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Digital Poets: Can Social Media Save Poetry?

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Savvy social media stars use Instagram, Tumblr and other platforms to resurrect poetry and create a new genre of digital literature.

In early summer, model Karlie Kloss published an Instagram post with a birthday tribute to her boyfriend of five years — Thrive Capital founder and Oscar Health cofounder Joshua Kushner.

“My atoms love your atoms,” the caption read. “It’s chemistry.”

But the scientific love note wasn’t a Kloss original. It also doesn’t belong to a rock musician, film actor — or scientist.

Kloss signed the quote “@AtticusPoetry” — a nod to the poet Atticus and a giant plug of the poet’s work to Kloss’s 6.8 million Instagram followers.

“Poetry is being rediscovered by a younger demographic who might not have been interested in jumping into Tennyson’s Ulysses, but can appreciate a simple aphorism or epigram,” said Atticus, an Instagram sensation who was dubbed as “the world’s most tattoo-able” poet by Galore magazine.

Atticus poetry

Social media is quickly making poetry not only approachable, but widely available. But is it too late?

The number of avid poetry readers is at an all-time low, according to the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Literary reading has held steady at 47 percent among adult readers, but poetry reading declined sharply from 12 percent to 7 percent between 2002 and 2012.

Could Instagram and other social media be the new online beatnik forums needed to resurrect this dying art?

Nearly one-third of online adults use Instagram, according to Pew Research Center, but is it enough to keep poetry alive?

Meet the digital poets who have capitalized on the buzz power of social media to land book deals, advertising campaigns and even a devoted group of tattoo followers. These new romantics are reimagining the art of poetry.

Wild Words

Just four years after writing his first poem in 2013 on a trip to France, the poet Atticus now has more than 370,000 Instagram followers and a just released book of poetry — Love Her Wild.

On Instagram, every week or so, Atticus interrupts his usual poetry programming with an image of a tattoo — someone who carved his words on the small of their back or ankle or rib cage.

Atticus tattoo poem

“Poetry seems to be experiencing a renaissance online,” said Atticus, who does not show his face on social media. This fall, he’ll be touring — in a mask — to promote his new book. He hides his face not only to remain anonymous, but also to encourage himself to write what he truly feels.

“Social media has provided a channel to connect directly with an audience, which can provide almost instantaneous feedback,” Atticus said.

“On the one hand, you see immediately what resonates and what does not. On the other, you risk being constantly influenced by the responses you get and therefore not always writing in a way that is true to yourself.”

Social Media, the Muse

Montana-based poet, author and photographer Tyler Knott Gregson also uses social media to promote his work. He began writing poetry at 12, long before digital feedback was on the table.

Tyler Knott Gregson poem

His ongoing Typewriter Series, posted daily on social media, features a brief stanza or two typed on a scrap of paper.

He now boasts more than 320,000 Instagram followers (as well as a huge fan base on Tumblr and Twitter), which he credits in helping to publish three bestselling poetry books, including Wildly into the Dark.

“Without the ability to grow an organic and grassroots support base on social media, I would have been asking for a book deal with only hope on my side,” said Gregson, whose poetry was featured in Ralph Lauren’s Denim & Supply visual storytelling campaign.

“Social media gave me proof that people cared, people would be interested and that sales would come. That’s invaluable,” he said.

His exposure on social media also led to other retail partnerships beyond Ralph Lauren. Nordstrom featured the poet writing a Father’s Day poem for his dad, Glenn “Goose” Gregson, a Boston Red Sox Latin American pitching coordinator.

Gregson attributes his literary and promotional success to digital advancement and sharing on social media.

“The ability to share it digitally means it’s reaching people in places I never could otherwise,” Gregson said.

Digital Inspiration

Tyler Mills, an assistant poetry professor at New Mexico Highlands University, is not only finding value in the digital space — she’s found a way to incorporate it into her own poetry.

“Digital media can become a means of inspiration during the research process,” said Mills, author of the award-winning poetry book Tongue Lyre. “It can also lead to poems that engage directly with the language produced and archived by digital media.”

Her poem “H-Bomb” reflects on the first thermonuclear bomb detonated by the U.S. military in the Marshall Islands in 1952.

“The poem brings in the language of a Google Maps search for an island that was destroyed by this explosion,” said Mills.

“I wanted to re-create the process of looking for it to really demonstrate its absence.”

Using disheartening search error messages, Mills captures the loss of Elugelab, the island that was vaporized during the detonation of the hydrogen bomb:

  • We could not calculate directions between Johnson, VT, and Elugelab.
  • We could not calculate directions between Tokyo, Japan, and Elugelab.
  • Search nearby, e.g., “pizza.”
  • Your search for “pizza” near Elugelab, Enewetak Atoll, RMI, did not match any locations.
  • Make sure all words are spelled correctly.

“Poetry is one of the oldest forms of human expression,” said Mills. “I think it will be with us and adapting to new ways of sharing our words for time to come.”

Future Economics of Poetry

With followers in the hundreds of thousands — and sometimes up to five posts per day — Gregson hardly fits the stereotype of the reclusive poet.

Tyler Knott Gregson poem

“Poetry was a dirty word in publishing for a very long time,” said Gregson. “I think the spread of poetry through social media channels is proving to publishers, and self-publishers alike, that there is an interest, and that there is a way to monetize it.”

With the massive rise in digital consumption, it’s not unusual to wonder if fingertip poems will be the future of poetry.

“What’s nice is that this kind of bite-size poetry becomes a gateway to the classics and more traditional poetry,” said Atticus, pointing out that the social movement is waking up thousands of young writers who before didn’t have a forum or desire to write.

“Journalism helped shape Hemingway’s unadorned prose. It will be interesting to see how these new digital forums affect the writers of our future.”

 

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