By its very definition, Instapoetry has no time…
Rupi Kaur, 2017. Photograph by Joe Carlson.
From The Baffler:
Instagram was developed out of a project titled “Send the Sunshine” at Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, not exactly a project intended to accommodate criticism. Though critical trepidation is a common consequence of the slippery definition of art—we once believed readymades sucked, too—part of this reluctance is also to do with the genre appealing predominantly to young women and haven’t young women been policed enough? Rupi Kaur herself wields this tack as a way to deflect excoriation, equating the criticism of her work to the criticism of marginalized demographics. Of the label “Instagram poet,” she told PBS, “A lot of the readers are young women who are experiencing really real things, and they’re not able to talk about it with maybe family or other friends, and so they go to this type of poetry to sort of feel understood and to have these conversations. And so, when you use that term, you invalidate this space that they use to heal and to feel closer to one another.” You also invalidate women of color as Kaur frames herself within a landscape of both female and immigrant oppression, a context in which judgment is tantamount to muting the disenfranchised. To the literary world, she has pronounced, “This is actually not for you. This is for that, like, seventeen-year-old brown woman in Brampton who is not even thinking about that space, who is just trying to live, survive, get through her day.” It is a savvy move, invalidating all manner of criticism before it has even been formulated.
But here it is: Her poetry, and much of Instapoetry, is poor. This poetry is not poor because it is genuine, it is poor because that is all it is. To do more than that, regardless of talent, requires time, and, by its very definition, Instapoetry has none. Ezra Pound’s epic collection of poems The Cantos took decades to complete. Maya Angelou has said she has found poetry the most challenging of all her professions: “When I come close to saying what I want to, I’m over the moon. Even if it’s just six lines, I pull out the champagne. But until then, my goodness, those lines worry me like a mosquito in the ear.” Even Rimbaud, who was already composing his best work in adolescence, conceded in his “Letter of the Seer,” “The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses.” Time is what is required to think, the kind of thinking that allows the poet to imbue each individual word with a world of meaning. Harold Bloom described canonical writing as that which demands rereading, William Empson that it needs to work for readers with divergent opinions, provoking a variety of responses and interpretations. All of this implies a richness, a complexity, a variety of strata. The majority of Instapoetry has none of this. It is almost exclusively a banal vessel of self-care, equivalent to an affirmation, designed for young women of a certain privileged position and disposition, one that is entirely self-absorbed. The genre’s batheticisms remove specificity, to avoid alienation, supplanting them with the sort of platitude you find on a department store tea towel. Because this is what Instapoetry is—it is not art, it is a good to be sold, or, less, regrammed. Its value is quantity not quality.