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Gatekeeping in the poetry community: The legitimacy of ‘Instapoetry’

Gatekeeping in the poetry community: The legitimacy of ‘Instapoetry’

Gatekeeping in the poetry community: The legitimacy of ‘Instapoetry’
September 27
12:00 2018

Who determines the legitimacy of poetry? Is there a literary Supreme Court? Are there bigwigs gathered in a circle with a perpetual lineup of hopeful poets seeking an audience? Or is there an all-definitive gavel that marks each poem forever with either “classic” or “fake deep”?

Often, academics consider themselves to be the determining factor in the validity of poetry.

Oxford dictionary defines a poem as a “piece of writing in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by particular attention to diction, rhythm and imagery.” Although by definition any creative can express themselves through poetry by taming their words into any form, academics believe it is in their power to add more requirements to establish the legitimacy of their work.

These requirements include (but are not limited to) undergoing a tedious process of amassing a collection before unveiling and publishing your work for the world to see.

According to many academics, “Instapoets” do not practice or post legitimate poetry — their work is categorized separately, labeled “Instapoetry.” Urban Dictionary has even condescendingly defined an Instapoet to be a “hipster who cannot get published for their writing so they turn to Instagram to try and be known.”

As an English major with a concentration in creative writing, I have witnessed these sentiments firsthand. This past semester in one of my workshops, I noticed a collective opinion that some of my peers possessed — to them, it seems to be an insult to be regarded with the likes of Instapoets. One girl went as far as to state, unprompted, that her least favorite book was “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur, disdainfully explaining to the professor that it was merely “Instagram poetry.”

This struck me as bizarre. The literary academic scene can be extremely elitist, especially against poets. Their works are regarded as easy feats, though the rules of poetry are much more meticulous than any other genre of literature. Why then, do they alienate themselves from a rapidly rising, accessible poetic expression?

According to The NPD Group, over half of the top 20 bestselling poets were Instapoets in 2017. Additionally, nearly half of the total percentage of poetry collections sold in the U.S. in 2017 were composed by the very Instapoets that are looked down upon in literary circles. These “amateurs poets” are responsible for a resurgence of interest in poetry. Without them, poetry would have no place amongst our youth.

The growing success of these Instapoets is due to the international access they provide. Not everyone has access to the funds needed in order to buy multiple collections of published poetry, but most do have access to social media — access to the melodic verses of Instapoets.

The relationship between these Instapoets and their readers is mutualistic. Their readers receive content free of charge, and the poets are able to share their work on a platform that doesn’t require jumping through all the hoops of publishing. This is incredibly important to note, seeing as not every aspiring poet has the resources to publish their poetry. Allowing social media to be their agent doesn’t diminish the quality or legitimacy of their work.

To those who are actively diminishing a poet’s work solely due to the platform with which they share it, I say this: You are perpetuating an elitist, gatekeeping environment that does not allow room for growth.

If you would only open yourself to the messages that the poetry community on Instagram is trying to convey, you would see the beauty and value in their work. You would see genuine poets sparking a love for self-expression in the rising generation of creatives.

There is one thing for certain in our world of uncertainty: Literary gatekeeping doesn’t only keep outsiders out, it traps the keepers within.

Featured Illustration: Chelsea Tolin

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Xaviera Hernandez

Xaviera Hernandez

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1 Comment

  1. Mike
    Mike September 30, 12:25

    Instapoets have a mass appeal and they sell like Taco Bell but that doesn’t mean the produce quality work. There’s a craft to writing thought provoking poetry that demands the reader think and read several times. If you needed your car fixed you wouldn’t take it to your dentist. Meme poetry is just that instant and nothing like eating cotton candy.

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