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A new generation of poets emerges on Instagram

A whole new generation has taken to Instagram to create and share poetry, with innovative, playful and moving poems emerging from the medium. To show how vibrant and relevant this new form is the National Poetry Library has curated the very first #instapoetry exhibition in the world, with over 1,000 entries being received after a call for submissions.

Jessica Atkinson, Digital Content Manager at the National Poetry Library, and Poetry Librarian Chris McCabe have chosen four of the works on show for this blog post and explain what it is that made them stand out.


✨No hope ✨ . . . #instapoetrylib #instapoem @nationalpoetrylibrary

A post shared by Astra Papachristodoulou (@heyastranaut) on

@heyastranaut’s piece is born of the internet, juxtapositioning space-age fantasy alongside the realities of millennial anxiety.

On the surface we are presented with glitz and glamour; Barbie has made it to space to shop surrounded by stars. Is this not everything we were promised the future would hold? Using collage, Barbie’s blacked-out eyes indicate that this joyful image is not all it appears. Suddenly this familiar figure is censored, anonymous and reminiscent of countless memes on Tumblr.  It has an incredibly striking effect (Ocean Vuong’s UK jacket image for Night Sky with Exit Wounds has a similar look) which is perfect for Instagram – this image stops you from scrolling for a minute to take it in.

The text in the image is minimal but we loved the pairing of familiar Frank Sinatra crooning with the gritty bleakness of Barbie’s blindfold. This work takes cut-up and collage poetry and makes it accessible and fun – if there’s no hope for the plastic fantastic, what hope is there for the rest of us?

What initially drew us to @adrianadrtolivera’s piece is that it is entirely handmade.

Due to the nature of the platform, a lot of Instagram poetry is made using software and apps – and these can be used to great effect! But the simplicity of the handwritten poem alongside the anatomical drawing felt as if it could belong in an artist’s book as part of the library’s collection. When something has been crafted especially for you as a viewer or reader, it feels special and unique.

The positioning of the visceral heart alongside the emotive text subverts the assumption that Instagram poetry is all highly romantic and sentimental. Again, we see the use of collage poetry. Adriana has balanced romanticism with the contradictory; there’s a wildness to her words but it’s all encompassed in the space of a few lines. This is the art of a successful Instagram poem – catching the user’s eye, drawing them in and making them pause to contemplate a lot more than just their phone.

We’d never have expected to find poems written with made-up forms on Instagram but poems of four words are everywhere.

In the 1960s the Scottish artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay invented the one word poem. How can a poem be a poem with just one word? The answer, Finlay showed, was in having a long title before it. Tom Pickard took on the challenge in his poem ‘Advice to a young poet’. The poem’s one word was simply ‘moisturise’. Four words is a perfect form for the small square frame that Instagram offers.

The one we chose by @eryn.faris for the exhibition suggests how we can use social media to reflect our insecurities back in a way that can be turned into a positive. As Bill Murray has said: ‘Social media is training us to compare our lives, instead of appreciating everything we are.’ Instapoems are a perfect medium turning our gaze back towards this wonder.

With our ever-growing collection of visual and concrete poetry at the National Poetry Library we were delighted to find this form appearing on Instagram. And why wouldn’t it? As the American avant-gardist Dick Higgins has said the history of visual poetry is ‘the story of an ongoing human wish to combine the visual and literary impulses’.

This poem by @hermirony1 is made from lines of poetry forming a fingerprint with each rotating more tightly around the central whorl. There is a nice play here around the idea of a poetic line and the lines that make our fingertips unique. Admittedly this is easier to read on your phone or tablet than on the large screen which can’t be rotated so you can easily read the whole thing. ‘From the outside I behind the lights’ one line reads. Another says ‘the word became my world’. It’s exciting to find an Instapoet so attuned to the words within their world and pushing the interplay between text and image for the world of social media.


The Instagram Poetry exhibition is free to visit at the National Poetry Library, and runs until Sunday 1 July.

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