Have you seen this New York Times article called “Web Poets’ Society: New Breed Succeeds In Taking Verse Viral?”
It’s about how some poets use everyday tools used by millions of people to promote their poetry. I know, I can’t believe it either. It reminds me of the time the NY Times used another popular medium to reach millions of people to try to take their articles viral.
I haven’t heard of any of these poets before, and I don’t necessarily think the poets are good. But still, the NY Times can’t help but ‘objectively’ deride them.
It’s not that the NY Times said anything wrong per se, it’s the way they said it. You know, just like how you got in trouble in middle school. So let’s bring up some choice quotes…
The first section is about Tyler Knott Gregson, a poet from Montana. Here’s what the Times says:
Now, thanks to his 560,000 Instagram and Tumblr followers, [Gregson] has become the literary equivalent of a unicorn: a best-selling celebrity poet.
Well, Tyler Knott Gregson is on this list. But Maya Angelou, Shel Silverstein and Claudia Rankine are way ahead of him. And why do they have to call out the Instagram and Tumblr followers? Why don’t they just say “fans”? Because the NY Times would prefer fans come about the old-fashioned way: from their hallowed pages anointing the bestselling poets, not actual people, or heaven help us, the demographic who mostly use Instagram and Tumblr. Plus, the Times would rather they come from Facebook, as shown above.
Mr. Gregson belongs to a new generation of young, digitally astute poets whose loyal online followings have helped catapult them onto the best-seller lists, where poetry books are scarce. These amateur poets are not winning literary awards, and most have never been in a graduate writing workshop.
Please excuse me while I dodge this gauntlet hurtling at my head.
Let’s outline all the problems with this:
1) Obviously old people can’t be digitally astute.
2) If poetry books are scarce on bestseller lists, than how did I just link to a poetry bestseller list? Oh you mean, the non-approved NY Times bestseller lists? Got it.
3) By the way, who do you think buys Maya Angelou or Shakespeare or Mary Oliver? YOUNG PEOPLE ON INSTAGRAM AND TUMBLR WHO ARE FORCED TO BUY THEM FOR THEIR CLASSES. That’s how they get on the bestseller list. Hate to break it to you, but I have hard time believing that Mary Oliver sells a lot of poetry otherwise.
4) Are bestselling poets still amateur if they are on the aforementioned bestseller list?
5) There are plenty of “amateur” poets who have won awards that would rather trade their awards for some more cash, probably.
6) Could this be more of a condemnation of grad school programs than anything else, by virtue that they’re getting beat by so-called ‘amateurs’? This would be like the University of Kentucky basketball program getting shown up by a Division III school every year.
Instead, their appeal lies in the unpolished flavor of their verses, which often read as if they were ripped from the pages of a diary. And their poems are reaching hundreds of thousands of readers, attracting the attention of literary agents, editors and publishers, and overturning poetry’s longstanding reputation as a lofty art form with limited popular appeal.
Wait, what was that…you actually liked a poem? It must be ‘unpolished’ then because ‘real’ poetry is supposed to have ‘limited popular appeal.’
What a shame for poetry to have some raw, excited voices in it to actually, you know, challenge what’s going on. Ripped from the pages of a diary…how did that get in here???…did any other untrained poets workshop that thing under the guise of an academic ‘safe space’???
The rapid rise of Instapoets probably will not shake up the literary establishment…”
But what if it does, then what? Sounds like it already has “shaken up” the literary world, otherwise YOU WOULDN’T BE WRITING ABOUT IT or IT WOULDN’T APPEAR ON BESTSELLER LISTS.
New York Times, are you trying to be clever with “instapoets” and Instagram or are you trying to insist that the poems couldn’t have been worked on or rewritten multiple times just because it’s popular? Sneaky there, but I see what you’re doing. I just became an “instawatchdog” I think.
and their writing is unlikely to impress literary critics or purists who might sneer at conflating clicks with artistic quality.
Did you actually ask any literary critics? Let me check….uh, no…so you already knew what the answer would be with your almighty perfect Facebook-loving journalistic instinct?
But they could reshape the lingering perception of poetry as a creative medium in decline.
Maybe it only lingers because of articles like the ones you’re writing….