Why are some peo­ple so mean to In­stapo­ets? Re­lated: Should we stop us­ing that term?

ELLE (Canada) - - Content - BySarahLaing

TO BE CLEAR, RUPI KAUR DOES NOT

need our help. The 25-year-old Cana­dian has sold over 2.5 mil­lion books, is about to em­bark on the sec­ond leg of a sold-out au­thor tour—where she can eas­ily fill a 1,000-per­son venue—and her sec­ond vol­ume of po­etry, The Sun and Her Flow­ers, is at the top of best­seller lists at the time of the writ­ing of this ar­ti­cle. Not a bad re­sult for a cre­ative out­let that be­gan as an ini­tially anony­mous blog, grew into a self-pub­lished vol­ume of her sig­na­ture di­rect, emo­tion­ally in­tense and al­ways lower-case verse, called Milk and Honey, and then blos­somed into a full-on phe­nom when it was picked up by a main­stream pub­lish­ing house. It was even­tu­ally trans­lated into more than 30 lan­guages and spent 52 weeks at num­ber one. Oh, and she has 1.6 mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers. Suf­fice it to say that she’s do­ing fine. But the dis­mis­sive, pa­tron­iz­ing at­ti­tude that she and other “In­stapo­ets” are met with? Yeah, we need to work on that.

You see, all the hype sur­round­ing Kaur and her fel­low In­ter­net bards (a loose group­ing of mostly fe­male scribes who have gained huge fol­low­ings for their writ­ing via Tum­blr and In­sta­gram) is of­ten salted with a touch of a sneer. Kaur, for in­stance, has had her work de­scribed by The Cut as the “hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, tidily aes­theti­cized and mon­e­tized...writ­ten in the sec­ond-per­son voice of a pop song.” Lang Leav, who was among the van­guard and pub­lished her first best­selling vol­ume, Love & Misad­ven­ture, in 2013, in­spires th­ese sorts of com­ments among Goodreads re­view­ers: “painfully silly,” rem­i­nis­cent of “greet­ing cards” and only en­joy­able to “13-year-old girls who are all starry-eyed over some boy.” And whether it’s from a pro­fes­sional critic or an Ama­zon com­menter, there’s very of­ten an un­der­tone of “Well, if it’s pop­u­lar on In­sta­gram, it cer­tainly can’t have the depth of real po­etry.” Or, more to the point, “If it’s beloved on a medium fre­quented by young women, In­stapo­etry is a nov­elty, a cu­rios­ity, but cer­tainly not le­git­i­mate ‘art.’” Es­pe­cially not if celebri­ties like Chrissy Teigen and Khloé Kar­dashian are re-gram­ming it, right?

“There are folks who use it as a way to de­mean you,” re­sponds Kaur when we ask her about be­ing la­belled. “Rather than call­ing me an au­thor, it’s like ‘We’ll call you an “In­stapoet” and feel bet­ter about our­selves.’ That makes me sad, be­cause it’s so in­sult­ing to the read­ers.”

Kaur doesn’t read the com­ments (more on why later), but she has been on tour, which means she has had a lot of face-to-face time with that au­di­ence. She says they con­stantly share sto­ries of how her po­ems—most just a line or two of very spare lan­guage—have helped them through things like chemo or heal­ing af­ter sex­ual vi­o­lence. “To say that this is not real po­etry or holds less power— that’s re­ally hurt­ful to this en­tire com­mu­nity who is look­ing for sup­port in this, who uses this as a way to deal with sor­row and suf­fer­ing,” she says. “I think that’s a lit­tle un­fair.”

It’s this com­mu­nity as­pect that al­most makes any value judg­ment of whether the work of this group is “good” or not ir­rel­e­vant. Yes, it’s a genre that eas­ily lends it­self to satire ( deeply sin­cere things are gen­er­ally low-hang­ing tar­gets) and, de­pend­ing on your mood, can ei­ther hit you with what Kaur calls her in­tended “kick in the stom­ach” or leave you won­der­ing whether you’ve just spent five min­utes pon­der­ing the lit­er­ary equiv­a­lent of that pineap­ple left in an art gallery as a prank that every­one thought was part of the ex­hibit. But when the mean­ing that oth­ers find in those same lines saves lives? Who cares?

“I can’t keep on top of all the DMs I get, but I try to an­swer at least 10 a day,” says Nikita Gill, an­other poet who got her start on the In­ter­net and just pub­lished a col­lec­tion, Wild Em­bers, with Ha­chette. “I pri­or­i­tize ac­cord­ing to how peo­ple are feel­ing. If some­one is go­ing through some­thing re­ally hard, like anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion or PTSD, then I’ll 100 per­cent re­spond to them.”

Gill ac­tu­ally worked for sev­eral years with chil­dren with se­vere dis­abil­i­ties; she would of­ten carry the weight of her work—and her de­sire to do more to help them—home with her. She even­tu­ally learned “how to em­pathize with­out to­tally bur­den­ing [my] heart”—a skill she says pre­pared her for the “ther­a­pist” part of her life as a poet with 269,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers. “If I want to give them in­sight,” the Brit says of the read­ers who mes­sage her, “I need to have all my senses about me; oth­er­wise I won’t be use­ful to them be­cause I’d be as lost in their prob­lems as they are.” Gill says she re­ceives feed­back on the daily that ranges from “I had the courage to take my rapist to court be­cause of this poem” to “that metaphor was a bit trite” to un­print­able abuse. It’s a level of in­ter­ac­tion that non-on­line pub­lish­ing po­ets sim­ply don’t have to deal with (slam heck­lers aside, of course). “I try to look at those sorts of com­ments as ‘This is how th­ese peo­ple choose to let this poem touch them, and I shouldn’t let it shape the way I think as a hu­man be­ing be­cause that makes me eas­ily mal­leable to other peo­ple’s thoughts.’” (That same fear is the rea­son Kaur doesn’t in­ter­act with her com­ments sec­tion, say­ing she de­cided to “pro­tect [her­self] as an artist and cre­ator first.”) Gill, in­ter­est­ingly enough, ac­tu­ally strug­gles with la­belling her­self a proper writer just as much as some crit­ics do. “I feel like I haven’t earned be­ing called a poet yet,” she con­fesses. “I feel like there’s a cer­tain amount of work you need to put into your craft be­fore h

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