It’s a strange truism, but Instagram is almost like the biggest publisher of poetry today. In fact, along with photography and food, Instagram has given poetry a cogent and living platform in the public domain, which it did not have earlier. And it is an international stage, nothing less.
Oh, there is criticism galore, and the shorter form of poetry dear to Instapoets is something often looked down upon by critics. But the fact remains, that it has expanded readership of poetry, and given a new lease of life to publishers of poetry. According to one market-research group, 12 of the top 20 best-selling poets in USA last year were Instagram poets.
And fittingly it has thrown up stars.
And the most resplendent one is Rupi Kaur. The young Indian Canadian girl became famous with her provocative photographs (particularly the menstruating one, which Instagram had taken off, and then reinstated, and which almost became Rupi’s calling card) which drew attention to her, which she then directed towards her splendid and sensitive etchings and her short punchy poems.
Her first collection, milk & honey, which was self-published in 2014, before it was picked up by a publisher, has now been translated into 40 languages and sold 3.5 million copies! Her second book The Sun and Her Flowers, was published in 2017. It sold over 5 million copies, was translated into more than 35 languages, and landed as a No. 1 New York Times bestseller—a position it retained for nearly 75 weeks.
Rupi started, in her own way, with rebellious poetry, bordering on poignancy. I clearly remember the day I read about her and then read her – it completely blew me away. There was a freshness and a viscerality which was startling in someone so young. And she used the brevity of Instagram to plug into the short attention spans of her readers.
She has three million followers on her Instagram account, and her success has made her a symbol of young poets who are smart, charismatic, and disseminate a steady output of easily-read poetry. And even if you don’t like her brand of verse, you can’t ignore her. Her poetry tours are sell-outs and her teenage army is unstinting in its support.
What she establishes quickly and gracefully on stage is connection. When I went to her performance in a soiree in Kolkata Lit Fest, what struck first was her beauteous and graceful presence. Her poetry was recited with drama, and passion. It was never a poem being read – it was an experience being shared. Rupi’s success has much to do with this intimacy of her work and her presence.
Kaur is an artiste of course, but also a poet-entrepreneur, and she has been quoted as saying that she approaches poetry like “running a business.” A day in her life can consist of writing, touring, or perhaps, unusually for a poet, managing operations at office and discussing projects with her team. The complex rebellion of her earlier work has slowly given way to more mainstream work, often bordering on cliché. But when she gets on stage and recites her short poems, with élan, with style, with passion, her ardent audience cannot but swoon.
Rupi Kar’s Insta handle – @rupikaur_