Lessons About “Insta-Poetry” From a Poetry Snob
There’s an old stereotype about all writers being narcissists. Engulfed by the apparent illusionary beauty in their own works to accept criticisms or remarks of being imperfect. Even though it staggers me, it’s true. There’s a temptation to deny but it’s rebutted all too greatly by fantasies of procuring awards for every statement I’ve ever authored.
There seems to be a significant amount of this narcissism being reflected in our attitude towards reading literary works. Prominently in “Insta-Poetry”; essentially poetry written ‘for’ Instagram, appearing to be mistaken for poetry ‘on’ Instagram. The distinction in its phrasing isn’t mammoth, but the purpose it serves in our understanding of this impatient, uncharismatic form of poetry is immense.
I often get criticised for upholding an elitist view on ‘art’, and believing that it shouldn’t necessarily be accessible. But art was never meant to be accessible. The early European music compositions, tragedies of Shakespeare, poignancy of war poetry, the rise of impressionism aren’t there for every individual to understand. They cannot be.
It’s not a comment on one’s intellect, nor is it a statement on an artist’s arrogance of their work, but simply the inevitable conclusion due to varying passions. Mathematics isn’t understood by all, and art follows a similar path.
Lacking Literary Elements
The main issue with “Insta-Poetry” is that it lacks literary elements. Essentially the core aspects which are needed to declare a piece of writing as part of ‘literature’. Accessible poetry (which is all of “Insta-Poetry”) is simple. It’s presented in a manner which does not demand attention for more than a few minutes.
You see it, skim over it, and scroll.
Poetry, as I echo, seeks to be devoured. Completing the bare act of just ‘reading’ it is disrespectful. The rhymes don’t roll over your tongue to then just be rendered as an aesthetically pleasing reading experience. Poets don’t ramble in poetry through enjambment to simply make it appear in a free-flow. Every image, imperfect stanza structure, jargon which seems encrypted requires a reader. Attention and one’s ability to analyse is alien in “Insta-Poetry”. It’s fatigued; the platform doesn’t attract ‘readers’, but ‘followers’. That’s what the platform is for, but to declare it as a medium for reading is near slander.
Literary Snobbery and Written Narcissism
My attitude, often derived from academic works and reflected in their thoughts, is being termed as “snobbery”, and me as a member of the “poetry police”. A resentment rests on both sides. The snob in me, anxious of having the artistic element of poetry, and soon perhaps literature demoted to an ‘aesthetic pleasure’ is resentful of the seeming ignorance of individuals towards witnessing “Insta-Poetry” as a concept alien from ‘literary writing’. They resent my snobbery.
All writing isn’t art, but literary writing most certainly is. Poetry is literary writing. It is an incredibly elitist view but I propose so because literature requires respect. The more accessible ‘literature’ is forced to become, the less fascinating it appears. They extract no effort in thinking. There seems to be no scope for analysis, and that’s why it becomes ‘popular’. People underestimate the possibility of people losing the ability to write creatively, if the writing seeks to conform to these ‘popular’ norms. These norms lucratively offer them recognition without effort so one tends to not respect literature. Fearful that they might require to learn to write better, they choose to avoid it. It’s cowardly.
I’ve arrived at this idea because I was once this coward too. So tempted by the idea of getting my poetry out to the world within a few clicks, mere minutes while my email inbox hosted a minimum of eight publication rejections. The idea of not having to worry about getting a rejection was so fantastic, I couldn’t resist. And admittedly, I’ve posted poems on Instagram (which now I’ve deleted).
These poems transferred to my self-published collections which I now despise. They will remain to be a product of my impatience and they reiterate my anxiety around a sense of ignorance and impatience around one’s own writing. It’s not a realisation which I landed on overnight. But rather through a bitter, stinging conversation with a traditionally published poet. A conversation which stemmed not from comfort and rather necessity.
Self published writing is narcissistic. That’s what “Insta-Poetry” in its totality broadcasts. It simplifies this advertisement of narcissism.
That’s where this narcissism develops. The simple refusal to acknowledge that a rejection offers a silent suggestion for you to improve your writing. To have another individual critique it. So Instagram becomes a platform where poems which could’ve been improved, or at least not left incomplete appear and erupt. Here are a few ‘Insta-Poems’ I found (and these are written verbatim, nothing is simply an excerpt.)
“Love is like a bathroom painting, blurry and stinky.”
“Only if I could read you a letter and give you a bouquet of tulips, roses and my heart. Would you read my letter if my handwriting was jumbled?”
“Run your hands through my neck, and let it meet my breath. Give me warmth.”
Verbatim. The reality of “Insta-Poetry” is that it is absurdly short. Poems are not meant to have a particular length, obviously but the length should produce meaning. These lines perhaps appear to convey a poignancy, but are simply miserable in their appearance.
Neither an example of horrible nor exemplary writing, but an attempt to title them ‘poetry’ shouldn’t have them expect any sympathy.
Pandering to Technology
What is perhaps an enormously frustrating observation, often overlooked, is how “Insta-Poetry” vehemently sponsors our changing reading patterns as a consequence of an overuse of technology.
Our adaptation to technology and the low concentration or attention it needs to entertain us has made reading appear herculean. It’s horrific to see, but was anticipated. “Insta-Poetry”, instead of calling out the platform it is published on, is allowing this habit to increase. It does not require attention. The bare minimum is sufficient.
My fear is that if we entertain this in the name of ‘accessibility’, we’ll inevitably end up corrupting our reading habits. It’ll begin to rust and the fact that we aren’t able to even devout attention to quite noticeably the shortest form of literature in its length is astounding. Naturally the level of analysis required is massive, but to demand a summarised version of its form is bewildering.
Sympathy for Poetry
Perhaps the anxiety around this issue by academics doesn’t arise from their ‘control’ over the ‘poetry-market’, as one assumes. In my lens, it’s recorded as a fright arising purely from their passion towards this art. They, like me cannot see it dismissed to become a few lines which require barely any attention — and this accessible poetry on Instagram could potentially alter the perception of poetry in general.
I sympathise with writers who’re trying to publish their work but like me, receive a rather bitter response. There’s this impatience which still rests in me to become a ‘recognised poet’ instantly; a status which will lend me great pride because my work will be available to academics for an analysis or assessment, available for them to pay attention to it. I want respect towards my writing, towards literature. I want to battle this impatience.
“Insta-Poetry” is devoid of this respect. It’s not a conventional display of respect which is countered by vile shenanigans, but one which makes people aware of its beauty, and appreciate the ones who are able to devote their attention towards it and make it their passion.
Even if art is meant to change, we cannot treat the idea of poetry so loosely. It’s not malleable, and instead dynamic.
As dynamic as poetry is, it is also phenomenally radical. It’s meant to be intimidating, and to edit it for aesthetic pleasure makes it drowsy. We need to be awake to read poetry, for what the poem might awaken in you will trance you into a marvel.