Example poetry

The bookseller – Commentary – We are missing the essentials of Instagram poetry

The tongue will not stand still, it never has. And since poems are made of language, what are they supposed to do in the digital age – where cut, pasted and transmitted text changes the way we think and communicate: lie down and think about England?

Instagram poetry has received a lot of press in recent years, almost none of which has focused on Instagram’s potential – as a digital tool – for all kinds of different poetry. I’m talking here about Instagram poetry in its broadest sense, rather than the subgenre of Instapoetry made famous by Rupi Kaur and defined by short, emotional poems, often focusing on imperfect bodies and even more imperfect relationships. Think of Instagram as a blank slate, a digital canvas, where play and experimentation come first. An open notebook for the scroll age. Poets take risks there, trying new approaches, using quick feedback from followers to get a sense of what people find exciting. It’s not the last word on a work – and all writers need deeper editorial engagement than Insta can provide – but as an additional platform, with huge potential to reach new people, it is the one to which thousands of poets turn. Agents and publishers should seek out new writers there and support their current writers who are embracing the space.

Instagram poetry takes place in about three by seven centimeters of space on an average phone screen, with room for up to 20 lines of poetry – although most poets don’t need that. Neither haiku masters nor imagists. In the hands of the good poet, 7cm by 7cm is the size of the National Theater stage. Incredible inventions through visual, conceptual, natural, political and erasure poetry – a form that delights in removing words from found text to reveal a “hidden” poem beneath – take place.

Think of Instagram as a blank slate, a digital canvas, where play and experimentation come first. An open notebook for the scroll age

A few years ago, the National Poetry Library hosted the world’s first Instagram Poetry Expo. Why? Simply put, the number of young adults using libraries is expected to be higher and given that children in the UK spend around 48 minutes on Instagram, we wanted to experiment how the digital field could influence our physical space. Rather than waiting for the young people to come get us, we looked for them. The opening event was one of the most exciting in the library’s history, with the space filled with people visiting for the first time, reading their work live and photographing their works on display – to post on Instagram, obviously.

This led to a book titled Instagram poetry for every day (Laurence King Publishers, 2020). Speaking to contributors, we were struck by the number of poets and artists who referred to their Instagram pages as an “organized space”. In addition to the nuance of each individual work, there is also the possibility for poets and artists to structure their entire Instagram page like an exhibition wall, for example by working with particular materials – or alternating colors – so that their entire page develops a distinctive aesthetic. . As @kayf.j told us, “Instagram allows you as an artist to evolve and look back on that evolution through your feed.”

Publishers sometimes misunderstand the potential of the platform for their authors, seeing it as a marketing tool rather than a creative one. It may be tempting for publishers to see the millions of people using Instagram as potential buyers of a newly released hardcover book – which some of them may be – but the reality of Insta is that people who love poetry go there to find more of the thing they love, rather than being cold-heartedly sold something new. Poets are building up a very loyal and personal following for their work, as evidenced by the number of tattoos with visual poems by @anatolknotek.

As in life, so on Insta: people get excited about what they love to see, follow their favorite authors, then wait for their next post – which may have the dopamine of a Netflix series. Fans want to see inside the world of a writer or artist, to get a sense of their process – their ways of writing and doing. If publishers have a budget to market a book on social media, it is better to strategize with the writer himself, to present his new book from the inside – using short readings of the work, pages photographed from notebooks, or even a collaboration between the writer and a visual artist. Consider investing in the author’s Instagram account. Why market a cold book when fans – and potential fans – can fall in love with the work itself?

One thing publishers need to consider is that Instagram provides a space for people to share their own experience. As Nikita Gill, the UK’s most popular Instapoet, puts it: “People flock to my comments section to share…and comfort one another.” It forces publishers to move from a hierarchical way of thinking – me publisher, good author, buying audience – to meeting people at a level where they can engage directly, saying what works for them. It takes courage to get into the mix.



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