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There are so many Instagram accounts devoted to posting brief, vapid poems, mostly about love and its aftermath, in typewriter-y fonts with clunky metaphors and a persistent refusal to adhere to the standard rules of capitalization. With so many instapoems to choose from, and so many angles to come at them in terms of critique, I decided to categorize them. I’ll introduce you to each type of poem one at a time, along with a deeper look at the characteristics and uniting features of the group.
Type #1: Girls Are Plants
In these poems, girls are plants. Or seeds. Or roots. Or flowers. Something botanical, though. They’re blossoming. Or sprouting. Or blooming. Or engaging in asexual reproduction in order to maintain a chance of survival in this cruel, Darwinian world. Well…maybe not that last one. But if you thought girls were young, female humans, you were wrong, cause they’re not. They’re plants.
he watered her roots / because he simply / loved to see her / grow. -JmStorm
she is growing / let her bloom / don’t disrupt her
the space you left / is now my room to grow -c.c. aurel
This author may not be female, and admittedly, humans do grow, but still.
it’s your flower love / bloom for yourself -r. h. Sin
you are not your roots. / you are a flower / grown from them. -pavana reddy
I think this one is trying to convey a message…I’m just not sure what that message is.
It’s 2020. Girls are empowered. Strong. Brave. Tearing down the patriarchy with every subversive t-shirt. And what better image to convey these changing power dynamics than the flower, which has historically symbolized value completely separated appearance, agency, resistance to injustice, surviving adversity without wilting within a week of getting picked…oh…wait a second…
Type #2: Dating Advice???
This genre, if one can call it that — perhaps “phenomenon” is a more apt term — is clearly very female dominated, because the poems that are not about women are addressed to women, and the few that center on men typically chide the subject for failing to love an unknown “her” who is presumably the subject’s ex. Type #2 poems use the imperative and could plausibly be considered dating advice, if you have a really good imagination.
let yourself be upset / stop reaching out to him / acknowledge the fact / that you can’t be with him / because you deserve more / this is how you move on – r.h. Sin
More like post-break-up advice, I guess.
5 years from now, he’ll be / nothing but a memory. Don’t let / him destroy you. -r.h. Sin
move on / fuck him / be brave -r.h. Sin
Odd one, considering the double entendre of that verb in the second line.
wait for the one / who will find you / in the dark / and listen in / the silence -JmStorm
Actually, that sounds really creepy and predator-ish.
and when he returns / remember why you left -Lorelei
Be with someone / who loves you harder / on the days you can’t / love yourself at all. -there for you
I don’t take much issue with this one, except the end. Is “there for you” the author? Or just a woefully misplaced promise on behalf of the poet?
a lot of people / will look at you but / only a few will see you. -c.c. aurel
This is true. Similarly, a lot of people will ask for your social security number, but only a few will do so without malicious intent. Be careful.
I’m filing this all in the back of my brain for college. However, most of it is fairly useless to me, as I’ve never been in a relationship before. This is probably considered some sort of microaggression by at least a handful of Tumblr users, but I’m too tired to google it.
Type #3: Defying Logic (And Biology)
This is where it starts to get good. Logic may have served you in…well, every other part of your life. But it has NO PLACE in Instapoetry. No place, I tell you! Don’t believe me? Then behold the plethora of examples below.
if you can dance / without an audience / and sing without the music, / you can love without an other. -h.sean
And if you can tap dance without a fire escape, you can go to the prom without leg warmers. These are the best syllogisms I’ve ever seen.
You left / but you never really / left. / Does that make sense?
your heart left / long before you did -Lorelei
Medically speaking, this is rather concerning.
Perhaps / we each possess / a heaven / that is not / our own. -Chloë Frayne
I don’t think we can possess anything that’s not our own. At least not in English.
your absence is your presence. -c.c. aurel
And your spleen is your uncle.
my only mistake / was to believe that / people are what I feel. -c.c. aurel
What on Earth made you think that in the first place? Also, that was your only mistake? Really?
My scar isn’t bleeding, / it’s beating. -c.c. aurel
Throbbing indicates that your scar hasn’t fully healed. Consult a medical professional for further advice.
I let my heart think about it. -c.c. aurel
And I let my eyebrows make small talk at cocktail parties.
I cannot change / who I am / but I can change / what I am. -c.c. aurel
How can I believe in / someone else’s forever / when the forever I had for you / did not last forever -c.c. aurel
I don’t know, but writing “forever” in a different font probably doesn’t help much.
sometimes / i wonder / if your heart / is wrapped / in barbed wire. / because every time / i try / to love you / i come away / bleeding -Blake Auden.
This raises some significant questions about both the way in which the author tried to “love” the subject and the author’s understanding of basic anatomy.
love her when she’s rain -v e n t u m
we were so lost in that moment, / we never found it again – v e n t u m
I don’t even know how to respond to this one. I’m sorry?
Now that we’ve destroyed two entire foundations of modern empirical science, let’s mosey along to…
Type #4: Out of the Mouth of Brené Brown
If you’ve never heard of Brené Brown before, here’s the crash course:
- Brené Brown = sociology “researcher” and author of many a self-help book
- According to the doctrine of Brené, vulnerability is the antidote to shame
- Shame = bad, vulnerability = good
Yeah, I think that’s about all you need to know. And not just for this post. For life. But anyway, moving on:
hymn four: / stop chasing things / that make you lose yourself
you are / enough, / a thousand / times / enough
This is lovely. It’s just not a poem.
don’t try to be beautiful. / just be real, / and that is already / beautiful enough. -jeff foster
Again, nice sentiment. Still not a poem.
sometimes / all that matters / is that you’re still / trying -wilder
sing to the stars / and let the moon / know your heart / is breaking. -s.m.ashford
Please don’t. The stars and the moon have better things to do.
Listen. / Life only gets harder / when you forget / how to love yourself. -Rashi. R. Sanghavi.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I think posting inspiring quotes is a lovely thing to do, and I agree whole-heartedly with most of the messages (particularly those that don’t involve romance…the Instapoets tend to lose me when they enter that territory). I suppose the issue is that we consider this poetry. It’s not. It’s just not. And that’s not bad. I can think of plenty of wonderful things that are not poetry: Hozier songs, conceptual art, many murals in San Francisco, four-year-olds, challah. The fact that they are not poetry does not detract from the wonderfulness of any of these things. But they are still not poetry.
Type #5: Can We Please Standardize the Definition of “Silence” Once and For All?
Here’s where I get a little irritated. Because guess what, people? Words have meanings. Fixed, definitive, not-at-all-up-for-debate meanings. And I’m all for artistic/poetic license, for playing with polysemy and creating metaphors and exploring homophones…but that’s not what’s happening here. Let me show you what I mean:
Quiet people / scream / silently.
Or they don’t scream, because screaming is loud and screaming silently is like dancing motionlessly.
if loving you means silence, / i never want to speak again. -h.sean
I understand the sentiment, but under what circumstances does loving someone mean silence? And, more to the point, under what circumstances does loving someone mean silence in the context of a healthy, non-abusive relationship?
You still live in / The silences / Between / My thoughts.
Need I explain this one?
silence has always been my loudest scream
That’s kind of sad.
Your silence is deafening / It screams I’m not worth the fight
Again with the silence and screaming! If you’re going to operate on a system of nonsensical metaphors, you could at least try to find some original nonsensical metaphors.
On my silent days / I miss you a little louder. -c.c.aurel
she is / an inaudible sigh / in a world / full of noise -blake auden
Faint praise much?
i can’t / hear you / over / this / silence -Blake Auden
listen because some wars are silent. -v e n t u m
Really? You should tell the UN about this. Seriously, I’m sure they’d love to know.
This provides a decent segue to my next type….
Type #6: Pigeons Are Pigeons
We have to start with an example for this to make sense.
if suffering is freedom, / we are both free. -c.c.aurél
Except suffering is not freedom….so you’re not both free. Kind of like how if pigeons were dinosaurs, every city would be a blood bath, but every city ISN’T a blood bath…because pigeons are pigeons. Ya feel me? Great. Let’s keep going.
Type #7: She
I’ll be honest: the bulk of the Instapoetry, maybe 60% or so, is about an unnamed “she” who is very obviously supposed to be an analogue of the reader. There are a handful of main tropes from which the Instapoets rarely deviate:
- She was in a relationship with a man who treated her badly.
- She’s experienced some sort of unnamed, not otherwise specified trauma that, in the author’s mind, only makes her more profound, mysterious, artistic, interesting, beautiful, and special (which is pretty problematic in its own right…see below).
- She’s a kind and caring person who treats everyone around her lovingly, and yet is treated terribly by others.
- She doesn’t give herself enough credit for how amazing she is, thus explaining the necessity of the Instapoets, who remind her perpetually of her own worth.
- She has a complex relationship with celestial bodies (makes the moon jealous, makes the stars jealous, loves the moon, makes the moon jealous of the stars, is the moon, etc.).
she’s quiet but she sees / everything. she says nothing / but she’s not blind / -r.h. Sin
she’s falling in love / with herself again / she’s learning once / more / what it means / to be happy on her own -r.h. Sin
she dreams of being loved / the way she loves -r.h. Sin
She isn’t just / a woman. / She is the novel / you read from / cover to cover / and yet you read / again and each time / you do, / you find something / that was missed before. JmStorm
Swimming pools were invented / to kiss girls in the rain / and if they weren’t / they should have been. -Atticus
She wasn’t looking for the perfect person / she was looking for someone / to catch her imagination / and remind her / what she was looking for. -Atticus
she is strong / but she is tired -r.h. Sin
you will meet her and / when she walks into / the room, she will / walk into your heart. -c.c. aurel
and he knows, / only the stars above / deserve her love -c.c. aurel
girl, / you are the sun / he is the moon, / you let him shine and / he will realize soon. -c.c. aurél
she smiles / and life / isn’t as hard / as it used to be -Blake Auden
she has become / so much stronger / as a consequence / of you. / in the end / you left her / with steel bones / and an elastic heart. -Blake Auden
she never needed you / to fix her / she just needed you / to pass her / the hammer / and nails.
she reminds me / who i am / and who / i’m meant to be -Blake Auden
she was wild and she / loved to dance to the / rhythm of madness. – v e n t u m
she wasn’t difficult / she wasn’t asking for too much / you were just too weak / to appreciate a strong woman / and so you lost her -r.h. Sin
Type #8: WTF?
No explanation needed.
she canceled him
hymn twenty: she held madness like a flower
Poets are souls at war with words / from battles waged within.
let’s run away to / the moment we first met
your heart is the softest place on earth. take care / of it.
Like an unknown seabed / I crave to explore / every part of you
if you hurt me do not insult me / with your compassion. -c.c. aurel
you moved on too fast / and missed the path / of self-awareness. -c.c. aurel
i miss you most / on sundays -c.c.aurél
My atoms love your atoms, / it’s chemistry. -Atticus
Type #9: You’re A Special Unicorn And There’s No One Like You (Except My 999,999 Other Subscribers)
women like you / don’t happen often / never forget / how rare you are -r.h. Sin
The sentiment is nice, but it’s hard to buy the “how rare you are” thing when the post has upwards of a thousand likes.
you have / magic in you. / don’t let them / tell you otherwise. -Harpreet M Dayal
women like you / start revolutions / by simply existing -r.h. Sin
you’re too good / for someone / who isn’t sure about you -r.h. Sin
you are magic / even at your most / broken -r.h. Sin
Type #10: SHOOT ME NOW
I feel / like girls / who drink / whiskey / tell / good / stories. -Atticus
I have a theory / that all artists / are lost souls / wandering / their way / back to Paris. -Atticus
i’m more sad than my sad playlists
Love me like my demons do. -Akif Kichloo
I don’t like milk to my coffee because / it always makes it too creamy to / remember your dark brown eyes. -v e n t u m
I replaced you / with my myself -Lorelei
and darling / nothing is meant to be / unless you want it to -midnight
I want to make you / as happy as / I am sad. -April Hill writing
I pretend to unlove you / everyday -lorelei
If a poet falls / in love with you, / you will live forever. -Atticus
Pretty sure this one is both falsifiable and falsified. At this point, I think I’ve made my feelings about Instapoetry pretty clear. And I’m actually going to write some of my own, but I’ll devote a separate (and much shorter) post to that. I swear I’m almost done with this (I’m saying this both to readers and to myself, because good heavens, I spend waaaay too long producing content for this ridiculous blog). There are only two things left. Thing #1: brief rant about the glorification of “madness” and “brokenness.” These two words/themes come up a lot in Instapoetry, and this makes me want to slam my head against a brick wall, because I’m vehemently opposed to the glorification of insanity or mental illness or whatever it is they’re referring to (ambiguity seems to be another defining feature of Instapoetry). And if you’re going to write a poem to glorify mental illness, at least make sure it’s a well-written poem. NOT like this:
If I conquered all my demons / there wouldn’t be much of me left
I wish you met me / before they broke me. -c.c.aurel
she’s madness, the kind you fall crazy in love with. -v e n t u m
broken girls / blossom into warriors
Just enough / madness to / make her / interesting. -Atticus
When it comes / to art, / it’s important / not to hide / the madness. -atticus
we found love / where our scars aligned -Atticus
She conquered her demons / and wore her scars like wings. -Atticus
True art / comes / from flying / with the madness / so close / you burn / your eyelashes.
she was brutally broken / yet elegant enough / to fix a fallen star. -BLISS
Please, please stop glorifying “madness” and “brokenness.” I could and probably will devote an entire post to this, so yeah, more later.
And finally, Thing #2. Most of this post has been…critical, to put it generously. And yeah, there’s a lot of stuff on Instagram that I find patently absurd/farcical. However, there’s also a lot of Instagram content I quite appreciate, and while I don’t think Instapoetry is all that spectacular by the standards of…well…poetry, that doesn’t mean it isn’t without value. A lot of these Instapoets share thoughtful, kind words that seem to have a positive impact on their followers, and I think this is wonderful. So in the spirit of kindness and of recognizing that just because I don’t like something, that doesn’t make it inherently bad or worthless, allow me to present a small array of Instapoet posts that I genuinely admire:
“There is nothing more powerful than a girl with a pen who is brave enough to use it.” -Caroline Kaufman
moving water can break / down rock and I think / this is how I love you
[Screenshot of a tweet by Nikita Gill at 3:58 pm on June 1, 2019. “If you are struggling, I hope you meet kind people today and if you don’t, I hope you are kind to yourself.”]