the ‘Milk & Honey’ effect,” Miriam Sontz, CEO of Powell’s Books, wrote in an email to HuffPost, referring to Kaur’s first collection. “This title is one of our top sellers week to week and has been on our Best Seller displays for 18 months.” Last year, she said, poetry sales at Powell’s shot up by 28.5 percent; in 2018, she told me, the trend has continued, if less dramatically, with poetry sales rising by about 12 percent.

All this new readership seems like a net positive for poets with traditional careers, as well. Graywolf, an indie press that publishes numerous acclaimed poets, has been enjoying the effects of a poetry boom. Last year was “a notably strong year for poetry sales” at Graywolf, publicist Caroline Nitz and sales and marketing manager Casey O’Neil told HuffPost in an email in November 2017. The press published two 2017 National Book Award shortlisted collections, Whereas by Layli Long Soldier and Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith, which saw strong sales and went into multiple printings within months.

Not that there aren’t detractors. Thom Young, one of Atticus’ exposers, is an ardent critic of Instagram poetry. A published poet, Younghas held forth on the subject in outlets like “PBS NewsHour” and The Wall Street Journal. He gripes that the work of popular Instagram poets is “not really poetry” but recycled clichés that anyone could write. In glowing articles on the Instapoetry trend, he’s often the only curmudgeon waggling his finger in judgment.

Overall, in these pieces and in the cheery round-ups of the best Instagram poets, the trend is presented as pretty much all upside: more poetry, more reading, more expression. But as with so many things on the Internet, anyone who pokes around the realm of Instapoetry quickly finds herself wrestling with shadows, with half-truths and pseudonyms and slippery motives. It’s peopled by scammers and opportunists and ironists faking sincerity ― or is it the other way around? The men who unmasked Atticus are hardly straightforward actors themselves. It turns out there is better art and artifice in the creation of the characters who make Instagram poetry than in any of the poetry itself.

Source : https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/instagram-poetry-atticus-duncan-penn_us_5bb2df2de4b0ba8bb2104b1b

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