Celebrity poetry: literature or laziness?

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In November 2023, Megan Fox came out with her debut poetry collection Pretty Boys are Poisonous. She chronicles her experiences with fame, abusive relationships and feminism. However, the book attracted criticism, with reviewers coining the work lazy, sloppy, and in need of some good editing. 

Fox’s work comes amongst a new wave of celebrity poetry books, following Lili Reinhart’s 2022 collection Swimming Lessons, Halsey’s 2020 work I Would Leave Me If I Could, and Gabbie Hanna’s 2017 book adultolescence, amongst others. 

Many of these books have been criticised for their simplicity and lack of understanding of the poetic form. Critics complain that they are simply notes app musings split up with line breaks, things that could have been tweets rather than published poems, and rely on lower case words and quirky illustrations to hide behind the fact that they lack any real substance. Having read a few of these works, I can understand why people might make these complaints. But I don’t think we should write off celebrity poetry so fast. 

The style that many of these celebrity poets use has been coined ‘insta poetry’ – a double entendre for the fact that it’s usually found on Instagram, and you can pretty much read it in an instant. Its origins are usually traced back to Rupi Kaur, an American poet who would post short pieces on her Instagram, and later published her debut collection milk and honey, which became a New York Times bestseller. 

‘insta poetry’ – a double entendre for the fact that it’s usually found on Instagram, and you can pretty much read it in an instant

I’ll be the first to admit that when I was a teenager I was gasping to get my hands on a copy of milk and honey. I devoured it, reading it cover to cover in one night, then highlighted my favourite quotes, or the parts I thought particularly relevant to me and my ex-boyfriend’s relationship (we had gone out for three weeks). 

This was my first exposure to poetry where I felt that it was for me, rather than aristocratic men from the 19th century. This woman got me, and my teenage heartbreaks, my awkwardness, my coming-of-age anxieties. Even better, she’d expressed it in a way that was digestible and easy-to-understand.

After reading Rupi Kaur, I moved away from insta poetry, instead choosing collections that might be deemed more ‘intellectual’, ‘literary’, or ‘technical’. Nowadays, I’d call myself a poetry fan, and my interests span many different genres and styles. But I’m not ashamed to admit that Rupi Kaur was my gateway drug. I’d never have explored anything else, or thought I was intelligent enough to read more complex collections, had I not been exposed to her first. 

As a result, I have a soft spot for celebrity poetry. True, perhaps it lacks some of the forms and techniques you might find elsewhere in the literary canon. It’s often more face value, lacks subtlety, and there’s a lot less analysis to be done with it. But it takes away the apparent inaccessibility of the genre, widening the audience and market for poetry, and showing people art is still art, even when it’s not complicated. Anything that gets more people reading poetry, and better still, anything that gets more people writing poetry is good in my books.

Anything that gets more people reading poetry, and better still, anything that gets more people writing poetry is good in my books

It’s no secret that the poetry industry has been struggling. Even amongst those who would consider themselves readers, poetry is often the last thing that they’d reach for. But celebrity poets have a built-in audience, meaning publishers aren’t taking as much of a risk when they publish a collection, so it’s almost certainly going to make money. Making a guaranteed profit from these books means that publishers have the funds to take a chance on a less established, talented poets. 

Should Megan Fox be awarded the nobel prize for literature? Perhaps not. However, her contribution to the world of poetry is bound to unlock a whole new arena of poetry fans, make her readers feel that there’s someone out there who understands their experiences, and open opportunities to indie poets that publishers might otherwise have never taken a second look at. That, to me, can’t be a bad thing. 

Featured image painted by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

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