World Poetry Day: RM Drake to Tyler Knott Gregson, meet leaders of the Instagram poetry world
For poets of Instagram, fame came in the form of followers, and was followed by book deals. On the UNESCO day of the art of weaving verses, we speak to four front-runners of the Insta poetry scene.more lifestyle Updated: Mar 21, 2018 16:41 IST
As novels transmute into tablet screens and the touch of a button replaces bookmarks, it’s easy to lose faith in the musty smell of paperbacks. But whoever said change is bad? This world poetry day, we look at the flag-bearers of the phenomenon that is Instagram poetry. From struggling to get their work noticed to bagging book deals, and winning over millions of followers with their work online, the Insta-poet is here to stay. But how appealing are they to the young readership? Or, will fans of Byron or Neruda ever accept Insta verses as the real deal? While lovers and haters would divide, ignoring social media poetry would be akin to ignoring the evolution of the written word.
World Poetry Day: In 1999, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) adopted March 21 as a celebration of poesy, at a session in Paris.
A poet and a photographer, Gregson is known for his Haiku-style writing (Japanese short-form poetry). In fact, he has been writing a Haiku daily, for almost nine years. The Montana-based poet has 348K Insta followers and three books to his name, including the popular Chasers of the Light. “Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought all this would happen. My friends and family encouraged me to start sharing my work via social media, but I never intended or expected anyone to actually read what I was doing. I am still amazed to this day, that anyone bothers to pay attention, that anyone bothers to care. It means more than I know how to express that my words reach so many different corners of this beautiful planet. The fact that I’m speaking with you, here, now, is astounding and shocking,” he says. “Whitman. Neruda. Cummings. Eliot. So many of the Older poets really inspire me. But, to be frank, I don’t read a lot of contemporary poetry for a really personal reason. I don’t ever want to be influenced by current poetic trends, voices, or themes. I think of poetry as a pressure release valve for my overactive and noisy brain, nothing more. I do not want to look back, years from now, and feel like something I wrote felt like something someone else wrote, and not an authentic reaction to my life at the time,” he adds.
Being a poet who shares his work on Instagram, Gregson is always exposed to critics and trolls. How does he handle it? “For every five people that enjoy what I do, I am sure there are five that loathe it. People can be kind, and they can be cruel, but it’s all the same. It’s just people who are entitled to their opinions, their beliefs, and their interests. I can’t control the impact words have, the criticism they receive, the fallout after I post the things I’ve written. All I can do is be honest, be open, and be kind no matter what the response.”
How does it feel seeing his words in print? “I still have trouble believing it. I’ve always written for myself, and myself alone, without ever intending on anyone anywhere reading it. Seeing my three (soon to be four) books on bookshelves around the world is a feeling I don’t know you can ever adjust to. It feels surreal, it feels like an accident I stumbled into, and I don’t know when I will wake up and realise it was all a weird dream.”
The reclusive Miami-born poet, who chooses not to share his photographs, has a whopping 1.8 million followers on Instagram. He calls himself “just a regular guy” who appreciates art.
“In 2012 I brought my poetry to Instagram. It slowly took off on it’s own. A lot of celebrities began to share my work and that helped me get my words to the masses... Every time I walk into a book store and see my books I feel gratitude. I have done this myself and with the strength of my readers. No publisher. No real marketing, not anything, really. Just passion, dedication and my readers. That’s all,” he says.
“In the beginning, there was only a handful of us doing it (Insta poetry) and we were all in a chat at the time. We wanted to go change the world... I have received some negative feedback, but that was a long time ago. I believe it came because some people thought I was just someone who composed a few sentences together and that is it. Soon after, I released two full-length novels, one book of short stories, and a handful of poetry books (including Moon Theory and Gravity). I’ve never heard negative feedback since. Perhaps, a good thing or a bad thing... who knows!” quips Drake.
Bohemian poet — that’s how Christopher Poindexter describes himself on his Instagram page, where he has garnered over 345K followers. “I am, at most, a poet to the sensitivity of the human condition.In my writing, I aim to makes sense of what happens inside of us all, and never consider one man better than the other.No matter our culture, our tongue, our religion, my aim is to dig inside of us all, to find that thing that connects us, whether it be pain, love, music, poetry, and to bring it all together, to bring all of us together. That’s what I want my writing to do,” says the poet, who also has published works, including Naked Human.
“It all happened so fast. I began posting little snippets of poems I had written in my journal and people began to relate to them, comment. The response was a bit overwhelming at first I remember one morning waking up to 50 thousand new followers overnight. Truly, it was new for me. I quit my job within a few months and have been selling poetry ever since.”
While Poindexter admits that criticism affects him, with time, he has learned to handle it. “I have encountered many negative responses. I take criticism to heart, but I also do my best not to let negative energy affect me.You will always have those who try to diminish your light, the key is to keep fumbling through the darkness and try to be the best human and artist you can be. My aim is to grow and blossom with my work, and to have my reads do so with me, but in their own way. We are all in this together at the end of the day. I believe that more than I believe anything.”
A retired medical professional, the Kentucky-based poet started sharing her words on Facebook before taking them to Instagram, where she has garnered 88.2K followers. Her published works include a collection of poetry called Abandoned Breaths. What’s her message to writers who can’t find the courage to share their words? “Write what you’re interested in. Write it in your own voice. Don’t copy. Be original, and don’t hold back. Start with a blank page and make it yours. View where the criticism is coming from… because there will be naysayers, and if I had stopped writing and posting every time I got a derogatory comment or a bashing message, I would have stopped on day one! If it is constructive, like grammar fixes etc, accept it, and thank people trying to help,” she says.
“Negative response to my poetry really bothered me at the beginning because it made me question my talent and worth as a writer. But for every negative comment or hateful message I received, I would get 10 more from followers who said my words helped them in some way. I ignore the messages/comments now. There really is no value in getting into an online brawl with someone just because they dislike your words. It’s not worth your heart or time,” says Alfa.