Whenever I hear the term ‘Instapoetry’, a certain poet immediately springs to mind. It transports me back to 2014, standing in Waterstones, flipping through a copy of Milk and Honey by Canadian-Indian poet Rupi Kaur. What I, as a twelve-year-old, initially perceived as a fusion of suggestive line drawings juxtaposed with the emotional musings of a heartbroken university student, ultimately became a literary sensation.
Milk and Honey garnered critical acclaim, eventually surpassing Homer’s Odyssey as the best-selling poetry of all time. Subsequently, Rupi Kaur gained prominence, especially among teenage girls on social media – many of whom were individuals like me, who were young and South Asian. Kaur’s poetry delves into an array of topics including sexuality, abuse, family dynamics, and the experiences of growing up as a second-generation immigrant, resonating deeply with the lived experiences of many.
Instapoetry, characterised by brevity, emerged with the rise of social media. Its straightforward language, minimal punctuation, and all-lowercase formatting, often accompanied by visually engaging graphics and designs, make it a digestible form of poetry that easily spreads across social media platforms. Frequently delving into themes of love, self-empowerment, mental health, and identity, Instapoetry has connected millions, inspiring contemplation about shared experiences such as unrequited love or identity crises. This movement has given rise to other famous Instapoets like Lang Leav, Cleo Wade, and Nayyirah Waheed, who amplify the voices of underrepresented communities and redefine poetry in a world no longer solely bound by the constraints of traditional poetry.
But why, of all the Instapoets, has Kaur amassed such a massive following? Why is it that she has transcended Instagram and moved into the broader world of poetry? Debates have arisen about whether her poetry qualifies as ‘real’ poetry, with some noting a perceived lack of complexity and poetic imagery. Others claim she is overly commercialised, prioritising building a fanbase that encourages easy reposting and sharing. These criticisms underscore the view that Kaur’s poetry often reads like the raw, unfiltered thoughts of a teenage girl, being made up of words we all have but perhaps choose not to share.
Despite such criticisms, there is no denying the rise of Instapoetry over the past decade. Just as many criticise mainstream pop music, Kaur has faced the misconception that popularity equates to a lack of quality. Nevertheless, Kaur’s work resonates with many, and three successful poetry collections suggest there must be quality behind her appeal.
Take this couplet from the sun and her flowers, for example:
and here you are living
despite it all
– rupi kaur
Rupi Kaur’s creation, a mere two lines devoid of punctuation or capitalisation, can be read in seconds. While it exudes simplicity, there is no reason why this poem can’t undergo the same analysis as traditional poetry. It is easy to imagine a GCSE student analysing that “the enjambment around the word ‘living’ gives the poem a sense of momentum that encourages Kaur’s readers to embrace their inner strength and determination”. This style works exceptionally well on Instagram, allowing readers to savour her poetry in bite-sized pieces, akin to social media posts.
While Kaur’s poetry may appear as no more than a straightforward, visually appealing expression of universal thoughts, perhaps this is her intent. Her exploration of challenging subjects, such as sexual abuse, demonstrates her focus on placing not just language but also hard-hitting themes at the forefront of her work. In the face of complex, often painful subjects, Kaur’s simplicity serves as a powerful tool to ensure that her message is clear and accessible to a wide audience.
In a time when connection and relatability are paramount, Kaur’s work resonates deeply with readers, inviting them to engage with the power of the written word. Her success on platforms like Instagram speaks to her mastery of the medium and her profound influence on contemporary poetry. In essence, Kaur’s poetry may be simple, but it serves as a bridge, introducing many who would have otherwise never interacted with the form to the world of verse. Simple or not, it is certain that Kaur has had an undeniable role in the evolution of modern poetry.