*embracing internet art: a look at instapoetry
Lev Crofts takes one giant leap for mankind - embracing Rupi Kaur
Remember art? For many people it’s something that happened between thirty and three thousand years ago, something that’s recently tumbled off the shelf. Technology inevitably gets blamed. It’s clipping our brains. Winding our attention spans tighter. Millennials need short sentences. 250 characters or less. It’s in these nasal tones of disapproval that instapoetry - short poems written for Instagram - is usually chortled over.
Admittedly, this unattractive snort of condescension was my first reaction to reading the poetry of Rupi Kaur, the internet’s biggest instapoet. I even first discovered her through the Facebook group “terrible internet poetry that we would still
obviously love to read”. I thought her words dripped with the pseudo-profundity of a viral tumblr post, erratically paragraphed with all the elegance of a chop-shopped convertible. This criticism of Kaur is pretty common, and even unoriginal. Some bored twitter users delight in writing satirical ‘Kaurisms’. One account (@GuyMizhari) comes up with the frankly hilarious:
there's a difference between
someone telling you they're ordering pizza
and them actually
Yet Kaur’s success speaks for itself. Her spinning total of instagram followers briefly rests at 1.9 million at the time of writing; her first book “Milk and Honey” has sold over 2.5 million copies and has reinvigorated the poetry market. So, realising that I was missing something, I came back to Kaur. Good art is not defined by a sneering male elite, or by rooms of pasty Times critics and art history professors snubbing and leering at the expression of real creators, but by the emotive impact on those whom the work seeks to engage. By this measure, Kaur is killing it. So what is it that makes her style of instapoetry resonate with so many people’s experience?
Art used to have a geography, an occupied space in relation to other pieces of art. A painting would hang in a gallery, and that painting might be staring at a photograph ten feet across the room, whilst a mile from that gallery there would be a cinema spooling out films. After a twenty minute walk back towards the gallery you could find a bookshop with poems pressed against each other. You could even plot this creative journey on a map. Each work would have a locus where its ideas and expressions were sealed: to visit it you’d have to invest time and money into moving from your space into that of the work of art. In that space—the concert, the play, the library—the ideas would flood your mind and that piece of art would briefly become your world. Art was separated from art: individual pieces were meant to absorbed, read and reread to peel away veneer and grasp their real meanings.
The internet changes this paradigm. Suddenly, art is stripped of its geography. Poems float in the ether next to images, on top of spotify playlists, melding, bursting like bubbles. You flick through “feeds”, and patchworks of art intersperse with entertainment and news, as thumbs whizz synchronously with twitching eyes. Fast consumption and broad—even random—selection is encouraged.
I can see conservatives rolling their eyes at this concept, growling that our understanding is being grated in the internet age, but the fact is that this is a dynamic new way to absorb art. The poet and songwriter Tom Waits once said that “the world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering”, but it strikes me that it is his conception of a decaying world that leads to his belief in the depleting quality of art. If we don’t like the context in which art is created, we are unlikely to identify with the art. In Plato’s Phaedrus, the invention of writing is met with disdain from the Pharaoh Thamus, who tells its inventor: “memory is a great gift that ought to be kept alive by training it continuously. With your invention people will not be obliged any longer to train memory. They will remember things not because of an internal effort, but by mere virtue of an external device.” We foster an instinct to protect the world into which we were conceived, but this instinct is something to be fought in the name of building new roads for for the travel of creative expression.
Instagram reconfigures our conception of poetry. Kaur’s work has a beautiful simplicity; her verse is usually condensed into a single statement, which is expressed in as few words as possible and yet still manages to carry a mellifluous aura of “poetry”. It’s a fast download of important concepts and emotions—experience of domestic abuse, womanhood, and race—designed in a way that forces the reader to consume it efficiently and then quickly move on to the next instagram post. Other instagram artists are innovating around the medium; the photographer, videographer, and poet Iggy LDN (@iggyldn) has a feed full of works dissecting the stereotypes that are forced upon black males, and explores the theme of fatherhood in his ruthlessly poignant, yet easily digestible instagram work. This has lead into powerful longer-form youtube content, such as his video “Black Boys Don’t Cry”, which demonstrates Iggy’s capacity to work in any medium he may choose.
I’m used to poetry existing as an object, living in a space. As I write this, a copy of Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing is sitting next to me. When I finish this article, I’ll go out and sit on the balcony, put on some music, and read his poem “A Thousand Kisses Deep”. The verses took over a decade to write, and they’re intended to be read in concert as a spoken-word poem. The words are designed to be poured over, and never quite grasped. It was my love for this style of art that made me initially dismiss instapoetry. Yet, read with an open mind, this new development in poetry is a blossoming reaction to the changing medium through which art is consumed. It is the fleeting nature of the instapoem that makes it a dynamic new art form. The poems have to hit hard and fast, and then give way to other content. We’ve all got that vibration in our body that resists change, and new forms of art have always made traditionalists sneer; but if we’re willing to embrace art that we don’t immediately understand, we will be opening ourselves to new homes for expression.
Rupi Kaur: @rupikaur_
Cohen reading A Thousand Kisses Deep:
Image courtesy of Rupi Kaur @rupikaurpoetry