According to latest research, humans today have attention spans shorter than a goldfish. This would explain the increased consumption of terribly transient media like pop music and mindless listicles. But what does our 8 second attention span mean for poetry? A widely observed phenomena today is the increasing popularity of ‘poetry’ that is highly simplistic and trite. It can be argued that it isn’t even poetry at all.
To explore this further, let’s look into the successes of fan favorites like Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav, R. M. Drake, Atticus, and the like. These ‘Instagram poets’ started off by posting short verses of little depth or meaning, amassed thousands and even millions of followers then went on to publish bestselling poetry books. While they’re the biggest names in this field, they aren’t the only ones. Thousands of Instagram users have begun posting similar such verses and then gotten published books to their name.
To illustrate how easy this ‘poetry’ and how mindless this trend is, Thom Young, an American poet, started an experiment in which he began posting similar verses or words and gained thousands of followers instantly. Some of his followers understood his intention after reading the satire infested captions, but most never did. Young calls this pop poetry, or ‘she poetry’.
Young states that he is not trying to insult or criticize the tastes of those who enjoy these verses. Rather, he wishes people would think more about what they read. “I think people today don’t want to read anything that causes a whole lot of critical thinking,” he told PBS, an American broadcaster. He is quite right. As mentioned above, people’s decreased attention spans have led to decreased consumption of nearly anything that requires sustained thought or attention.
Poetry is a craft. Even free verse, while technically free of formal restraints, cannot simply constitute any random strings of words. There is a fundamental distinction between prose and poetry. Mary Oliver, critically acclaimed poet and winner of the Pulitzer prize says in A Poetry Handbook:
Free verse is not, of course, free. It is free from formal metrical design, but it certainly isn’t free from some kind of design. Is poetry language that is spontaneous, impulsive? Yes, it is. Is it also language that is composed, considered, appropriate, and effective, though you read the text a hundred times? Yes, it is.
“So what? I can still like it.”
Freedom of expression does grant all the Leavs and Kaurs of the world license to publish whatever they please, and amass as large a fan following as they possibly can. Freedom in general grants people the license to consume and appreciate whatever they may find pleasure in.
That being said, these works do not necessarily need to fall under the umbrella of ‘poetry’. To do so would be to undermine the actual craft, which in reality is a painstaking, elaborate and thoughtful process. It would be to neglect the need for critical thinking. Perhaps it is time for a clear distinction to be drawn between ‘poetry’ and ‘Instapoetry’ or ‘pop poetry’. These terms are not synonymous or interchangeable, and the world must begin to recognize the difference.
If I, as an individual with neither any knowledge nor training in painting were to pick up the brush and try my hand at art, I wouldn’t call myself an artist. Even if I were to keep at it for a while, I still wouldn’t qualify as an artist because my paintings would be lacking actual artistic merit.
Likewise, let’s recognize Instagram poets for what they really are, and ‘pop poetry’ for what it really is: short, simplistic phrases that are more often than not simply paraphrased versions of the same mainstream ideas, with little or no actual literary merit, often written by individuals with very little knowledge or understanding of true poetry.
Coming up next week in Part II: an actual literary analysis of Instapoetry, in case you still aren’t convinced.
By Samawiyah Ulde
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of IGNITE.
Disclaimer 2: This article does not suggest that all poetry found on Instagram falls under this category.