Instagram saving poetry?

Social media poets have been accused of "dumbing down" the art form

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National Poetry Day 2019: is Instagram saving poetry?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Happy National Poetry Day! Are you a fan of versification, or should it be a write-off for rhymes?

Poetry can appear both dusty and inaccessible - a code to decipher in the sterile environment of a classroom.

A new wave of poets, however, are using social media to revitalise an "ancient arm form".

Not everyone is a fan of Instagram poets, though. One poet complains about how it "dumbs down" the art form through a cult of personality.

The Claim

The State Press' Jessica Myers reports that social media is "revitalising an ancient art form" by bringing a new form of poetry to a new audience.

She writes: "Instagram poetry is reshaping the way people view and approach the medium.

"It is setting a mold for a new, highly accessible means of millennial and Generation Z communication, acting as a voice to those who feel underrepresented and existing as an outlet people can claim as their own."

According to a survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, the number of US adults reading poetry has nearly doubled in the past decade.

It found that 18 to 24-year-olds have increased their poetry consumption from 8.2 per cent in 2012 to 17.5 per cent in 2017. For adults aged between 25 and 34, it increased by five points to 12.3 per cent in 2017.

The Counterclaim

However, not all poets are convinced about the phenomenon of Instagram poetry.

In her essay, 'The Cult of the Noble Amateur', Rebecca Watts laments about social media’s "dumbing effect" on recent poetry. She accuses the "personality poets" of rejecting the craft of poetry.

She writes: "Why is the poetry world pretending that poetry is not an art form?

"I refer to the rise of a cohort of young female poets who are currently being lauded by the poetic establishment for their ‘honesty’ and ‘accessibility’ – buzzwords for the open denigration of intellectual engagement and rejection of craft that characterises their work."

Watts notes that this "artless poetry" sells, but argues that the ability to draw a crowd or an audience is not necessarily a good thing.

While there may be a flourishing poetry market, there is a danger that these "cult of personality" poets renders the reader "more confused, less appreciative of nuance, less able to engage with ideas".

Watts argues: "Of all the literary forms, we might have predicted that poetry had the best chance of escaping social media’s dumbing effect; its project, after all, has typically been to rid language of cliché.

"Yet in the redefinition of poetry as ‘short-form communication’ the floodgates have been opened. The reader is dead: long live consumer-driven content and the ‘instant gratification’ this affords."

The Facts

National Poetry Day is an annual celebration of the art form, held on October 3 every year in the UK. It was founded by William Sieghart and the Forward Arts Foundation in 1994 to celebrate and promote poetry, bringing the art form to new audiences.

For the past 20 years, there have been themes attached to the awareness day. This year's theme is Truth. Previous years' themes have included Change, Freedom, Light, and Heroes and Heroines.

National Poetry Day is supported by Arts Council England, the BBC, Royal Mail and many literary organisations, as well as bookstores, libraries and schools.

Sales of poetry books hit an all-time high last year, with 1.3 million volumes of poetry making £12.3 million, the Guardian reports.

Statistics from UK book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan show that sales grew by just over 12 per cent in 2018 - for the second year in a row.

Millennials drove the surge in sales with two-thirds of buyers younger than 34. They also found that 41 per cent were aged 13 to 22-years-old - with teenage girls and young women identified as the biggest buyers of poetry.

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Instagram poetry: How social media is revitalizing an ancient art form

Jamal Cadoura has been posting poetry on Instagram since 2015. The 25 year old Michigan-based writer is known online as @Writingtoinspire and typically posts simple black text over a white background, but he allows himself room to experiment with different designs.

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