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As the 2010s come to a close, The New Republic magazine declared ‘Rupi Kaur is the writer of the decade’, because ‘her work embodies […] the technology that defines contemporary life: smartphones and the internet’. However, other critics such as Rebecca Watts contest her success, stating ‘the ability to draw a crowd […] does not in itself render a thing intrinsically good […] the new poets are products of a cult of personality’.
The debate surrounding Instapoets like Kaur is grounded in social media’s digital space, where they are developing a new style of poetry. Their work raises questions concerning poetry and photography in the digital, age, and whether we measure success by the number of followers or the quality of the content.
SCAN spoke to Instapoet and Photographer Sarah Tucker, who said:
“I publish poetry on Instagram, mostly because it is a way to reach a readership without any middle man. I can interact directly with the people who read my poems. […] While Instagram is mostly a platform for visuals, I have enjoyed being able to share my writing and interact with a handful of interested people, and that extends beyond my immediate circle. I don’t hold much hope for being “discovered” or becoming very popular through Instagram, but this is not what it’s for, for me. It’s more of a creative outlet, a poetry notebook – a place to experiment, discover and connect without the pressures of submissions, performances or competitions.”
Sarah Tucker is a lesser-known Instapoet who engages with the themes of nature, identity, and memory in the digital world ekphrastically using the age-old interaction between words and image. Tucker has an alternating photograph to poem format, meaning her poetry never coexists with photography like for Rupi Kaur or Atticus; however, they do reflect each other in alternative ways. Her images use a black and white profile to emphasising her inventive use of lighting and echoing earlier forms of pre-colour photography, arguably a nostalgic acknowledgement to the past on a digital platform.
“I love that I get to use this one platform to share both of my creative outlets – poetry and photography. I will admit though that the images always get more of a response than the poems and yet my investment in the poetry is still much more. I have had a few followers say that they would never have followed a poetry account usually and while they followed for the photography they do now often find themselves reading and enjoying the poetry as well. So the images, in a sense, can be a bit of a Trojan horse to be able to share more of my poetry on a visual medium.”
“I would say though that the poetry dictates the images more than the other way around- I would probably share much more varied images if it was merely a photography page- including colour etc. I think the break up of the text with images makes the page more accessible and is a deepening of the things I like to express in the poetry.”
Instagram poetry is a product of the digital age where social media informs our concepts of photography, ekphrasis, and identity. The photographs development into a digital medium opens new possibilities. Now, the digital photograph, portrayed on social media, becomes a way for creators to engage with their audiences, preserve the stages of their creative process and merge artforms. Whether you like Instapoetry or despise it, artists like Tucker are pushing poetry and photography into the new media sphere, and it’s well worth watching the process unfold.