By Caitlin Allard
The past decade has seen the rise of internet poets: poets that predominantly publish their work on social media, some gaining a substantial enough following to publish their works in book form. Names you may have spotted include Rupi Kaur (@rupikaur_ on Instagram) who has just published her second poetry collection ‘The Sun and her Flowers’, Nikita Gill (@nikita_gill on Instagram), Michael Faudet (michaelfaudet.tumblr.com) and Lang Leav (langleav.tumblr.com). Instagram and Tumblr offer attractive platforms for poets for their ability to add visual elements to their poetry. Despite the massive success of many internet poets with millions of followers and successful publishing deals, many have come under criticism for producing trite, mediocre and superficial work. Rupi Kaur has faced much ridicule in past months with mocking imitations of her work being turned into memes.
Writers like Rupi Kaur are carving out their own new traditions through the medium of the internet.
However, poetry that so many can connect to must surely be called a success? If poetry does not abide by standards of the so-called Western literary canon, it is not necessarily of poor quality. Instead, it poses an exciting possibility of a new era in poetry itself, the creation of new forms and genres beyond what the world has seen before. Poetry began within communities, to serve a purpose in an age of oral tradition. It belonged to the common people, with no need for literacy, to tell of genealogies, histories, laws and stories, often in song-form. In the past three millenniums, poetry has taken on innumerable forms. In terms of the West, we’ve been left with centuries worth of literary criticism, poetic forms, and the ‘Western canon’ itself. It has all contributed to our society’s attitude to poetry today – a very disconnected one. Outside of academic circles and enthusiasts, poetry often seems to be perceived as a ‘higher art’, not for the general public but instead for a chosen few.
Internet poetry brings poetry back into ‘normal’ lives. Slotting into the normality of social media, internet poetry finds a way to seep into our everyday lives. People that may have never otherwise considered purchasing a poetry book are inspired, people that may have never independently chosen to read poetry choose to seek it out. It is accessible. It is able to make people feel something. Poetry can connect with people, as it used to when it originated.
Modernist poets in the early 20th century seemed to be arguing for this greater sense of connection. After the war, society was in upheaval and canonic literature seemed to lose its status as entirely pivotal next to the massive change in society brought about by the destruction of war. T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ is compiled of innumerable references to other literary works, to the point at which the work itself is in some ways impenetrable, as so many works need to have been read in depth to even attempt to understand the meaning of the author. This web of references displays how relying heavily on literary tradition has the potential to render poetry inaccessible, and thus for many lessen the meaning of a work rather than increase it. Writers like Rupi Kaur are carving out their own new traditions through the medium of the internet. Their focus on current experiences makes people feel emotion rather than predominantly despair over the mass of literary works lying before them that would require a lifetime to read.
Internet poetry brings poetry back into ‘normal’ lives.
Non-traditional works are being published through non-traditional, accessible means. Publishing can now be done with a simple press of a button on any social media platform, meaning anyone can reach a wide audience. This is particularly important considering the lack of diversity in the publishing industry: according to the Diversity Baseline Survey, 79% of people in the publishing industry are white, and 82% in the Editorial sector are white.It seems no coincidence that many of the most successful internet poets are women of colour the internet offers a platform for their talent, to boost their careers, away from any racial bias in the publishing industry. Nikita Gill received 137 rejections from publishers prior to her success on social media – the internet offered a way for her talent to be appreciated without the restriction of bias in the publishing industry.
Although wider accessibility allows a greater diversity of talent to be celebrated, it also means that the traditional filter on quality, publishing houses, is lost. William Wordsworth stated in the Preface to his and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballad that good poetry is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” This is evident in a lot of internet poetry. Wordsworth continues, however, that it must be written by someone “possessed of more than usual organic sensibility [who has] also thought long and deeply.” Internet poetry does not always fit into this definition there is room for mediocrity. Collin Yost (@ collin_andrew_yost on Instagram) has been widely accused of mediocrity due to his style of writing, strategic placements of cigarettes and penchant for using a typewriter. His poems include sentences such as: “for now / I’m a bad boy that she seems to think / is intellectual. / I am.” The aesthetics of his account seem to have overridden the need for quality generally required by publishing houses. However, with a following of 15.4k on Instagram, his writing, however mediocre it may be in a technical sense, must make 15.4k people feel something. Therefore, it is, to some extent, a success.
Non-traditional works are being published through non-traditional, accessible means.
Through the internet, literature has the ability to become democratic. People have the power to support writers that otherwise may not have been published. It is no longer primarily up to editors: public opinion has far greater power in the publishing industry than ever before. Although not all poetry given a platform by the internet will be of ‘good’ quality, social media has allowed brilliance to shine through where otherwise it may never have had the chance; giving an appreciation of poetry to those who may never have otherwise thought about it.
Photograph: Caitlin Allard