Is social media poetry on Instagram, tumblr, and other platforms here to stay, or is it a passing fad, like coloring books? Michelle Halket, publisher of Central Avenue Publishing in Vancouver, Canada, was so frustrated by comments like these that she decided to put together a book to showcase the wide variety of work of poets publishing on social media. [Dis]Connected: Poems and Stories of Connection and Otherwise (Oct.) contains poetry and short fiction by both established and new social media poets.
Certainly social media poems have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years. One of the reigning Instagram poetry stars, Canadian poet, writer, and spoken word artist Rupi Kaur, has 2.6 million followers. Milk and Honey (2015), her first collection of poetry in print, has sold almost two million copies, according to NPD BookScan. Her second, The Sun and Her Flowers (2017), has sold close to 800,000 copies.
The poetry category of the annual Goodreads Choice Awards, arguably the largest audience-voted poetry award in the English language, also reflects the increasing popularity of social media poetry. Since 2014, a book by a social media poet has won the title, and voting participation has increased by an order of magnitude.
But the poems’ popularity has not changed the characteristics of the movement. Works remain confessional and intimate, with frank discussions of intense topics like abuse, misogyny, racism, and mental illness. These pieces are direct and terse; they are easy to interpret, and they do not pull their punches. They present to readers voices that are often excluded from academic poetry.
As K.Y. Robinson, author of The Chaos of Longing (2017), notes, “I’ve been reading and writing poetry since childhood. I never thought there was space for my work until the poetry boom on social media.”
Audience engagement can be attractive to poets. “[To] have people respond and relate to my experiences and my writing is such a liberating feeling,” says wrestler-turned-poet Cyrus Parker, author of the recently released DROPKICKromance.
Halket, who began publishing social media poets in 2011, firmly believes that social media poetry is not a fad, and she is already looking at creating new anthologies. But as she worked on [Dis]connect, she says that she thought about “how many of the readers are young, and what might happen if their reading tastes change as they age.”
For now, social media poetry is an established part of the poetry landscape.