Instagram Poetry


- text finished August 5, 2017E.V.

On the night of Wednesday, July 26, 2017, I was talking on the phone with my girlfriend (she prefers her privacy & shall henceforth be called "GF") who, amongst other things, is a writer & a bookstore worker who shares similar literary tastes to my own. She mentioned something like a book that came into the store where she works that involved tweets or some such. One thing led to another & she started explaining Instagram Poetry to me & started describing some of its more famous practioners & the aesthetic they present in.

She went to some relevant websites & read some of the poetry to me. We agreed that we strongly disliked the sampled work & I started extemporizing poetry that I considered to be 'in that style' to our mutual amusement. This may seem snobbish but the ultimate point was more of a theoretical one: What kind of work is produced by people who seem to be unaware of & uncaring about a possibly relevant history? What's generally accepted as "poetry" & what are the intellectual & creative shortcomings of such work? Does the internet really provide a 'democratization' of media-use or do marketing forces still exert excessive influence over style & content that then trickles down onto not-even-uncensored websites?

GF sent me links to relevant websites for 5 Instagram Poets. Let's start with Tyler Knott Gregson. He's apparently one of the more famous Instagram Poets (or, perhaps more accurately, Social Media Poets) & he's listed on Wikipedia. His entry begins:

"Tyler Knott Gregson is a poet, author and professional photographer based in Helena, Montana. Gregson has accrued fame as a poet on social media platforms such as Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter since 2009. He writes and posts a "Daily Haiku on Love," and a raw poem from his "Typewriter Series" every day currently." -

Instagram being seemingly mainly a platform for posting photographs that one can easily share with one's friends, Instragram Poetry often consists of poems photographed placed in an environment - such as on a table. Some poets get more ambitious & incorporate their poetry in more calculated image environments, developing stylistic trademarks such as the use of a typewriter or handwriting on scraps like napkins or paper bags.

This combination of imagery with text for poetic purposes has a long history - dating back to at least the illuminated manuscripts of monks in pre-printing-press times. It's the richness of this history that Instagram Poets seem to be oblivious to. As such, Instagram Poetry seems more rooted in the somewhat omnipresent market-forces-controlled Greeting Card Poetry, a poetry likely to be known by many people rather than other historic & esoteric forms. Greeting Card Poetry is also big business. Since much mainstream poetry, which I take to include Instagram Poetry, centers around the 'love poem', I bought 4 cards to use as examples of Greeting Card Love Poetry: 2 on weddings, 2 on romance:





Strictly speaking, I don't necessarily have anything against the sentiments expressed above. The idea of kissing, holding hands, being friends, laughing, etc, as being healthy in a relationship is sensible enough. The purpose of such poetry seems to be to give people guidelines that they might not be able to articulate on their own.

But, for me, poetry isn't just a medium for expressing sentiments, it's a medium for exploring the potentials of language & such explorations are irrelevant to the purposes of greeting card manufacturers. In their world, images are strictly either decorative, as in the borders of the 2 wedding cards, or illustrative, as in the images of the 2 romance cards. It seems to me that this also holds true in the case of the Instagram Poets. However, not all Instagram Poetry would qualify as Greeting Card Poetry. Here's a simple test: let's take some Instagram Love Poetry & slot it onto the front of a Greeting Card Poem & see how well it fits. Here's one by Tyler Knott Gregson:

I think that fits reasonably well. Obviously, there are some aesthetic differences that're slightly jarring: the gold of the banner isn't quite the same as the brownish grey of the typed-on surface & the cursive script of the banner isn't the same as the typewriting. Here's the original Gregson poem as it appears on Instagram:

Note that it got 5,284 likes. "Likes" are a form of social currency on social media, the more likes a person gets, the more social media cred they have. A large number of likes might insure a good publisher deal because it implies a pre-existing readership/buyer potential. This, however, ties in less to any notion of critical standards than it does to marketing blanketing (the number of 'followers' that one has) & the nature of the 'followers' (do they 'like' almost everything reflexively - perhaps out of fear of being NOT 'liked' themselves?). Personally, I rarely 'like' anything I'm asked to like on social media - this is because I prefer to REALLY like it if I'm going to publicly state that I like it at all. That means that if what it's hoped that I'll 'like' strikes me as generic art or poetry I'm definitely NOT going to like it. I would never 'like' the poem above, it's entirely too cookie-cutter. However, the normalcy of it is big business, the more Lowest Common Denominator a product is, the more safely it can be embraced by people 'liking' for the sake of being 'liked'. Greeting Card Poetry is Big Business, the 4 cards I bought cost me over $19.00. When was the last time people who buy greeting cards bought a poetry book that only has 4 short poems for $19.00?

But it's not Gregson who best exemplifies my point. Gregson seems to fit the 'wholesome (but poseur edgy) dad market' but there are other poets who fit into the 'wolves-in-sheeps-clothing' market who fit the Greeting Card Poem test even more beautifully. Let's take Atticus as an excellent example:

& here's the poem as it appears on Instagram:

Note that this has 9,057 likes. Yes, I've noticed that the inside of living vaginas is warm too, I've never tried a dead one. Have you ever been in a social situation & watched a man try to seduce a woman into going to bed with him? People like myself roll our eyes over the transparency of the pick-up lines. Still, speaking in poetic euphemisms is much more likely to work with the target female than saying something like "I'll gladly make you pregnant as long as I don't have to take care of the kid." While honesty might be hypothetically a virtue I can attest that from personal experience it's not likely to work in this example. Make sure to lie about what STDs you have, deniability is everything! Instagram, being largely a medium for younger people who've grown up with social media & the devices that support it, is inevitably going to be used as a pick-up line phishing party. Here's another excellent example from Atticus:

Note that that got 10,142 likes. Here's how it works as a Greeting Card Love Poem:

Atticus can probably be joined by r.H. Sin (aka Reuben Holmes) in the category of transparent pick-up line phishermen. He was featured in a recent New Yorker article. Here're some excerpts from that:

Ah, yes, the merch.

The implication being, of course, that Sin is actually saying something of substance. Why am I not convinced?

Maybe I'm being unfair to Sin when I say that he's "in the category of transparent pick-up line phishermen". According to an online article about him:

"To this day, his Instagram account shows that he's following exactly one person: Samantha King." -

That's not so unlike a certain Bill Williams III only following fuzzorgan. Then again, due to uncertainties of Instagram that're confusing to me, it's unclear how many people Williams IS following.

Note that Sin's in an "industry" & that he feeds his readership "fifteen to twenty times a day". That brings me back to Gregson again. To continue quoting from his Wikipedia entry:

"The "Typewriter Series" was born in 2012 when Gregson found an old typewriter in a Helena antique store and typed out a poem spontaneously. He said, "I just did it all at once and it was like stream of consciousness, I didn't plan it or think it through-I just let it go." The poet now challenges himself to post one of these every single day." -

Perhaps there're those of you who think that posting "one of these every single day" is hard. Perhaps there're those of you who think that Sin's cranking poems out "fifteen to twenty times a day" is also hard. It's my contention that I could churn out these stream of consciousness things or thinly disguised pick-up lines from here to eternity with almost no thought or effort but I would feel like I was wasting my life. Then again, I'm an excellent extemporizer & maybe that's all it takes to be a 'good poet'. Personally, I prefer more carefully considered work. On June 26th, I entertained GF with some off-the-top-of-my-head poetry & had fun doing so so I decided to create an Instagram identity the next day & to generate a slew of poems to see how they would fit or not fit into the already established Instragram Poetry scene. I then wrote 16 poems & posted the following 12 on June 27, 2017:

I like these poems easily as much as everything else I've read that's posted to #instagrampoets & they were idiotically easy to write. If I were using a 'feminist pick-up line formula' like Sin they'd be even easier. In that case, I'm sure that an algorithm for generating them might be the way to go. That would leave more time for giving poetry readings to naive young women & for sex.

However, what started out as fun became something unexpectedly less fun. The obvious problem was that it was hard for me to restrain my tendency to be innovative. I made all the poems 6.25"X6.25" squares, used the American Typewriter font, & put my pen name on the bottom right. I used only photos from my own extensive personal photobase or prefabricated backgrounds from the app I was using. I got very bored working within these restrictions. How can people like Gregson, Atticus, & Sin stand it? There's so little variety to what they write. What was worst of all for me, though, was that that cadence started framing everything in my head. As I wrote in an email to GF:

"An unfortunate side-effect of writing those Instagram Poems is that now almost everything I write has that cadence in my head &, therefore, strikes me as cliché:

An unfortunate side-effect

of writing those Instagram Poems

is that now almost everything I write

has that cadence in my head

&, therefore, strikes me as cliché"

I've always strongly disliked the cadence that most poetry readings seem to have, predictable emphasis, predictable pausing, predictable drama, predictable phrasing based around short breaths. Having this cadence infusing everything text-based in my mind, infusing my writings, became quickly insufferable. My original intent had been to just assembly-line the poems out as an amusing side-project. I realized that by doing so I ran the risk of becoming stupid. I decided that the humor of the project wasn't worth the toxic side-effects. Consider these Instagram Poet bios:

Be a simpleton & you will be loved & make big money in your spare time.

&, remember, Atticus loves you for reading (presumably for reading his work).

Calling yourself a poet & writing such simple things probably doesn't bother simpletons in the least. It also makes you 'understandable' to the Lowest Common Denominator.. - but does it? What does the LCD understand? That 'poetry' is what the Greeting Card companies sell us?

There was a time

when it had to rhyme

but then free verse came along to free the content from rhymed restrictions & left the door open for people who then dropped the content in favor of the clichés. Easier yet!

Imagine calling yourself a "Practicing Promotextual" & a "Homonymphonemiac" instead, as I do. Imagine saying that you write "Concrete Essays", as I do. The robopaths won't know what to 'think' because they were never thinking in the 1st place.

Not all of the poets are men, not all of them are as easy to slot into Greeting Card Poetry. Here're some other Instagram bios from poets who GF picked for me as having some prominence:

Ok, I find the above to be more clever than what I've previously commented on. Daley-Ward plays off of the cliché phrase "tall, dark, & handsome" & uses it ambiguously to possibly evoke "tall tale" & "dark" (as in the sense of looking at the more grim & dangerous side of things).

Rupi Kaur has 1.5 million folowers. Here's one of her poems:

Note that this got 111,279 likes. This is one popular poet! Let's see how this fits in the Greeting Card test:

Maybe it's a little off.. but not by much. "god" fits in, at least, to my whole picture of how this LCD culture works: believe in the right god in the right place & they won't kill you. NOW, to compare that to one of Daley-Ward's:

Nope, it doesn't cut the Greeting Card mustard at all! 1st, being "drawn to the wolves" isn't 'wholesome' enough, 2nd, there's just no clear message about love as a good thing - it's too ambiguous: she admits to desire for someone she doesn't trust because she responds to the power, the energy.

While it's not Greeting Card material it can make it on Instagram. Instagram has room for more adult, less fairy-tale attitudes towards relationships. This one got 3,556 likes. Instagram has room for subjects that aren't likely to be categories in the Greeting card section at the store:

It's interesting for me that this has 23,832 views but no likes listed. I don't know why that is. Here are some more Greeting Card tests, can you guess which poet wrote each one?:





Yes, number 1 is by Tyler Knott Gregson. Did the typewriter on colored paper help you identify the brand?:

Number 2 was trickier. It was written by a poet not already mentioned here. You knew it wasn't Sin brand because it was written from a (presumed) heterosexual (or bisexual) woman's perspective. You also knew it didn't pass the Greeting Card test because the word "fuck" is used:

This one apparently will not only NOT be on a Greeting Card anytime soon but its author may not be approached with a major publishing company deal because there were only 203 likes. It's ok, Deanna, I'm an even bigger loser. Maybe there's hope for you yet.

Number 3 is by Sin! That was an easy one. Promise her everything because a sucker's born every minute. Number 4 is a newbie here. I saved it for last because I think it has special significance:

This person's "safe space" isn't a "secret treehouse" as one of the Greeting Cards has it. The "safe space" that the text is enclosed in is a stack of books. At least 3 of them appear to be by "E. L. James" aka Erika Mitchell - these include "Fifty Shades Darker". I haven't read these books so perhaps I'm wrong when I say that they represent masochistic fantasies of women submitting themselves to powerful wealthy men as sex slaves. I'd be the last person to deny that it's common enough for women to be masochists but I'd also be the last person to encourage it. Mitchell's encouragement of it has netted her millions of dollars as movie deals have been brokered. Yes, folks, this is BIG BUSINESS. Don't worry, D.R.S., even though this only got 40 likes you've performed some powerful magic by associating it with best-sellers.

While we're on the subject of BIG BUSINESS I might as well mention scammers & spammers. On my YouTube channel I got this notification:

I was about as convinced that "Serena W" thinks I'm "great" as I am that a street person's saying "Hello, Sir, How are you today?" is an expression of actual interest & concern in me as a human being rather than as a human bank machine. Somehow, I don't think "Serena"'s comment was related to the "MM 76 Ad" ( ) the still from which is to the right. Nonetheless, curious person that I am, I decided to look at the Instagram page:


Presumably, there was a spot of bother with Instagram ferreting them out as con artists & they had to shift their operation to a new URL:

Yes! I'm sure we can both see why "Serena" thinks I'm "great"!! Why 'she' & I are so much on the same page!: In my fantasies I have a couple of really expensive cars & a trophy wife (NOT). I'm a little confused by the mass marriage though. Is this a Moonie thing? They supposedly have 153,000 followers. I hope that's not true.

OKAY! You've read the poetry, you've seen the imagery, NOW, let's take a look at some of what's missing from the above:

The above right is an example of something from the Middle Ages. The calligraphy of Instagram Poetry pales in contrast. The following book by Edward Lear is from 1846. There doesn't appear to much humor in Instagram Poetry either.

Kenneth Patchen started publishing in the 1930s. Compare his work to the Instagram Poets.

& how about this selection of works by Bob Cobbing from 1942 to 1975?:

Or what about d.a.levy who sadly only managed to survive from 1942 to 1968?:

The whole notion of text & image merging into a semantic whole seemed nonexistent in the Instagram Poetry I looked at.


Gregson's use of the typewriter might just seem pathetic after seeing the below:

I did find a mention of herpes in one poem on Instagram that appeared to be popular enough to make it into a top post position. I think the poem was from 2017. I couldn't find it again when I went to copy it for here. It seems appropriate to mention herpes in a place where love poetry abounds. The poem I found was very simple & involved no visual aids. Now consider this piece of mine (tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE) from 1979:

The above version is a bit worse-for-wear (partially from being a glossy photograph rolled up for decades). The braille on my cock spells "HSV2". This was meant to be worn under my pants & exposed during readings. The public was welcome to rub the braille. I used it this way at least once during a poetry reading at the Ear Inn in NYC in 1982. Below is a version that's not quite so damaged.

Such a 'poem', or, as I prefer, Concrete Essay, would be banned from Instagram to this day. You're not likely to see it on a Greeting Card either. &, yet, I find it to be quite a clever text!

Here's another thing from me (tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE) from 1994:

In the incredibly unlikely chance that any Instagram Poets make it this far, my point is: DO SOME RESEARCH!! HAVE SOME IMAGINATION!! While social media might make you feel like you're really living in the moment let's not forget that there actually has been a past. For me, most of the Instagram Poetry I've read is like Greeting Cards that reinvent the wheel as a square. Here're the other Instagram Poems that I've posted so far:

Now, I'm hardly an expert on Instagram Poetry & I DO have a 'bad attitude' toward pop culture which I think is almost inevitably shallow & stupefying. With fairness in mind, I'll give Rupi Kaur the last word:








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