Saturday, November 21, 2015

Poetry in the Digital Age

I know I said I was going to post a guide to YA fantasy novels, and I still am, but today, I have to talk about something new (to me) in the poetry world.

Recently, the New York Times published an article about young poets publishing their poetry on social media sites such as Instagram and Tumblr, and the success those poets have seen as a result. For example, according to the New York Times article, poet Tyler Knott Gregson has 560,000 followers on Tumblr and Instagram, and his first book, Chasers of the Light, has more than 120,000 copies in print. A post on Gregson's website states that his book All The Words Are Yours is a semifinalist for the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award for Poetry Book of the Year, an award that Goodreads members vote on.

The New York Times article has dubbed poets like Gregson "Instapoets," a term I find fascinating. Much like vloggers on YouTube and musicians on Myspace, Instapoets are becoming online celebrities, and I'm curious about what this means for poetry.

I've had several conversations with colleagues about this, and the general consensus is that these Instapoets will not be a gateway for readers who might search out other poets, like Louise Gluck, Ted Kooser, and Mary Oliver. It's also been the general consensus that the quality of poems written by Instapoets might not be that good--and after reading Chasers of Light, I have found that Gregson's poetry does lack depth, and that much of it is cliched.

As the New York Times article mentions, the chances of Instapoets impressing literary critics is small, but perhaps this is beside the point. The amount of online followers Instapoets like Gregson have, and the amount of books Instapoets are selling both indicate that these poets are filling some kind of need for their readers. Presumably, writing poetry also fulfills a need for Instapoets, because otherwise, why would they be writing? For me, it becomes problematic when those writers then share their poems without first revising them at least once.

The key to poetry, and to any writing, is knowing when to revise, and knowing when to let something go (or, as many writers may call it, knowing when to kill your darlings). I have to wonder about Instapoets: How often do they revise their poetry, if they revise it at all? If they don't revise their poetry, why? Is it because they think they have written something that is perfect, which rarely happens in first drafts of anything? Is it because they simply don't know how to? There are so many possibilities, and I have my opinion about why Instapoets might not revise their work (assuming, of course that they don't).

At the end of the day, Instapoetry doesn't work for me. Despite how it's shaping poetry in the digital age, and despite the positive response Instapoets are getting, I just can't get behind it. When I read poetry, I want to read about ideas I haven't read before. When I read Instapoetry (or, as one of my coworkers calls it, pop poetry), I feel like I'm reading the same poems over and over again.

I'm also curious: What would happen if traditionally published poets like Ted Kooser and Mary Oliver tried what Gregson does, and posted their poems on social media? Would they get the same following, or would they not get much attention (or, perhaps they would get attention solely for doing what the Instapoets have done, and not get attention for their poetry)?

What are your thoughts? Do poets like Tyler Knott Gregson, Lang Leav, and Robert M. Drake appeal to you, or do you think Instapoets are just a fad that will soon disappear? Let me know in the comments!

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