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Instapoetry, the Latest Downward Cultural Craze

In a previous article for PJ Media, “Is Poetry Really Dead?”, I came to the conclusion that it may not be dead but is certainly moribund. The question of poetry’s relevance and quality is a perennial debate -- see Joseph Epstein’s controversial 1988 Commentary essay “Who Killed Poetry?” and Dana Gioia’s 1991 Atlantic riposte “Can Poetry Matter?” -- yet never more apt than at the present moment. I argued that over the last century, poetic inspiration had been gradually replaced by theories of poetry, one after another cascading into literary prestige. As a result, the poetry being written became largely programmatic, poetic language tending to be either didactic or disruptive, boring or incomprehensible -- one of the reasons (among others) that the ancient art has fallen on evil times. Today it is virtually unrecognizable.

A case in point signifying the decay of poetry is the recent Instapoetry craze. Though its volume of sales is through the roof, it bears not the slightest relation to poetry, whether in the traditional or common understanding of the word. It is powered by a multitude of callow phenoms known as Instapoets, who are remarkably adept at manipulating social media and are virtual whizzes at self-promotion and marketing strategies. They congregate on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, enjoying a massive fan base, sold-out performances and appearances on the late-night talk show circuit.

Writing in BookNet Canada, Kira Harkonen exultantly reports that Instapoets “have completely knocked all literary classics” from their perches on the bookstore shelves. “Homer, the Beowulf poet, Rumi, John Milton, and Dante -- all poets who have been celebrated and studied by scholars for hundreds of years -- have been bested by the powers of Instagram.” This is apparently an indication of inherent significance and poetic caliber. Assuming such a criterion, Cleo Wade is a superior poet to James Merrill. After all, Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life has outsold The Changing Light at Sandover by a wide margin.

Jessica Wong writing on the CBC website clearly agrees with the army of Instafans who view Instapoets as “trailblazers stretching boundaries -- in form, subject matter and distribution.” They are bucking a literary establishment that “doesn't have a great track record for championing the work of women, people of colour or young people.”

This is utter nonsense, of course, a sign of ideologically inspired ignorance. Young poets need time to acquire something of import to say and to develop the verbal and technical skills with which to say it. There are very few teenage Rimbauds or Chattertons around to set the literary world on its ears. As for women and poets of color, had I the space I could affix reams of pages crammed with names of so-called minority and marginalized poets, who are routinely eulogized and may actually constitute a majority. Consider this December 26, 2018m article from BuzzFeed featuring ten poets recommending their favorite collections; all ten are what are called marginalized or minority: people of color, women and one white male who is gay. ‘Nuff said.