Instagram poets speak to a new generation of readers
By Isabelle Bennett, Sam Nar, Contributor and Photo Editor
Traditional poetry is losing presence in a society overtaken by technology. But a new generation of poets are taking advantage of new technology like Instagram to share their work and communicate with fans.
Jillian Dez, a Calgary poet behind the Instagram account @fromsaltandsea, is one of many authors making the transition.
“I had this library of so many pieces, and I thought, ‘what am I doing if not sharing it with the people?’” says Dez.
“It was terrifying, it was exhilarating, it was rewarding. I share a lot of my life on social media so … it almost felt like I was naked in front of everyone.”
Dez began posting her writing on social media in early January of last year and already has more than 900 followers.
“Poetry has always been a huge … way to connect with people. I follow a lot of other poetry accounts, and I thought, ‘maybe if I share my poetry with others, it will be beneficial to my own journey as well as someone else’s.’”
Digital technology is revolutionizing written art, Dez says, with poets creating short, reactive poems that are easy to like and share through popular social media platforms.
And Dez isn’t alone in her belief.
Jenny Vuong, a student at MRU, is an avid fan of digital poetry. She follows Instagram authors like @vav.ava and Lebanese-Canadian writer, Najwa Zebian because of the convenience.
“I would say online poetry is becoming a trend because it’s a way for people to express themselves, especially when everyone invests so much time into their phones,” Vuong says.
“Technology makes poems more available to everyone as well as making it easier for people to become poets themselves.”
Nicholas Desrosier, a Calgary writer known on Instagram as @dashboardstargazing, is an example of a fan turned self-poet.
Poetry is the best words in the best order. – Richard Harrison
“I’ve always loved writing. When I first started, … I thought poetry was just these abstract, complicated paragraphs almost, but they’re just sentences,” says Desrosier.
“They hit people so hard, and it can change someone’s life. It can motivate them and create a feeling. I thought that maybe I could do that too.”
Richard Harrison, an English professor at MRU and winner of the Governor General’s Award for English language poetry, says a poet’s art is a lot harder than it sounds, regardless of the medium.
“Poetry is the best words in the best order,” Harrison says, quoting American poet, Stephen Dobyns.
“You’re not just looking for one or two words that say exactly what you want to say. You’re looking for how to order them so … you can hear them with your eyes.”
Digital poets find ways to express these words uniquely despite using common digital tools.
For example, Dez consistently posts images of typed words on a blue background while Zebian shares personal photos, videos and text with over 800,000 followers on her Instagram account, @najwazebian.
Zebian, digital poet and author behind traditional poetry books, Mind Platter, The Nectar of Pain and Sparks of Phoenix, explains that poets are not only writing for other people — they are also writing for themselves.
“I’ve discovered the power of giving myself a voice — by listening to myself first, before waiting for someone to ask how I’m doing,” says Zebian in a phone interview.
Zebian focuses her poetry on empowerment, authenticity and community.
Her values make it difficult for her to acknowledge her fans as “followers”, despite this being the term Instagram uses.
“I don’t see them as people who just blindly walk behind me and back me up no matter what I do,” says Zebian.
“They are walking this journey with me; they are not following my journey.”
Zebian compares her work to climbing a mountain.
“The struggle [of life] elevates you somehow just like climbing a mountain elevates you,” says Zebian.
Although sharing her words on social media was initially “terrifying,” Zebian was confident in her message to persevere regardless of the type of feedback she received.
“For every person who thinks … that social media is the wrong place … to expose my vulnerability, there are 100 people who are saying ‘thank you for telling me that I’m not alone,’” says Zebian.
Zebian’s success suggests poetry has a bright future.
She says that we express ourselves using poetry more often than we think.
“When you tell someone that you love them, when you try to explain yourself to someone and express your feelings — that’s all poetry.”
Now, this can all be done digitally. With the power of mobile devices and their influence over the masses, poetry is tapping into a wider audience than ever.
“No matter what you do, you will always find an audience. Whatever you do, you will always have someone who listens to you,” says Desrosier.
But the future of poetry is both something new and nothing new at all. According to Harrison, poetry isn’t dying, it’s just changing.
“Every art form responds to the overarching dialogue of its time.”