Sunday, August 18, 2019

Who’s Afraid of Insta-Poetry?

by Cole Bellamy

From time to time, I get a book in the mail and get asked to review it for the local alternative weekly. It’s a fun little side gig, a review pays about enough for a good dinner, and I get to keep the books. Earlier this year, I was sent a copy of Nikita Gill’s Your Heart is The Sea from Thought Catalog Press, I wasn’t really aware of Nikita Gill before, and I was only vaguely aware of the phenomenon of young poets finding fame (and publishing contracts) by appealing directly to readers through social media outlets like Instagram or Twitter. Sure, I had heard of Rupi Kaur, and knew she sold a lot of books, but I didn’t really have much of an opinion of her work one way or the other. Your Heart Is The Sea was my first introduction to made-for-social-media poetry; ultimately, I gave the book a mixed review (it contains some good poetry, but should have been edited down into a shorter, better, book), and I was left conflicted.

On one hand, I am absolutely in favor of anything that gets people reading and writing more poetry. On the other, we’ve already seen what the strange crucible of social media has done to politics, personal relationships, and discourse, what will it do to poetry? While poets have always used the technology of their time to reach readers and express themselves (even Dylan Thomas was a radio star); media platforms like Twitter and Instagram are designed for quick consumption and immediate reaction; perhaps poetry is to be digested slowly. Furthermore, judging the success or failure of creative work through the metric of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ can tempt a creator to pander, to go for the most immediate reaction. Our current political reality shows us how the feedback machine of social media doesn’t exactly reward a person’s best impulses, and I can’t help but be suspicious of poetry born out of a system built for instant gratification.

Still, new forms of media and communication have the potential to further democratize poetry, allowing for more diverse voices to reach wider audiences. It may also serve as a gateway, for bringing more people in contact with the medium, which I can only see as a good thing. I suppose the risk is that with greater breadth, there may be a loss of depth; that immediacy comes at the cost of complexity. What we may be experiencing are the simple growing pains that come along with any jump in technology, poetry is not immune to the currents of larger culture, further, it has a responsibility to respond to the world as it is now, and to meet reach out to readers wherever they may be.

Cole Bellamy is a writer and educator from Tampa, Florida. He is the author of three collections of poetry: Lancelot’s Blues, The Mermaid Postcard, and American Museum, and his work has been featured in The Louisville Review, Penumbra, Defenestration, and most recently in Muse/A. He teaches creative writing at the Morean Arts Center, and blogs about Florida history, nature, and culture at