For practicing but unpublished poets out there – a new way to build an audience, get your work seen and possibly get a book offer from a publisher….
According to an article in the Boston Globe (by Michael Brodeur)
“Amazon’s top 10 bestsellers in poetry is filled with works by poets who post their works via Instagram photos.”
article: “In a land of selfies and shots of lunch, poetry thrives” April 19, 2017
Instagram is a social media site of mostly photographs without text – so words stand out. They don’t have to be just type – but can be added onto screen like a meme or a ripped piece of paper with words on it, placed in the photo. To vary the look, poets may handwrite their sentence, or type it on an old 1940s typewriter, or intersperse the words with pictures of themselves or their poetry tours. However, many readers and a successful career do not necessarily mean a high level of poetry:
“there are plenty of arguments to be made about the merits of what passes for poetry on the popular social media platform — more often that not, aspiring illustrated aphorisms and fragmented lyric snatches with a twist of emo.” – Michael Andor Brodeur
You can judge for yourself – Rupi Kaur’s book “Milk and Honey” is available in poetry sections in bookstores, right now. Or, of course, you can check out her Instagram site with one million subscribers.
Michelle Dean in the Guardian commented on the same phenomenon a year ago, back in February 2016:
“It would be too easy to lump the popularity of Instagram poetry as soft-focus, sentimental nonsense.”
As she points out, there is a tendency to have a very good understanding of what readers wanted to hear and know about their inner lives – it’s all a bit emo (young and emotional) and can read a bit like a therapist’s positive observations. On the plus side, when readers of these brief poets are invited to discuss their favourite writers, they show a heartening knowledge of more challenging writers.
In November 2015, Alexandra Alter in the New York Times, reported on the phenomenon and the story of Tyler Knott Gregson
“thanks to his 560,000 Instagram and Tumblr followers, he has become the literary equivalent of a unicorn: a best-selling celebrity poet.”
Tyler’s new book of poetry has a first print run of 100,000. On Nielson’s top 10 selling poets it is 3rd, ahead of Dante, Homer and Seamus Heaney. To compare readership, a recent American National Book Award winner (by Louise Gluck) was 20,000 copies sold.
Although the Instagram site seems to be giving away poetry, it does seem to attract offers from publishers once there are enough subscribers – and then the poet can do a book tour, signing books and performing publicly – which generates more followers…..