Let’s Talk: Instapoetry with Sabina Khan-Ibarra

Melissa Ashley Hernandez
March 17th, 2021

Sabina Khan-Ibarra is a writer and an educator. She is a recent San Francisco State University Graduate with an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work can be found in The Minison Project’s Sonnet Collection Series; anthologies by iō Literary journal, Mainstreet Rag Bookstore, and White Cloud’s Faithfully Feminist. She is the recipient of the Joe Brainard Creative Writing Fellowship in fiction, the Wilmer award in short fiction, and first place in Martha’s Vineyard Fellowship. Sabina currently resides in Northern California with her husband and two children.

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?

Sabina Khan-Ibarra: To me, Instapoetry is poetry that is created for and promoted on social media, specifically on Instagram.

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?

SK: I think more people are reading poetry because of Instagram poets. People who wouldn’t normally be reading poetry are following Instapoets and looking for poetry that resonates with them. I think it has also opened a space for poets who may have written poetry traditionally, or based on what they’ve read and learned from books/school, to take the work they have already created and adjust it to be just as digestible. And because they didn’t create the poem on the spot, the trajectory may change, where people don’t just post what they like but look deeper.

TMP: How would you say Instapoetry has evolved poetry today? Has it had a positive/negative effect on poetry? Why/why not?

SK: Overall it has a positive effect on poetry. I think when quantity is the primary focus, we tend not to sit with a poem long enough to dig deep and create worthwhile poetry. More people are interested in poetry in whatever form is the most accessible, and because most people who are new to poetry were probably first exposed to it through Instapoetry and wanted to know/learn more, they were able to look up traditional poets and poems and learn about genres that are often dismissed.

TMP: How has the digestibility and accessibility of Instapoetry changed the dynamic between traditional poets and readers?

SK: I think because poems are put in visually engaging and digestible ways, it makes poetry accessible to non poets/poetry readers and It could be a gateway into traditional poetry for those who are interested in more. Poetry books are not sold in the same way as other books are, but Instapoets have still topped charts. There is definitely something there.

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

SK: That’s probably one of the biggest things I worry about. Because the platform encourages artists to create rapidly, poems that are created for Social Media may lack depth and flatten poetry. Not enough interrogation that goes into anything created so fast, all the time.

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

SK: I think poetry can be of any length and therefore can fit into a post on Instagram. But I do wonder if the need to create content quickly (which is the sole purpose of IG) will affect the quality of poetry. I also think that people may confuse summarizing something and making it palatable to read with sitting with words for a while and distilling the language to create the perfect literary image.

TMP: In terms of the poetry community, has Instapoetry made it easier or more difficult for traditional poets to get published?

SK: I have not considered this aspect but I do know that Instapoets are getting published and Instapoetry is making its way to bestsellers lists. And maybe it can help other writers who are not as prominent on Social Media get some attention from agents and publishers.

TMP: 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?

SK: Yes, it has changed the landscape. However, I do know that some of these self published Instapoets are able to sell their books and sometimes gain the attention of larger publishing companies. I am hoping this means that large publishers will be more open to publishing poetry, whether the poet is on Instagram or not.

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?

SK: I didn’t know this aspect of the Instapoets, but based on the ads I see on Instagram, I can believe it. This, again, worries me that the focus will be quantity (to create content at a rapid pace) vs quality. If we start creating poetry rapidly and don’t sit with our work long enough, we will be sacrificing our standards.

Sabina Khan-Ibarra will release a chapter from her upcoming novel, The Poppy Flower, in Summer 2021. You can keep up with Sabina on Twitter @sabina_writes. or on Instagram @sabinakhanibarra_writes.

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