The Threat of Insta-Poets

Should You Really Kaur?

American poets watch as poetry-book sales dwindle and the entire state of fine arts seems to face the threat of dilapidation. In 1988, Joseph Epstein released his deep-cutting criticism on poetry through an essay titled “Who Killed Poetry?” While Epstein laid the blame on the shoulders of the poets of his generation, any modern-day poet is likely to blame a decreasing poetry market-place. In 2006, D.W. Fenza offered his own response to Epstein’s criticism with an article he called, “Who Keeps Killing Poetry?” Fenza claims poetry has become “a market-model formula” of sellers and consumers.

Rupi Kaur is a 25-year-old Indian-born Canadian poet, writer, illustrator, performer, and social media star. Adorned with 1.5 million Instagram followers, Kaur became a social media celebrity after she posted a picture to her Instagram of herself in bed, she and her sheets covered in menstrual blood. After the photo was removed twice, she fought back on Facebook and Tumblr and gained popularity (and Instagram followers) as she earned attention from many media sites.

Kaur’s Instagram controversy unfolded in March of 2015; in 2014, she had self-published a collection of stories, milk and honey. Later, in 2015, as Kaur obtained media attention and large social media following, Andrews McMeel Publishing picked up her book. This debut collection, containing 180 sparse poems, sold over a million print copies and sat still on The New York Times bestseller list for 52 running weeks.

Kaur provides her audience with a quick few sentences of comforting words (with a metaphor spoon-fed to the reader) along with a simple illustration:

“She was music / but he had his ears cut off.”

This poem exposes itself immediately. Kaur provides the average person with “poetry” that takes no brainpower and can be read in a few short seconds. As Kaur herself said, “People aren’t used to poetry that’s so easy and simple.” Possibly, people aren’t used to this new form of poetry because only recently has the art of poetry been “dumbed-down” enough to where this type of simple writing is acceptable and even praised.

The Observer published an article by Rob Walker in May of 2017 titled, “The Young ‘Insta-Poet’ Rupi Kaur: From Social Media Star to Bestselling Writer.” In his article, Walker praises Kaur for her simple poems, proclaiming that her basic pieces are the “key to why Kaur has connected so strongly with millions of young people worldwide.”

Kaur is not the only writer to feed off of this new laziness; she has plenty of colleagues who write in the same indolent form. Let’s take R. H. Sin, for example. Sin is another Instagram poet and best-selling author of Whiskey Words & a Shovel, Volumes I and II. He has been selected for Oprah’s book club list and has enjoyed success with all of his books. Just like Kaur, his collections are full of easily digestible poems that appeal to young women by offering advice for effortlessly identifiable situations. Both writers typically address a “you” that turns the tone of the poetry into comforting advice to young women, rather than an innovative, intellectual contribution to the art of poetry.

As school curriculum loses focus on the art of poetry, a simple, lazy outlook on poetry has been deemed acceptable by the mainstream of younger generations. Due to this decline of attention given to the art, poorly written poetry collections that are easily comprehensible are now what sells in our market.

Our generation of writers must find a way to push good poetry back into the American households and maintain a high standard of our art, or else we risk losing our art form to the demand-side of economics.

 A poem from Kaur’s Instragram

A poem from Kaur’s Instragram

The cover image was edited by H. Scofield from a Southron (1917) cartoon, courtesy of the BSC Internet Archives.

Annika is an English major who got her start in the local writing community while attending the Alabama School of Fine Arts for creative writing. She has published writings in multiple Birmingham magazines, including Style Blueprint and ANNA Magazine.