Nowadays, Instagram poetry is seemingly everywhere. On social media, small aestheticized squares of text dominate the feeds of millions of people. These short confessional poems are often riddled with endless aphorisms and accompanied by doodles of flora and fauna or women’s bodies. Ostensibly harmless, this new trend of Instagram writing is extraordinarily detrimental to the art of poetry. Rupi Kaur and others like her who propogate this new mode of poetry are exploiting the emotions of young women and creating a demand for poetry that lacks real depth
The truth is that evaluating the quality of poetry has always been a difficult task. Due to its subjective nature, it can be difficult to define whether or not a piece is objectively good or bad. However, Kaur’s work can be likened to the fast food of poetry; it is quick and oftentimes enjoyable, but is in no way good for you.
Kaur’s short poems rely on cheap devices and cliched wisdom to appeal to readers. As a result, Kaur neglects the intricacies and thematic breadth that make poetry fascinating to read. Kaur copies legendary poets like Pablo Neruda; in her poem, she writes, “your voice does to me/ what autumn does to trees,” echoing one of Neruda’s most famous lines, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” This instance is a perfect example of the fast food effect. Kaur takes a gorgeous line and paraphrases it in more simplistic words, losing artistry and meaning in the process. She does this by eradicating certain details that add an understated elegance to Neruda’s line: after taking out the “cherry trees,” and substituting his action line with “your voice does to me,” the line sounds a bit emptier. The act of paraphrasing removes the intense romantic passion that lived in Neruda’s poetry.
Although many applaud Kaur for revitalizing poetry among young readers, she is representative of a disturbing new trend. Through her rhetoric and content, Kaur targets one distinct demographic to boost her sales: vulnerable teenage girls. Content marketed towards teens is rising in popularity with the advent of social media and streaming services, however Kaur’s poetry targets them in a way that feels more exploitative than enlightening.
Kaur touches on a number of subjects that profoundly affect millions, from body image and relationships to alcoholic parents. However, the way she approaches these subjects offers no real enlightenment or comfort. Instead of describing the feelings these issues evoke or offering a distinct perspective on the topic, Kaur almost invariably just name-drops these subjects without any real analysis. Yes, alcoholism is bad. Yes, girls should try their best to love themselves. But what else? The way Kaur approaches these themes is almost analogous to the ways massive corporations appropriate movements like gay rights or feminism to sell products. By commodifying emotion and encouraging other young poets to do the same, Kaur is exploiting the authentic experiences of young girls for clicks and sales.
As fellow Instagram confessional poets such as Atticus and R.M. Drake quickly achieve celebrity status on social media, the public is shifting its focus to more simplistic poetry. Due to the emotionally evocative quality that poetry possesses, young people flock to the medium for representation and a creative outlet. However, Kaur’s work allows little room for analysis because of its reliance on aphorisms and other tricks that are meant to make poetry sound “deep.” Readers everywhere must not let accessibility take precedence over the elements that make poetry beautiful in the first place.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 16, 2019 print edition. Email Ashley Wu at [email protected]