October 26, 2018

INTERLUDE | In the New Age of Instagram Poetry

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Over 146,000 people—myself included—find Instagram user @yrsadaleyward absolutely beautiful. She’s got impeccable taste in fashion, gorgeous hair, and an uncanny talent for combining messy colors to create the perfect aesthetic. Yet, unlike the many other powerhouse Instagram accounts that claim these same attributes, Yrsa Daley-Ward’s followers aren’t just there for the visuals. In fact, we’re much more interested in what she has to say and the movement she represents.

Yrsa Daley-Ward belongs to a growing generation of young poets emerging on Instagram today. These so called “Instagram Poets” have harnessed the power of social media, with its inherently convenient and connective qualities, to create an innovative platform for their work. Although often consisting of only a few, short lines, their posts tackle important issues (racism, sexism, and mental illness among others) with an evocative quality that is distinctly appealing to young audiences. Contemporaries of Daley-Ward such as Rupi Kaur (@rupikaur_), ATTICUS (@atticuspoetry), and Nikita Gill (@nikita_gill) have found immense commercial success, boasting anywhere from half a million to three million followers, and an impressive repertoire of published works.

Yet, despite the generally positive online feedback, controversy over this new form of poetry remains. Just how effective can an artist built on a platform of mass consumption, manipulation, and immediate gratification be? There are none of the traditional elements we associate with works of art (I’ve yet to visit an art museum where you can double-tap the paintings) and that in itself raises the question: how can digitized poetry possibly compare to a painting, sculpture, or even paperback book? We can only experience “Insta-poetry” through innumerable digital reproductions on our screens; we only consider the work for a few fleeting moments before scrolling to the next post or, in rare cases, leaving a brief comment.

The answers to these questions are, of course, up for debate. Personally, however, I like to see Instagram Poets, and their work, as trailblazers in a new era of art that emphasizes connectivity over exclusivity. These new poets differ from their traditional counterparts in the sense that they are strikingly and effortlessly relatable. They are brutally honest about their experiences in the modern world—from heartbreak to insecurities to political frustrations—and the fact that they are communicating through Instagram seems to bring them down to a more human level. Their work is strengthened by the fact that it’s widely available, instantly accessible. Not only have Instagram Poets reached an audience that might have not otherwise encountered poetry, they have connected with them as well. Their posts, incorporated seamlessly into our daily feeds, are consistent and easy to understand. Often times, they seem to provide just the right wisdom at just the right time, capturing the emotions we all feel but can’t express. In many ways, the platform enhances both the content and the experience. Instagram allows the poet to reach millions of people at once, yet it simultaneously allows each follower to feel as if every poem were written just for them.

So, why Yrsa Daley-Ward? Among all the popular, successful Instagram Poets that decorate the app’s Explore page, why am I particularly fond of her? The truth is, I just happened to stumble upon one of her poems (which can be found below) at an extremely relevant time in my life—that strange transitory period between being a senior in high school and a freshman in college. Daley-Ward managed to put the messy, abstract way I was feeling at the time into just a few choice words and, like the millions of other people following Instagram Poets today, I was captivated. It may be a new platform, but it’s an age-old idea: we just want to know that we’re not alone in what we feel.