Melissa Ashley Hernandez
March 16th, 2021
Lorelei Bacht is a published fiction writer and poet. She was a Junior Editor for a branch of a major French publisher and co-edited two (now defunct) literary journals, Moveable Feasts and Spoke.
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.
The Minison Project: What does Instapoetry mean to you?
Lorelei Bacht: In my own personal experience at the moment of writing this, it is:
– a funny little laboratory where one can explore short forms;
– a tool for connecting with people who share a common interest/issue;
– a medium that offers the instant retribution of putting something out there and knowing that a few anonymous humans must have read it – it can be therapeutic;
– a meta-experience: I enjoy trying various formats/types of content and seeing what gets the most reaction;
– an exercise that can actually serve traditional poetry, by teaching you conciseness;
– a platform on which I can propose something completely different to the type of poetry that I normally write, which sometimes ends up published in journals.
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?
LB: It is true that there is a lot of resentment and mockery from traditional poets towards Instapoets who are thought to put no work in their poetry at all and/or dramatically lower the standards of writing. I can see both sides as someone who writes both traditional and Instapoetry, and find the discussion itself interesting, which has led me into heated conversations at times. It is not just a matter of poetry. The surfacing of Instapoetry reveals changes in class, race, culture, etc. Some of these changes are positive, such as the promotion of historically marginalized voices; others less so, such as the race to the bottom in terms of literary quality, as exemplified by a couple of interesting experiments led by people who started fake Instapoetry accounts and attempted to write utter drivel… only to find that they were gathering more followers than with their actual work.
TMP: How would you say Instapoetry has evolved poetry today? Has it had a positive/negative effect on poetry? Why/why not?
LB: I’m very happy that it brings more readers to poetry, helps promote historically marginalized voices, helps poets connect beyond geography and pandemic-induced loneliness. If I think back on my own youth, poetry was very much a dusty artform. It was, quite frankly, a bit ridiculous to read or write poetry – unless you were Sylvia Plath, or dead. I do believe that it is fantastic for poetry to be a space of freedom for people to explore what it means to be human, and that such a space should not be the exclusive property of an elite. However, even as a lover of form and of experimental, intellectual, and poetic hard work, I would not want poetry to be just that. There is a place for the delicate, meticulous, intelligent exploration of feelings and experiences. I do write completely different things for magazines, and the type of poetry which I enjoy reading and writing would not be successful on Instagram.
TMP: How has the digestibility and accessibility of Instapoetry changed the dynamic between traditional poets and readers?
LB: It could be seen as the latest evolution of confessional poetry. From artifice and rhetoric to a more personal tone, and now the delivery of bare, naked, raw experience. Or at least experience that is presented as such. Accessible words are not necessarily truthful. One problem is that if readers have a nearly instantaneous access to your mind, if you write with a reader right next to you, waiting on your phone, and if you respond to the feedback of that reader, if it changes the way that you write, then there is not much space left for artistic creation. You become a provider. I am too much of a contrarian to enjoy that, which is why I use my own Instagram account to conduct bizarre experiments, including deleting content on a regular basis. Another little thing to consider: Instapoetry is often read only by the reader, in their head. What does it mean, to lose the connection with a poet reading from their work? To only see little chunks in black letters on a white background, stuff that fits in a little square, but is not read aloud? What does it do to language?
TMP: What are your opinions on the aphoristic/clichéd tendency of the Instapoetry format?
LB: It is boring, ultimately. How many quotes about being broken-hearted but strong-willed, about dying inside and/or moving on can one read? How much undisguised common sense do we need? It is not the type of poetry that I enjoy reading and writing. I like much longer poems that take their time to explore feelings, develop metaphors, links, tell stories. We don’t always need a punchline. In fact, in real life, there rarely ever is one.
TMP: How do you think the presentation format of Instapoetry affects the length/form of poetry now?
LB: A lot of online magazines now favor short forms, because they know, consciously or not, that their readers do not have the attention span of their elders (due not only to Instagram, but to online media in general). Many journals’ issue submission guidelines that specifically call for “short” poems. In addition, because we now read on our phones, there may be specific requirements in terms of line length. I am very happy when it leads to inventive, creative constraints (such as the “minison” format, which is a lot of fun to write in), but mostly, it just means that there is less space to express meaning in deeper, more generous ways.
TMP: In terms of the poetry community, has Instapoetry made it easier or more difficult for traditional poets to get published?
LB: My understanding is that it contributes to bringing the literary “market” even further down. Nothing long, thoughtful, or demanding, can be published in a world where we look for instant, “pop” content. There is very little money to be made in editing, and economic choices are not always compatible with quality. Large publishers often tell themselves that the “pop” stuff finances deeper, more noble publications, but in reality, given the economic situation, a lot of valuable writing remains unpublished, while online feeds and bookstore shelves fill up with low-quality books. In addition, the quick turnaround in publishing means that editors have very little time to work on books, leading to a decrease in quality of print publishing (e.g., only one round of proofreading).
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?
LB: It participates in lowering our ability to focus. We scroll on and on, without being encouraged to dig deeper into anything. Nothing is memorable. Nothing is engaged with. There is always more content to view. It is no secret that social media plays on our natural tendency for addictive behaviors. As a reader and writer, I would much rather spend an hour rereading ‘The Waste Land’ by T. S. Eliot (on paper) and ending up writing bizarre erasures than scrolling through overwhelmingly tedious, repetitious stuff. It can also be discouraging to writers to see how much “content” there is out there: a sea of people writing the same thing, gaining followers by sharing easy, mindless fluff.
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?
LB: Perhaps because I am older (late thirties), and know from firsthand experience that it is very difficult to make a living from writing/editing, I refuse to pay for a social media platform to promote my “content”. I have no time to devote to marketing. I am very happy to conduct little experiments in my small corner of the universe. I believe that every minute spent on marketing is a minute not spent on thinking, writing, living, talking to friends. I know how I’d rather spend my time!
Lorelei Bacht experiments with micro format through her two linked projects: @the.cheated.wife (sketches) and @the.cheated.wife.writes (short poems). She hopes to run a literary magazine in the future.