the rise of the ‘insta poet’, how a new generation of poetry was born online

Ahead of International Women’s Day, we meet the young women who have brought poetry into the 21st century.

by Laura Pitcher
06 March 2017, 3:56am

Image via VICE.

Poetry used to be for young people: from Bronte to Byron it was the narrative of rebellion and passion. But over the past century our perception of it shifted, and increasingly poetry seemed to live on dusty shelves. That was until recently, when we saw a shift in the role poetry plays in our lives. A new generation of writers have spun their work into pop culture and politics, reminding us how fresh and powerful verse can be. From Beyonce's collaboration with Warsan Shire on Lemonade to the role Nina Donovan's Nasty Women piece played during the Women's Marches, the work of young women has increasingly come to narrate the changing world around us.

Today's breakout literary stars are technologically savvy, social media focussed and, in increasing numbers, female. Shared on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr their work has a direct line to readers, offering a more elegant version of the familiar cultural hot take. In the lead up to International Women's Day, we spoke to some of our favourite poets about how their craft has changed with a changing world, and where they still want to see it go.

Hera Lindsay Bird

Do you think poetry has been an underrated genre?
I think that what speaks to us as a culture shifts with time and technology. To me, the medium isn't the be all and end all. Less people are reading poetry perhaps than when Wordsworth was alive, but that's because the creation and distribution of art is more democratic now. I think it's healthy, even if it means that people would rather watch a well-written TV show than read a sonnet. Part of the reason why poetry is regularly so insufferable is that people are more invested in the idea of poetry than the poetry itself. The value has to come from the work itself, otherwise who cares. I love poetry, but only ever poem by poem.

What type of poetry did you learn about in school?
Mostly the war poets. A lot of Shakespeare. I'm sure Wilfred Owen was a nice man with many important feelings but I have to say I had very little interest.

What do you think the future of poetry looks like?
I think poetry belongs to everyone. I know that's a corny, salute the moon kind of thing to say, but I genuinely believe it. I actually think gender isn't much of an issue in poetry. Institutional poetry has a much bigger problem with race, and is pretty unrelentingly hostile to anyone who isn't white. I think racism is poetry's biggest failure, and it's no wonder that people are consuming less and less of it, when the pool of visible voices is so narrow.


Image via

Lang Leav

What does poetry mean to you?
Poetry has certainly transformed my life and has enabled me to focus full time on my writing. Today, I have four international bestselling poetry books under my belt and I'm excited to be releasing my debut novel titled Sad Girls in May 2017.

Poetry has also become such an important tool for movements such as black lives matter and the Women's Marches around the world. Why do you think this is?
Poetry is incredibly potent. It has the power to get a point across, quickly and succinctly. It is wonderful to see poetry used as a tool to unite and motivate like-minded people who wish to see equality among all human beings. At the Women's March on Washington, Aja Monet recited a poem titled My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter. The poem was about the importance of words. I think it is vital for women to know how powerful their words can be and how they can be used to create real change in their immediate lives and in turn, create change in the world.

What do you think the future of poetry looks like?
The future of poetry looks very bright indeed. In 2013, the Washington Post published an article suggesting that poetry was dead. Just a few short years ago, many bookstores didn't even have a dedicated poetry section. Today, poetry is thriving and the vibe is definitely female. I am thrilled about the direction poetry is heading. As a woman who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, I hope my personal journey inspires others to overcome adversity and never be afraid to follow their dreams.


Image via

Alicia Cook

Instagram has been a huge part of your career. How has the rise in "insta-poetry" affected the way you produce work?
It changed the game. Some will argue it saturated the market, and while there is some truth to that, I think it's done more good than harm. I wouldn't have landed a literary agent or a publishing house if I hadn't had a social media platform and following first. I love it because I can get to know my readers, through the lens of social media, and they get to kind of see the motivation behind some of my work on a more personal level, too. It makes me more real, more human.

What do you think the future of poetry looks like? Is it female?
It better be. There are a group of really popular male poets that are capitalising on speaking for us; not about us, for us. In my Community, we call them 'She Poets.' I can't stand that, personally. They write, 'She wanted' this or 'She felt' that. I don't know about you, but I don't need a male to explain to me what I'm going through. I have my own voice. I know what I've gone through. I know what I want. I'll tell my own damn story, thank you very much. Women have spent too many years sitting idly by as men spoke for us, I think it's time we take our voice back.


Image via @meganfalley

Megan Falley

What do you think the role of poetry is in the 21st century?
I think poetry can often speak the story of one person, which typically inspires more empathy than the news might report about a cultural phenomena or the story of a movement. I recently heard an intuitive empath energy worker say that when she wants to know what is happening in the world, she looks to the poets. Poets don't report facts, they take the emotional temperature of the world and report back with beauty. Poetry, by nature, gives voice to those who might not otherwise be holding the microphone. I think we can use beauty, language, humour and craft to disarm people into hearing the message.

How has the digital age developed spoken word poetry?
Video technology has definitely elevated the popularity of spoken word. Once we needed to find local slams or open mics to experience it, and now we just need an internet connection. I'd definitely think technology has been vital not only in the expansive popularity of the art form, but also in encouraging more people to try it. I'd venture to guess that there are more self-identified poets now than there have been in the past.

What do you think the future of poetry looks like?
I don't think the future of poetry needs to have a gender. I think male writers are making incredible work right now, as are female writers, trans writers and gender non-conforming writers. What I want to see in the future of poetry is everyone being authentically themselves, telling the stories only they can tell in the way only they can tell it, not posturing behind someone else's style that came before them. It feels really good to be seen or represented. To witness a femme-presenting person like myself talking graphically about queer sex, or earnestly about gay love. To behold a person with my body type being outwardly celebratory of it in a society that historically and presently shames it. I came into my own feminism through poetry in many ways, and I think young women are achieving that catharsis alongside me in my work.


Image via @jennybagel

Jenny Zhang

What motivated you to become a poet?
An unholy combination of having a lot to say and not being satisfied with the languages that already exist to express it.

Why do you think poetry has become such an important tool for recent political movements?
Well, the state and established social and political institutions have failed to protect a segment of the population, even actively harming and doing violence to black, brown, LGBTQ+ folks and women. True poetry is anti-establishment. It resists normalisation, codification, and weaponisation, so it's natural those of us whose humanity are under constant attack are turning toward poetry.



Text Laura Pitcher

Jenny Zhang
hera lindsay bird
alicia cook
lang leav
megan falley