Given the recent mainstream popularity of poets like Rupi Kaur, it’s no secret that there’s been a poetry revival over the last few years. Poems are no longer only read by aspiring writers, English majors, and souls who find refuge in words. They’re being circulated to the masses.
Now, poems are skimmed through in noisy coffee shops, comforting lines are read in moments of weakness, and an average reader can get through at least ten poems before breakfast. With many modern poems being only a few lines long, poem-reading has shifted from being a marathon to a sprint, and from a five-course meal to a quick snack.
Many people praise—or blame—Rupi Kaur for this evolution of poetry. Kaur is now a bestselling poet, touring across the world and performing her own words, and has become a symbol of the new wave of modern poetry. Her work, which is typically short and simple to read, has proliferated on Instagram and inspired a flood of poetry in similar styles.
Now, in 2020, I can open Instagram and find morsels of poetry from accounts across the world. Thanks to social media, anyone has the agency to become their own publisher, catalyzing major artistic growth and shifting power dynamics in the literary world.
Though Kaur may have started this trend, poets around the globe are pushing for the evolution to continue.
When compared to classic poets like Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Rumi, E.E. Cummings, or Walt Whitman, the main discrepancy with modern writers is the length and intricacy of their work. Modern poems tend to be shorter, getting straight to the point in a single sentence.
R.H. Sin’s poems often read like motivational one-liners to get through the day. “Don’t be the good woman he can crawl back to,” and “She missed you / but didn’t / want you back” are excerpts from his most recent book, which have also made appearances on Instagram.
This simplification can be problematic for lovers of traditional poetry who find pleasure in the craftsmanship of a good poem—how it needs to be read, unraveled, digested, and sometimes read again to be properly interpreted or analyzed.
This phenomenon of simplification is present in almost all art forms that appeal to the masses. There are parallels in the world of pop music, which is basically an amalgamation of rap, R&B, EDM, and indie music, combined to create catchy melodies and lyrics. This isn’t necessarily bad, since pop music can be extremely authentic, relatable, and can push artistic or creative boundaries, the same way modern poems can.
Lovers of a specific genre, again, may be hesitant to call a pop song “rap” or “R&B,” the same way avid poetry readers may be hesitant to call Kaur’s work “real poetry.” The dispute, however, is not about how brilliant or beautiful the work is—it’s about whether this simpler evolution will overshadow what some people believe music or poetry is traditionally meant to be.
Not all Instagram poets are known for simplification and a lack of punctuation the way Kaur is. Lang Leav, another popular poet who has published nine poetry books since 2013, uses rich metaphor, rhyme, and text styling, while frequently experimenting with prose poems. Leav’s partner, Michael Faudet, also writes more traditionally complex poetry. The couple’s books read like private love letters to each other, filled with desire, longing, and hope.
I think our modern obsession with poetry stems from our need for emotional support and validation, and these needs are met with lines that can seem tailor-made for us. Reading shorter, more general poems about love, acceptance, or culture have the power to make us feel seen and validated.
Our ability to read dozens of poems at once on the internet also allows us to escape from reality without the headache of reading a piece multiple times to understand its meaning. Simplicity brings us accessibility and the instant gratification of an immediate emotional response.
Moreover, the ability of anyone to publish their work online allows authors to bypass the messy publishing world, allowing voices that may be overlooked to thrive with their target audiences.
Women of colour, in particular, have been at the forefront of this movement, writing poetry rooted in cultural metaphor and making marginalized voices heard in a way they never could have been before.
As any art form evolves, they’ll always face criticism arguing the new wave disregards the important roots of the art, neglecting foundations that once defined the craft altogether. I find it compelling—and interesting—that many poetry lovers will discuss Kaur in the same breath as Plath, or compare Atticus to Hemingway in a critical essay.
That’s because good poetry, regardless of the form it takes, cracks open our hearts and makes us feel seen. Our modern obsession with poetry is indicative of a rising need to feel human again—to curl back into ourselves, to reflect, to grow.
Though some people may find fault with modern poetry’s simplification, poetry’s resurgence ignites something in our society that should never be lost and is therefore deeply meaningful and necessary.
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