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MDX Redbeat

Have We Ruined Poetry?

By Sania Khan

Poetry has existed as long as we humans have. It is used as a medium to bridge the gap between our inner thoughts and the external world. The ultimate need to convey our thoughts and emotions in their deepest form appears to be an innately human quality.

Poetry was originally recited to an audience to paint a vivid picture in the mind of the listener or, as modern poetry enthusiasts like to call themselves, “logophile”. The earliest known form of poetry was said to be “epic poetry”, which was aptly named for its monumental nature.

Excerpt of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

What makes these poems “epic” is the poets’ dependency on heroic imagery to dispel tales of intense adventure or those with relatively simpler themes.  The Divine Comedy illustrates the poets’ journey through the three realms of the dead, namely hell, purgatory, and paradise.

Here, Alighieri evokes the ubiquitous concept of religion and abiding by its predefined morals, immersing the readers into the three realms while adhering to a penny-plain rule of literature: “Show, don’t tell.”

During medieval times, approximately lasting from 500 AD to 1500 AD, poets like Geoffrey Chaucer experimented with “vernacular”. This refers to writing in the language of laymen to make literature more accessible to the “common people”. Advancing from the medieval ages, 19th-century American writer Mark Twain also adopted this style in his The Prince and The Pauper through satire, colloquial language (slang) and prerequisite British English.

 Nonetheless, the Renaissance period  (spanning around 1485 to 1660) juxtaposed the earlier course of poetry as poets began developing new structures. This also marked the era of Shakespeare, where he introduced us to “verse drama”. Poetry was no longer restricted to just a few stanzas anymore. Poets, or rather, playwrights, began adding together verbose and extended layers of meaning. Playwriting became the new norm.

If we prance over to the 18th to 19th century Enlightenment period, where poets reverted to the formal styles of writing, we stumble across the Romantic era. This was the most prominent and beloved era of literature. The romantics found new ways to express themselves, centralising their focus on emotions and the adoration of the mundane.

The infamous William Shakespeare (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Now, the question is, how many of us could name these poets or describe different eras of poetry?

Sadly, not many.

With the rise of social media usage and its accessibility, poets share their work on Instagram and Tumblr to reach wide audiences. This has enabled the creation of a genre coined as “Instapoetry”. While this portmanteau may strike as self-explanatory, “instapoetry” defines a new cultural norm. They are often easy-to-understand poems and brief enough to fit your social media profile’s bio.

These poems follow a very rigid and obvious structure; one so categorically sound that this checklist was humorously made to define the genre.

“Instapoem” checklist:

  1. All lowercase letters.
  2. Use women as a metaphor.
  3. Write about depression.
  4. Most importantly, the word spacing should look visually pleasing

Rupi Kaur, Atticus, Lang Leav, and actress Lili Reinhart, are often noted as the faces of “instapoetry”. Though, the umbrella of “instapoetry” does not limit itself to renowned people. The Instagram and Tumblr profiles we come across that are posting poetry, quotes or any form of writing are also within the niche of “instapoetry.”

The “instapoets” and their poetry have faced volumes of criticism for lacking depth and being “lazy” attempts at writing. Upon analysing Rupi Kaur’s work, YouTuber Emily Butler noted, “If you’ve read one collection, you’ve read them all.” Similarly, in an article by Fareah Fysudeen titled “Here’s Why Rupi Kaur’s Poetry Suck”, she remarks, “[The] poems are expected, obvious and vacuous, painting an illusion of depth where there is none.” Interestingly enough, “instapoets” go back to the roots of poetry by performing on stage to an audience. Performance poets are primarily presenting their work to an audience rather than to poets. The difference is that audiences are more appreciative of a good performance with minuscule use of poetic devices. Rupi Kaur’s 2022 world tour, which showcased various fan favourites and even her undiscovered work is the perfect example of this. The strength of her vocals and compelling annunciation drew people to her poetry.

Rupi Kaur at TIMES Litfest 2018, Bengaluru (Source: Flickr)

Another notable example is the “Poem Song” by Gabbie Hanna, a YouTuber with over 5 million subscribers. It is worth mentioning, though, that Hanna’s video was not a formal studio production, rather, it was a YouTube video of her recitation. The difference in this account is that Hanna’s delivery is an attempt to portray emotion through her voice “gone wrong”, as evidenced by the colourful comments it received. Some people vindicated her because she is not an experienced writer, while others accused her of “ripping them off”.

Keeping the technicality of poetry in mind, “instapoetry” lacks the use of poetic devices and different forms of literature. Poetry hit the brakes and reversed in the opposite direction, challenging conventional notions of poetry.

Most of the “instapoets” focus on being “in the moment,” which, in turn, makes their work superficial and transactional  as most readers claim that they publish their “tweets” — not poems— for their own merit.

It is due to note that “instapoetry” exists within the context of the scroll economy on Instagram. Often, “instapoetry” needs to convey itself through visuals like photographs and illustrations to succeed amidst a deluge of other posts. Given Instagram’s inclination towards visually palatable material, it is unsurprising that “instapoetry” thrived as it has. Instapoetry as a concept can be distilled as textual emojis representing every emotion, but very generically.

However, the term “instapoetry” isn’t as narrow as it seems on the surface. Of course, the “good” follows the “bad” in any piece or genre of literature. “Instapoetry” reminds us that poetry, or any other form of art, has inspired people to find their own creative voice in a raw, ardent manner. Denouncing the whole genre will not shoo it away. “Instapoetry” may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but its impact is undeniable— its appeal and accessibility cater to a wide audience. Perhaps poetry is served best unconsidered as a monolith and left unhomogenised, creating room for both poetry in the likes of epics and ”instapoetry” to be considered as enjoyable art forms reflective of their time.


  • Swetha
    November 24, 2023

    Such an amazing article! From the first line to the last, it reveberates the message that throughout the passgae of time; poetry can take various forms but it’ll survive as long as mankind exists, for our need to be heard and understood continues to thrum on in our souls. Pure bliss reading this! ❤️

  • Amaan
    November 24, 2023

  • Amaan
    November 24, 2023


  • siu
    November 24, 2023

    “instapoetry” u mean girlblogging?? <:) super fun article hehe <33

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