what’s the fuss?
By Jennifer Rodrigo
Last Sunday, Dilshan Senaratne and Andre Howson – both creators in the Instagram space – spoke about the concept of “Instagram poetry” and what it all means in Sri Lanka.
This week’s focus was on talking to published authors. What do they think poetry is and should be? What is poetry to them? Does the easily accessible, now burgeoning form of creativity presented in pastel-coloured backgrounds really have an allure in itself?
Sri Lankan poet Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, whose book of poems “Nothing Prepares You” won the 2007 Gratiaen Prize, thinks all forms of creativity need to have a space.
“People choose to write the way they want and express their feelings and ideas in different ways, and we need to accept that diversity of expression,” she expressed, explaining that the medium – Instagram – has a temporary quality to it because people read it while scrolling, “and it fits a short attention span. So like everything else, it has its purpose and function.”
“Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is sh*t,” said Sri Lankan science fiction author and researcher Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, who was nominated for the 2019 Nebula Awards organised by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). He, however, was quick to add that he does appreciate the shortness of the form.
Wijeratne’s grand experiment right now is @osunpoet, which is a human+AI mix. “I am the human, and OSUN is the AI I continuously refine and upgrade. I want to find out whether a machine model, working in combination with human curation and editing, can become a fresh new voice in digital poetry; whether it can appeal to real humans out there in the void, and whether we, by doing this, can break down this boring human vs. AI narrative and illustrate a future where we work together to make good art,” he shared. “So I appreciate the challenge and the shortness of the form, because it fits my intentions.”
Short-form poetry, shared Wijeratne, is nothing new, referring to the Haiku, the Nonet, the Sonnet, and the Landay. “If anything, popular Instagram poetry strives towards sentences broken into pieces and placed artfully on an image. A single statement, a single theme. Anti-complexity, if you will.”
Commenting on the fact that Instagram poetry is often scoffed at as being “lazy poetry” or “gateway poetry”, he said that perhaps, this judgement was a good thing. “There is something democratic about the form, although I have yet to see anything devastatingly profound,” he admitted. Whilst accepting that rhyme and meter are discarded in the form, he did share, however, that beauty, “like contact lenses”, is in the eye of the beholder. “A Jackson Pollock painting is also tremendously lazy art to me, but there are plenty who find it art.” I couldn’t help but think that Wijeratne was holding back more words for the sake of being kind.
Vanderpoorten, noting the easily accessible and free nature of the form, thinks all one needs to do is keep scrolling to avail themselves of the poetry at their fingertips. “The thoughts and ideas are often simple. However, I have also seen, occasionally, poems on Instagram that give sudden, if passing, insights.”
She went on to share an interesting thought in saying that Instagram poetry is more alluring to writers than readers, “the most alluring being that you can get equally instant feedback in terms of ‘likes’; and this feeds the poem – the writer’s ego and encourages more production”.
Poetry, to her, is the most beautiful form of expression. Good poetry makes one’s mind dance, makes one savour all the flavours that language offers, and makes one read it and forever see the world differently, according to Vanderpoorten. “It is sensuous and also cerebral.” In sharing what she thinks poetry as a whole is to her, she admitted that she personally feels that poetry is something that has to be worked on, crafted, re-read, edited, kept away for a couple of days, looked at again, and re-written. However, she does think that there are times even she has not taken her own advice.
“As I said before, Instagram poetry is one form of expression. The fact that it is called ‘Instagram poetry’ and not simply ‘poetry’ signifies more than the space it inhabits, it is also a judgement already.”
Wijeratne’s definition of poetry is that it captures some intricate emotion or concept by virtue of the combination of the word choice and their arrangement in space. He furthered that the way they are set forth must yield some greater nuance than the words themselves.
“I admire it even more when someone does this using words otherwise thought simple. Think Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening’. What emotion! What resonance! And yet, the words themselves are commonplace. Frost does not throw the thesaurus. He does not need to. The arrangement alone carries the poem.”
Vanderpoorten thinks that how people react to poetry on Instagram would depend on how they define creativity, how they define poetry, and what they want to achieve with poetry. “If you want popularity and fame, yes, Instagram is a good space for that. There is the possibility to say profound things in Instagram poetry, and also it is possible to say things like ‘to hate is an easy lazy thing but to love takes strength’ and write it in lines that look like poetry and get three hundred and fifty thousand ‘likes’. So yes, some of it can be banal and lazy and not poetry at all. But some of it can be good too.”