How Instagram Saved Poetry

Social-media poets, using Instagram as a marketing tool, are not just artists—they’re entrepreneurs.

...Since the publication of milk & honey, the poetry genre has become one of the fastest-growing categories in book publishing. According to one market-research group, 12 of the top 20 best-selling poets last year were Insta-poets, who combined their written work with shareable posts for social media; nearly half of poetry books sold in the United States last year were written by these poets. This year, according to a survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Census Bureau, 28 million Americans are reading poetry—the highest percentage of poetry readership in almost two decades. Kaur’s publisher, Kirsty Melville, has seen it happen firsthand: “It used to be that poetry was down in the back of the store next to the bathrooms, and now it’s out front,” she told us. “And that naturally helps sales of all poets. The classics and other contemporary poets are selling.”...

....Social-media poets, using Instagram as a marketing tool, are not just artists—they’re entrepreneurs. They still primarily earn money through publication and live events, but sharing their work on Instagram is now what opens up the possibility for both. Kaur, the ultimate poet-entrepreneur, said she approaches poetry like “running a business.” A day in the life can consist of all-day writing, touring, or, perhaps unprecedented for a poet, time in the office with her team to oversee operations and manage projects.

Building their own mini brands, poets can harness e-commerce to supplement their income. Some sell merchandise such as mugs printed with their poetry and, in a mimicry of the aestheticized square of Instagram, “hand-typed poems of your choice” in shadow box frames. Atticus’s website features a shop called the Atticus Collective, where customers can purchase products inscribed with his words, from a massive $35 poster to a $174 “talisman.”...

...It’s impossible to predict, while the first Instagram poets are still at work, how radically the industry is being changed by social media and whether the transformations will be lasting. But the triumphs of poets like Rupi Kaur—the world tours, the book sales, the frenzy of fans—are undeniable. The word poetry originates from the Greek word poesis, which means the process of creation, of composition, of production. From the very beginning, the art was tied to the labor. Now, because of a movement of rookie poets on the internet, it is reaping its rewards.

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