An Introduction to Instapoetry by Sharron Green

In recent years the definition of poetry has been broadened and democratised, just as barriers to and the mystique of it have dissolved. Since Instagram arrived in 2010 it has helped poets connect and build a poetry community, encouraging many to write who otherwise might not have considered it. Canadian, Rupi Kaur is credited with driving the surge in popularity of poetry into the mainstream from her first posts in 2013 and the publication of Milk and Honey in 2014 (which sold over three million copies worldwide and went on to top The New York Times Best Seller list for over a year).  Other high profile poets like Nikita Gill have also had huge success after first building their following on Instagram.

I started posting poetry in June 2019 and since then have noticed that poets in the Instagram community make a significant effort to entertain, support and motivate each other. For those looking for inspiration, there are monthly prompts consisting of a suggested word, phrase or photo for each day.  Those with a competitive streak discover poetry challenges requesting a different form to be completed and posted in each 24-hour period – ranging from acrostics to limericks and nonets to sonnets. Inventors can devise new poetry forms and encourage others to trial them. Those eager to perform or hear their words brought to life by fellow Instapoets are free to start or submit pieces to ‘Live’ readings – at all times of day. There are even poetry workshops run by volunteers to teach forms or encourage new creative journeys.

Beyond the crafting of a poem there’s the chance to be creative with its presentation which is often ekphrastic, using the art or photography that has stimulated it as a background. Poets also have the power to decide which individuals and groups they would like to reach specifically by tagging them and using hashtags. Whilst on the subject of sharing poetry, there are also opportunities to submit poems for anthologies and become published poets.  As a result, I now have poems in over ten international anthologies and since connecting with Bangalore based Ink Gladiators Press on Instagram, I have published a booklet of pandemic poetry, called Viral Odes.

By contrast with the traditional poetry community in the U.K., all of the challenges and competitions are free and you don’t have to pay to join a group. For me, the financial outlay has all been voluntary – the purchase of books (could be paperback or e-book) that I have a poem in or a friend has written; a donation to a charity (for example towards NHS or WHO charities) or as a thank-you to volunteers running a workshop. 

Instapoetry does admittedly cost time –as there’s an incentive to create more of your own work, and the longer you spend reading and commenting on others’ pieces the more rewarding and reciprocal relationships become (like any). That said, people can get overwhelmed by the constant interaction or else, because life takes over, slip away for months and come back to a warm welcome and the majority of their friends still following and overjoyed to see them back.  I should add that there is a considerable community spirit and sensitivity to mental health issues which are often referred to in poetry. Instapoets are open to discussing these themes and sharing advice on mindfulness and other self-help techniques that have worked for them.

The vast range of topics woven into poetry often reflect current affairs – it has helped many process lockdown, political upheaval and, of course, raise environmental concerns. Nature is celebrated- with changes of the seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres simultaneously traced. Responses to religious or national festivities are shared too. In short, international awareness is amplified and personalised – I’ve wished Happy Diwali and Thanksgiving to people living thousands of miles away; learnt first-hand about the Black Lives Matter campaign from poets in New York; supported Californians in an auction for the Australian firefighters and have a better understanding of mental illness, domestic abuse, gender politics, and inequality.

Whilst Instagram is indeed hugely popular with the under twenty-fives, the age range in the poetry community is broad – my ‘Instafriends’ include teenagers at school through to octogenarians, and the reason I can’t be more precise is that age does not restrict our interactions – nor does geographical location, occupation, life stage, gender or race. The common denominator between us is that we write in English and love reading and writing poetry.

In my experience, the community is very open and welcoming. You could have won competitions and be published in prestigious publications; been writing for decades or this could be your first ever poem; you could be a professor of poetry or their teenage student – it is a level playing field where everyone’s voice counts and each poem is responded to individually. Some aren’t the best work of the poet, and haven’t necessarily taken long to write, but they are an authentic stepping stone in their progress and an exercise that will have built their confidence and helped them improve.

It is this living nature of Instagram that ensures its vibrant abundancy and creativity. Poems are born and thoughts are shared that were not even registered before. This is not a lonely pastime. Your poem is not a timid offering, slipped into the post to never be heard of again – and never shared because that would disqualify and annul it. On Instagram, emissions can be trumpeted by song; embellished with art or cushioned in nature; you can write an essay or nothing at all in support of your post, but the bottom line is that it will be read and reacted to – sometimes within moments. In the months you might wait for a magazine or competition to ignore you, you will have written a dozen or more other pieces and each might be better than the last. No need to stagnate or wallow in self-doubt.

If this is new to you and you would like to give it a try, one way to put your toe in the water is to take part in our Surrey New Writers Festival Writing Challenge. We have featured a different short poetry form each week. Many thanks to the 50 Instapoets who have participated so far by sending a Tanka, Elfchen, Blackout Poem, Senryu or Nonet. This week we are requesting an Acrostic.

This week’s Instagram writing prompt. Find us at @officalsurreynwfest.

If you would like to see the form descriptions and wonderful submissions please follow @officialsurreynwfest and take a look at #SNWF2021 on Instagram. They are also showcased on Facebook @officialsurreynewwritersfestival

Sharing and reading poetry on Instagram has certainly entertained and inspired me as a poet and I heartily recommend others to have a go. Let me know what you think, or if you have any queries about getting started, get in touch @rhymes_n_roses. I will be speaking more generally about this at the Surrey New Writers Festival in April. 

About the Author – Sharron Green:

A poet of a certain age, I spent lockdown writing poems for my ‘Viral Odes’ booklet and various pandemic themed anthologies. I was inspired to embark on the Creative Writing MA at the University of Surrey following last year’s New Writers Festival and am thoroughly enjoying it. Find me @rhymes_n_roses on Instagram and at https://rhymesnroses.com . Viral Odes is available from Amazon and Lulu.

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