Gen Z has only recently discovered the beauty of the flared jean, the magic of the record player and the genius of Kate Bush, but it seems they have now adopted an even older art form: poetry. Whilst poetry has long been viewed as an old-fashioned pastime, the recent rise of TikTok poets seems to have emerged as a direct product of youth activism. 

Whether it be Lord Byron writing about the Greek war of independence, or Maya Angelou campaigning against racism and sexism, poetry has always been a powerful medium for politics. Whilst not all poetry is directly political, I would argue that many of the best poems uphold this theme because political topics invoke an, unfortunately, intense passion. 

For the younger generation, who more often than not are the ones leading conversations on today’s fundamental issues, social media politics has unintentionally acted as a gateway to artistic expression. Political dialogue is undoubtedly at the centre of TikTok poetry, and as long as young people maintain this urge to improve our current society, poetry will persevere in new and exciting formats as technological developments increase creative accessibility. 

TikTok in particular serves to level the playing field due to the way in which the algorithm operates. Any decent young poet who has access to a smartphone has the opportunity to upload their work and amass a following, all without having to jump the hurdle of finding a publisher or investing money to self-publish. However, this begs the question: if the TikTok poetry scene is booming, then why is there still a widespread belief that young people are not interested in poetry? 

Poems on social media sites deal with the current zeitgeist in a contemporary fashion, allowing viewers to be part of a dialogue that directly impacts their own lives. However, I believe this is the exact reason many people refuse to admit that a reasonable proportion of Gen Z regularly engages with and enjoys poetry. In other words, they do not believe that TikTok poetry qualifies as “real poetry” because it lacks the archaic airs of the old classic poets. 

Take, for example, the TikTok creator PUNKpoetry who, in one video, recites a self-authored poem on the effects of gentrification in London. It is true that PUNKpoetry diverges stylistically from classic poetic conventions, in this particular instance sporting a chic ski mask. However, is it not time for the frankly classist baton of what is considered “good literature” to be passed on and revitalised? Is creativity and originality not at the heart of poetry?  

My personal favourite TikTok poetry star is Sarah Mann. One of her hit pieces, which boasts over a million likes, begins “I f****ng hate men…”, which obviously sparked a ferocious dialogue in the comment section. This is a particular perk of online poetry: instant feedback from a wide range of people and the ability to proffer serious literary criticism in bed at 2am, with a packet of Hobnobs by your side. 

I think this encapsulates the heart of what poetry actually is – sharing your message with the world in an attempt to elicit all manner of emotions. For me, TikTok poetry accomplishes the poetic goal much more efficiently than previous methods of production. Ultimately, when the battles for justice and equality are won, young people will be equipped with the ability to write poems of victory in place of their poems of struggle.