Has Instagram Been Saving Poetry?

Picture of By Ninke Boshuizen

By Ninke Boshuizen

“Poetry is the new pop, man,” quoted Jimmy Fallon in an interview with Rupi Kaur, one of the world’s most famous Instagram poets. She explained she always thought she had to become a pop star or an actress to get into places like The Jimmy Fallon Show, but somehow poetry got her there. The reason her poetry is so popular? Instagram.

Poetry in Many Forms

Over the recent years, poetry has been spread to many different social media platforms. Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, you name it and there is poetry to be found. But no social media platform has had such a big impact on the genre as much as Instagram. Poetry on Instagram became so popular that a new form of poets could originate. The Instagram poets. They often create fairly short and understandable poetry, combined with an attractive image to look at. Rupi Kaur, for example, combines her poets with fine line drawings. A combination that led her to have over four million followers on Instagram.

Book Sales

The special thing about poetry on Instagram is, however, not its popularity on social media only. The success of Instagram poetry has managed to move from the digital world to the analog world through book sales. Since Instagram poetry became popular, the poetry book category in the United States has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 21 percent since 2015, making it one of the fastest-growing categories in publishing. 

instagram, poetry
Source: The NPD Group

The remarkable fact about this growth is that in 2017, almost half (47%) of the poetry books sold in the United States were written by Instagram poets. Out of the 20 best-selling poets in 2017, 11 were Instagram poets. With Rupi Kaur as the best-selling poetry author of the year. By now, Rupi Kaur has published 3 poetry bundles. Her first two bundles, Milk & Honey and The Sunsun and Her Flowers have sold over 8 million copies all together. Her most recent bundle, Home Body, debuted #1 on bestsellers lists across the world. Reaching such high numbers, it is fair to say that Instagram poetry has boosted poetry book sales.

The Image of Instagram Poetry

Besides the massive influence on poetry book sales, it has also influenced the image of poetry. Some say Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur have been making poetry ‘cool’ again. Poetry, a genre that had a fairly ancient image, became something modern and popular. Creating poetry was something to strive for again.

However, besides all the enthusiasm, there has been some backlash too. Some say Instagram poets have done the genre of poetry no good, by dumbing their poems down to the most simple form and a focus on looks rather than good quality poetry.

But in the end, Instagram poetry is making people want to read, share and buy poems, without the original poetry book sales going down.

Why Share Poetry on Instagram?

To get a little more insight into why Instagram is such an attractive platform to share poetry, I interviewed one of my friends who makes Instagram poetry, Anouk Harkmans. She writes poems on her Instagram account @verboeiend in Dutch.

Did you start writing poems before you saw Instagram poetry, or after?

Anouk: I started writing poetry before I stepped into the world of Instagram poetry. The Instagram account where I post my poems today started as a private account with random snapshots. Before I learned about this new online phenomenon called Instagram poetry I only wrote in notebooks.

Why did you start sharing your poetry on Instagram?

Anouk: At first, I started sharing my poetry online for organizational purposes. My collection of papers and notebooks got really messy and I was looking for a place to keep them all together. My first Instagram posts concerning poetry actually were pictures of my handwriting in notebooks. After two years or so I started digitizing all my writings.

What has sharing your poems on  Instagram brought you?

Anouk: Once I started sharing digital versions of my poems, people seemed to start recognizing the style of my posts and writing. I gained followers that weren’t just friends and acquaintances and I started following other Instagram poets. That’s when I got involved in some online poetry competitions and that really motivated me to step up my game and actually consider myself as an ‘Instagram poet’.

This also means that I started experimenting with new forms of poetry. Spoken word is becoming increasingly popular online, I think because of the big (creative) freedom it enables and the possibility to make this online writing more personal and authentic. I decided to give it a go myself and I actually won a prize with this ‘first attempt’ at spoken word. And last but not least, I recently started to use my Instagram as a platform to promote the bundle I wrote and the posters I am currently creating. Because after all, Instagram is not only a tool for creativity but increasingly for marketing as well.

How is sharing your poetry on Instagram different from other ways of sharing your poetry?

Anouk: Instagram poetry differs from other ways of sharing, mostly in the sense that it enables me to get in touch with my readers. The most exciting part of writing is receiving feedback and positive notes about being moved and feeling recognized. Writing is in a first way a form of expressing myself and my emotions, but knowing that something so personal can mean so much for others as well is what keeps me going in the end. Of course, writing online also has its creative limitations, but it doesn’t outweigh the endless new possibilities to connect with readers and other creative writers.

So, Has Instagram Been Saving Poetry?

Even though there is no way to know if poetry would have reached such high popularity again some other way, without Instagram. It is clear to say that Instagram has had a big impact on the genre. It has offered a new way of creating and sharing poetry, almost doubling the book sales and reaching millions of people on Instagram itself. Whether you are a fan of the Instagram style of poetry or not, you cannot deny the benefits Instagram has brought to the poetry industry, reaching a whole new audience. Instagram has made poetry the new pop, which you could definitely call an act of saving a genre otherwise often seen as faded glory. 


Cover: Suzy Hazelwood 

Edited by: Melike Alpay

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