Let’s Talk: Instapoetry with Melissa Martini

Melissa Ashley Hernandez
March 17th, 2021

Melissa Martini received her Master’s degree in English with a focus in Creative Writing from Seton Hall University. Her fiction has previously appeared in Zanna Magazine, Jalada Africa’s “Bodies” anthology, Camas Magazine, and Analogies and Allegories; her flash fiction has previously appeared in Pretty Owl Poetry, Bandit Fiction, and Dime Show Review; and her poetry has appeared in The Confessionalist Zine and The Daily Drunk. She currently serves as prose reader and newsletter creator for the winnow mag.

The publishing world is constantly changing, and social media has become the forefront of a poet’s marketing tools. Now that most American consumers are glued to their phones, poets are forced to make social media accounts and update them once to multiple times daily to garner an audience with whom they can cultivate a community around their work.

Through this practice, poets have discovered that by posting short poems and snippets of their more significant works, they can amass a following that will buy their books when they are released. This micropoetry slowly became known as “Instapoetry,” both because of its instant-gratification way of consumption, and its popularity on photo-sharing apps, namely Instagram.

We took to the world wide web to find a diverse group of people with varying opinions on this influential form.

Interview Questions:

The Minison Project: What does Instapoetry mean to you?

Melissa Martini: To me, instapoetry is a subgenre of poetry that started off as shorter, easier to digest poetry pieces posted on social media, primarily Instagram and Tumblr. I find it to be more common amongst independent, new, and emerging poets who would like to share their work and post it in short snippets as Instagram posts. As a fiction writer, it’s equivalent to genre fiction in my mind, with more traditional style poetry being the equivalent to literary fiction in this case.

TMP: Since its severe spike in popularity circa 2013/14 because of writers like Lang Leav and Rupi Kaur, what changes have you noticed happening in the poetry community?

MM: I think that the rise of Instapoetry has gone hand in hand with the rising popularity of self-publishing. With the internet and social media, it is easier than ever before to share your work and make your own name for yourself – you can post your work on social media, tag it in a way that will gain you a following, and share it easily to advertise yourself. While many poets have actually gotten book deals through gaining popularity online, this has also bred countless ways to publish your work yourself, such as on Amazon. This has made it easier than ever before to write and share poetry, whether someone has any prior experience writing poetry such as studying it, reading it, or honestly knowing anything about it. There are pros and cons to this – it eliminates a kind of gatekeeping that the literary community inevitably has, but it also diminishes the elitism of the title of “poet.” When just anyone can slap a few lines together, screenshot it, post it to Instagram, and call themselves a poet, what is the point of studying it for 4+ years and getting a degree?

TMP: How would you say Instapoetry has evolved poetry today? Has it had a positive/negative effect on poetry? And how has the digestibility and accessibility of Instapoetry changed the dynamic between traditional poets and readers?

MM: I think I touched upon this a bit in my last answer, but it’s changed what exactly constitutes a poem and/or a poet. I think in the past, poetry has been seen as needing to be “deep,” “complicated,” “meaningful,” and other faux-woke adjectives. While I think this is the case to an extent, not all (traditional) poetry fits this description and I don’t think modern poetry necessarily needs to either. In this way, Instapoetry has allowed poetry to become more digestible and easier to consume for the common reader – I think of someone like me, who studied creative writing in undergrad and grad school, who can take a piece of writing that is “simple” or a piece of writing that is “complex” and rip it apart piece by piece, analyze the F out of it, and have a great time – meanwhile, there are folks who could look at the same pieces of work that I did, and be like “I have no idea what this means.” Instapoetry, because it is typically shorter, more “obvious,” and more “clear,” has allowed the common reader to enjoy poetry on a broader scale. This has likely made poetry easier to access for a larger audience, but on the other hand, this can be seen as tainting the idea of poetry itself – the same way the literary fiction community shits on genre fiction due to the elitist ideals that “challenging” fiction = “better” fiction while genre fiction (known as “easier” fiction) = “shitty” fiction. If Instapoetry continues to gain popularity, this takes away from the attention traditional poetry is getting – poetry will be expected to be easier to digest, easier to consume, because that’s what’s popular – that’s what sells. In short – are there positives? Yeah, more people can enjoy poetry more easily. Are there negatives? Yep, more traditional forms of poetry are going to be seen differently as the features of Instapoetry become more popular.

TMP: What are your opinions on the aphoristic/clichéd tendency of the Instapoetry format?

MM: Look. Sometimes cliched stuff is fun, relatable, and feels good to read. Sometimes you want to see a little quote and think, “OMG, me too.”

But it’s recycled. It’s overdone. It’s unoriginal. And I personally don’t want to go to poetry for things I’ve seen before. I want poetry to make me feel things I didn’t know were inside of me, rather than things I’m already aware of. If I wanted to read something and be like, “OMG, me too,” I can go on my dad’s Facebook page and read one of the quotes he shared. I don’t really want to get that from my poetry – I want poetry to make me effing cry because it dug something out from inside of me I never realized before.

So yes, I read milk & honey and it was relatable and I enjoyed it. But when I read “Skunk Hour” by Lowell, there’s still something in there that rips my heart out and every time I read it I try to figure it out, it has been years and I still cannot pinpoint why that poem gets me every single time. And that’s what I want from poetry, personally. I want to still be thinking about it years later and feel like it hit me deep inside and I’m not exactly sure what it hit, but I just know it hit.

TMP: How do you think the presentation format of Instapoetry affects the length/form of poetry now?

MM: I think Instapoetry has led to poetry being expected to be shorter, definitely. I think of something like “Howl” by Ginsberg, that would never fly nowadays. People are so used to poems that are half a page or less, or even just a few lines that can fit into an Instagram square, that longer form poems are exhausting. I feel like people are going for that shorter, more impactful vibe, and while that can 100% work and be “good”, we don’t need all poetry to be like that now, just because Instapoetry has made it the cool thing to do. Maybe if I’m in the mood for that, yeah, I just want something quick and easy to consume that I can think about all day. But sometimes I also want long, lengthy, wordy poems with metaphors that are entire pages long! There are benefits to both short and long poems, but Instapoetry has kind of made it hard to experience long poems anymore. I want them back!

TMP: In terms of the poetry community, has Instapoetry made it easier or more difficult for traditional poets to get published? / Because of the self-publishing/nature of Instagram, now you can simply search “poetry” on Instagram and read content for hours. For better or worse, how does that impact traditional poets and traditional publishing?

MM: As a fiction writer I am not 100% sure, but I imagine it has made it more difficult due to the fact so many people are just publishing on Amazon or just posting their work on Instagram. I know some poets have gotten book deals from sharing their work online, but I wonder if this is hurting the publishing industry – if it’s easy to self publish, there’s not as much need for publishers, thus less publishers exist, thus more “serious” traditional poets have less options to publish with a publisher?

TMP: With Instagram’s 2016 algorithm update there has been a lot of talk about the price gouging of artists to maintain their following through Instagram marketing. What are your thoughts on this issue as it pertains to smaller poets?

MM: Makes it near impossible for smaller poets to gain the same kind of following as folks who have a larger following/money/etc. This removes the “talent” aspect and leaves it up to how much money people have and/or how conventionally attractive they are, honestly. Doesn’t matter how good of a writer you are, if you can’t afford to market your Instagram and/or you’re not posting content that Instagram (and the world, unfortunately) deem “attractive,” you’re not going to have as much engagement or followers. Problematic, 100%.

You can follow Melissa Martini on Twitter @melissquirtle.

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