The Evolution of Poetry

Until Milk and Honeywas published in 2014, I think it’s safe to assume that the general public was not reading poetry.If you were to ask my dad, he’d tell you T.S. Elliot’s famous line, “April is the cruelest month”, is from a Simon and Garfunkel song. Truly, poetry had been generally declining in popularity. That is, until the arrival of the social media movement pioneered by figures such as Rupi Kaur, R.H. Sin, Lang Leav, Atticus and many more poets that gained popularity through platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr. 

This recent resurgence of poetry begs the question: How has the influence of social media changed poetry? What does that mean about our culture? 

Poetry Revival 

Whether you love or hate this new poetic movement, there’s no denying that social media has allowed poetry to regain visibility as an artform. Even modern poetic geniuses like Mary Oliver don’t have the same coverage and book sales as many of these so-called Instagram poets. (Instagram being the most notable avenue, I will be using the umbrella term “Instagram poetry” to speak broadly about this topic). 

What’s appealing about this quote-unquote Instagram poetry is: it’s consumable. In order for social media poetry to be widely read, it has to be easy to read. Technology has transformed how poetry is presented today. Poetry that is posted on these platforms must fit nicely into an Instagram square or be under the 200 character tweet limit. 

Common Characteristics 

These poets often utilize straightforward, vernacular language in their work and discuss many modern issues such as mental health and feminism. The topics aren’t what really separates social media poets from more traditional poets, but rather the simplified form and concise verses. This type of poem is more easily accessible to the public, not just by being on their favorite social media platforms, but by being less stylistically complex and abstract. 

 Poetry used to be primarily performative, and though the oral tradition of poetry is kept alive through readings and particularly with the increasing popularity of spoken-word poetry, the primary medium in which poetry is viewed and presented is the written word. With the prevalence of social media, the nuances in meanings have to be more evident in written form for the poet to evoke a response from the reader. One way this is achieved is through lineation. This method is employed as a visual element to further express and contemplate meaning through line breaks and the arrangement of words on the page.

 Poetry or Product?

Adapting poetry to be both marketable and culturally relevant may be what revives it, but the consumable nature of these social media poets also creates a potential structure for superficiality. Social media culture glorifies certain people based on the number of likes and followers they have, but does not truly measure the deeper value of the content. These poems are perhaps reminiscent of greeting cards or inspiring mantras, cheapening the art despite its popularity. It begs the question of the trendiness of this movement and which poetic works will last and retain artistic value. 

 But perhaps this is a mere romantic sentiment and an age-old “art for art’s sake” argument. The intersectionality between art and profit is a complex web of conflicting questions about what is art, what it meansto create art and how well popularity can actually measure artistic value. This trendy poetic aesthetic calls into question devotion to craft, and yet, there is something endearing about these little poems that have appealed to a lot of people.