Commaful is supported by readers. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This does not affect who we choose to review or what we recommend. Learn more
Instagram began as a simple app for sharing photographs of happy moments with friends and family. However, its square-grid design quickly gained popularity as a platform that combined photos, micro-blogging, and instant messaging. Odd as it may seem, this led Instagram to swiftly evolve into a forum for sharing free-form poetry.
Incredibly, Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav, RM Drake, and Atticus have become megastars in a relatively short period of time.
Generally, Instagram poets compose couplets that can be read in a matter of seconds. These short couplets became an instant hit with a generation that enjoys multitasking and seeks to make sense of a frenetic culture.
If you think Instagram poets are a gimmick, think again. They are redefining poetry for the millennial generation. Although they commonly use simile and metaphor, they are generally short and unambiguous.
For many users, Instagram poetry serves as a springboard into the world of poetry since it is both accessible and relatable.
While it’s dubbed Instagram poetry because that’s the most popular venue for it, you can find poems written in a similar style on Commaful or Tumblr.
The Unstoppable Rise of Instagram Poets
While you may think Instagram’s emphasis on visuals would dissuade poets and writers from using the platform as a medium for their craft, the opposite has proven to be true.
Instagram has aided the rise of a number of popular poets in recent years, most notably Rupi Kaur, RM Drake, R. H. Sin, and Atticus. What became household names in the Instagram poetry world are now well-known in bookstores and the broader literary world.
This diverse group of poets has successfully transitioned from Instagram to traditional print publications. For example, Milk & Honey, a collection of poetry by Rupi Kaur, has sold in the seven-figure range and has been translated into 40 different languages.
Regardless of the plagiarism allegations against her, Rupi Kaur’s poetry collections have been a huge hit.
Kaur’s poems reflect her own ethnic encounter as a Punjabi Sikh who immigrated to Canada at the age of 4. Her poetry is an ode to the Gurmukhi script of the Punjabi language and does not use capital letters.
She describes herself as “struck between two worlds, never fully belonging to one” as an immigrant. Heartbreak, healing, migration, sex, love, loss, abuse and trauma, survival, femininity, and gender dynamics are all explored in Rupi Kaur’s work.
RM Drake isn’t far behind with a total of 12 published poetry volumes, several of which have made the New York Times Best Seller list. RM Drake’s poetry is well-known for its use of melodramatic themes such as loneliness, relationships, romance, loss, and death.
Charly Cox and Yrsa Daley Ward, both British poets, are making waves in Europe. Additionally, Lang Leav, Amanda Lovelace, Nayyirah Waheed, and Tyler Knott Gregson all deserve special mention.
A slew of other social media celebrities have shaken the poetry world. Cleo Wade’s inspiring mantras are well-known. Her words have appeared on billboards in Los Angeles and Times Square.
Atticus, who hides his identity behind a mask, has fans including actress Emma Roberts, musician Alicia Keys, and fashion model Karlie Kloss.
Instagram poets have taken over social media with their candid and spontaneous attitude, as well as their meticulous selection of universal or even generic themes to resonate with the readers scrolling down their feed.
In some respects, the term “Instagram poetry” is misleading. The artists behind them are, after all, poets who have had their work published.
This is made evident by the fact that many Instagram poets refuse to accept the designation of Instagram poet at all. They’re simply poets who use the social media platform to express themselves.
The ‘Beat Generation’ of the 21st Century
Instagram is an intriguing medium because it challenges traditional publication norms. Poets acquire prominence through viral status, circumventing traditional, established “gatekeepers” like publishing houses.
One could easily compare Instagram poets to the poets of the “Beat Generation,” an American literary movement of the 1950s. Like the post-World War II beat poets, today’s Instagram poets have created a “cult of personality” around their work.
The anonymous Instagram poet who goes by the name Atticus is especially famous in this regard. Although it has been revealed that his real name is Duncan Penn, he still wears a mask during readings and book signings.
Instagram poets are undeniably altering a deeply entrenched, age-old practice and skill of poetry through their usage of digital culture and media of our day.
Instagram, if anything, has democratized the art of poetry.
The ‘Look’ of Instagram Poetry
Instagram has given poetry a much-needed breath of fresh air. Because Instagram prioritizes images over text, it allows readers to discover new lyrical forms through the medium.
Poems on Instagram are shared, read, and saved as pictures rather than text files, so the way they are presented visually is crucial.
The Instagram poets’ unusual platform of choice allows them to evoke emotions of intimacy with their readers despite their large following. Instagram promotes a visual rhetoric of individual sincerity. The most popular Instagram poets mix poetry with traditional Instagram fare, such as selfies, scenic nature views, and alluring travel photos.
Traditional poetry is frequently associated with dusty, out-of-date school texts. This is in stark contrast to the Instagram poets’ polished presentation.
In a nutshell, Instagram poetry is a collection of bite-sized poems — a few lines of verse in a vintage-inspired font, tailored to fit into your Instagram feed. Their fonts in particular are an artistic extension of their work, and thus they are meticulously chosen by the poets.
Many poems posted on Instagram are written in a handwritten or typed style, evoking classical poetry. Most “Instapoets” use literary-themed visual mementos to evoke nostalgia.
They write in elegant scripts that echo antique manual typewriters, highly textured paper, and modest illustrations. Such techniques, in an ironic twist, make use of Instagram to reaffirm the old belief that authentic poetry expression is inky and papery in appearance.
With their “visual” approach to presenting complex thoughts and feelings, today’s “Instapoets” have an unrivaled rapport with the mostly 18-35 year old Instagram audience.
The relatability and accessibility of Instagram poetry are among the reasons it is so popular among millennials. Instapoets’ focus is to connect directly with their audience, not alienate them with convoluted language or sophisticated form.
The final outcome? Poetry ceases to be perceived as dreary.
The Inevitable Conflict with Purists
The validity of this emerging digital genre has been hotly debated in poetry circles, despite millennial fascination.
The most appealing feature of Instapoems is that they are short enough to fit in a single Instagram photo and straightforward enough that readers can understand the meaning even as they scroll through the feed.
However, these characteristics are among the main points cited by critics to dismiss this evolving art form.
According to critics, poetry is supposed to be the highest expression of language. But they argue that compositions, driven primarily by algorithmic keywords, dilute the art form.
Some critics complain that Instagram poems use bland imagery like stars and flowers and colloquial verse. Instagram poetry has been dismissed as “fidget-spinner poetry” because of its repetitive nature.
British poet Rebecca Watts published “The Cult of the Noble Amateur,” a vehement critique of Instagram poetry, in the poetry journal PR Review.
Watts denounced the genre, calling Instagram poetry a “complete rejection of complexity, subtlety, and eloquence. The reader is dead: long live consumer driven content and the instant gratification this affords. Literary community should stop celebrating amateurism and ignorance.”
The supporters of Instagram poetry argue that it is precisely this relatability that makes the poetry so popular among millennials.
Unlike traditional poetry, Instagram poems focus more on universal human emotions rather than complicated syntax. Instagram poets write in simple language, so their audience does not feel insulted or confused, and they are not compelled to analyze the writing like they would in an English class.
The ultimate goal for Instagram poets is to always connect with their audience on a personal level.
Critique from the literary upper crust is nothing new, of course. It dates back to Dante, who was widely chastised by critics for using the vernacular of the time.
Poetry’s evolutionary history shows that as languages change, so does poetry. Instagram’s poets are carrying on a literary tradition that has been carried on by countless other poets throughout time.
The Resurrection of Poetry
If anything, Instagram has elevated poetry to a new level of popularity among the digital youth. For many young readers, Harry Potter was a “gateway book” to more complex literature. It motivated a generation to pick up relatively long books and read them cover to cover.
Instagram poetry may serve a similar function. The natural progression for most who become interested in this format is to eventually seek out more deep poetry as their tastes and appreciation for the medium develop.
The results so far are undeniably encouraging. The popularity of poetry is on the rise. The number of individuals who read poetry climbed by 76% between 2012 and 2017.
The results are even more dramatic for young people. During that period, the share of poetry readers aged 18 to 24 more than doubled. Unsurprisingly, sales of poetry books have reached an all-time high.
Gregory Betts, a Canadian poet and Brock University professor, claims that “most students enter his class with little understanding of Canada’s poetry pantheon, but they can all identify Kaur. He stated that for some, she is what drew them to the course.”
If anything, Instagram poetry is drawing younger generations into the classroom to study poetry.
The debate should be on what constitutes excellent Instapoetry, not whether it counts as poetry. After all, outside of high-brow academia this style is now considered canon. Instagram’s poets have done something academics could only dream of: make poetry popular among the masses.
The Future of Instagram Poetry
According to Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri, the platform is no longer a photo-sharing service. Following the success of competitors such as TikTok and YouTube, the company is trying to expand into entertainment and video.
Of course, this does not prevent users from uploading photos to Instagram. It only means that they will not be promoted by Instagram. Their major focus will be on videos, and this will include providing users with recommendations for topics they aren’t following and making video more immersive by delivering a full-screen experience.
What Instagram is attempting to do is rather clear. Instead of being known as an app for sharing square pics of your particularly photogenic brunch or whatever your cat is doing that day, the brains behind Instagram intend to market it as a broader entertainment app powered by algorithms and videos.
As previously noted, Instagram poetry is largely based on aesthetic presentation of poems in the form of pictures. It remains to be seen what the implications of this shift may be for Instagram poetry. However, it will likely shake things up for newer Instagram poets and challenge them to evolve.
Instagram poetry has given the art form a much-needed breath of fresh air.
As a consequence of this trend, many Instagram users have been inspired to craft their own poetry for the first time, and others have developed an appreciation for a medium they may otherwise have ignored outside of school-mandated reading.
The art of Instagram poets does not diminish the traditional canon or individuals who seek solace and delight in more conventional works. It simply offers millennials and others an alternative form of poetry that is simple to read while maintaining the pathos and depth of meaning found in more traditional poems.
And all of these new creations are widely available on a platform where it may be readily shared and shared by large audiences.
Despite fears and complaints of poetry’s establishment, in the end, this accessibility and adaptation to younger generations gives the art form a hearty boost. In the end, poetry triumphs, and so do lovers of poetry.