Modern Poetry is Digital Poetry
Are we rediscovering poetry in its intended form – as an audible/visual experience – through social media?
I found one of my favourite poets through a TedTalk on YouTube.
Not a book, not a classroom, not a library, but instead a digital space that offered an audible and visual experience, a performance. Sarah Kay’s If I Should Have a Daughter really changed my perception of poetry and its existence online.
As someone who studied English and therefore likes quite a lot of old poetry by dead people, the experience of hearing someone perform their poetry out loud was something of a novelty. Which, when you think about how important sound and tone are for poetry, is kinda sad.
Poetry is meant to be much more than just words on a page. Part of poetry happens in the interaction between the words and their rendition: rhyme schemes buried in clunky looking letter combinations suddenly become obvious; the pace of the thing changes, becoming faster or slower depending on the speaker; you can’t rush past the dramatic pauses; the tone might even hit different, depending on who reads it and in what in context.
Poetry has found a platform online through social media and video technology. People can perform their poems as intended, perhaps to a small live audience or simply in front of a web cam, and then share the recorded or live-streamed footage with potentially millions of people online. Before the existence of such easy, free-to-access video sharing, you had to pin a poem down to a page in order to reach a bigger audience.
Don’t get me wrong – I love having printed collections of poetry. I like reading poetry! I just think its great that modern poets can bypass print and let people experience their poetry in different ways. I think it makes poetry – who’s reputation, let’s be honest, has sometimes suffered from its treatment in English classrooms and literary snobbery – more approachable and authentic.
Video sharing isn’t the only poetic outlet online: Instagram has given birth to a whole new style of visual poetry, creatively called Instapoetry (look it has a Wikipedia entry and everything).
One of the best selling poets of the 21st century is Rupi Kaur, who rose to fame on Instagram for sharing and illustrating her poetry. Kaur currently has 4 million followers on the platform and has published several collections of poetry, with her first book, Milk and Honey, selling over 2.5 million copies worldwide.
She’s not the only poet to have found success through social media: poets like Nikita Gill and Tyler Knott Gregson have also gained large audiences on Instagram through sharing their short-form, minimalist poetry. The technical format restrictions of Instagram posts influence the poetry itself, with short stanzas and aesthetically pleasing fonts being a sort of convention of Instapoetry.
Poetry has evolved and adapted to online culture, leading to the creation of new styles and genres. Its embraced the multi-media nature of online creative spaces like YouTube and Instagram, transcending the confines of the written word. Online, poetry encompasses physical performance, speech, art, photography, fonts and hashtags. Its sometimes completely unrecognisable as traditional, letters-on-a-page poetry.
And that’s a good thing. If people just imitated poets past and refused to digitise their delivery, they’d essentially be sharing their poetry with the void. People exist online; it’s where most of us encounter the arts (especially right now, when a lot of us are stuck inside our houses).