Dear Poet, Welcome to the 21st Century…

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A few months ago, I was pondering the idea of posting my poetry online. For me, poetry has always been a solitary activity. I would scribble rhymes and metaphors onto paper, close my notebook and I would never read it again, never mind letting other people read and comment on it. Then, I decided that if I ever wanted to publish a poetry book (which has always been a dream of mine), then people would ACTUALLY have to read my poetry, right? Now, social media has its advantages and disadvantages. When you post something online, it is there forever, you lose control of where it can be shared or saved. This scared me a little, when I thought about my vulnerable musings being there for the whole world to read.

I lost my way as a writer for a long time. I have spent the last seven years of my twenties living my life, experiencing the good and the bad, I would write from time to time but never took it seriously enough. I do believe I am finally in a place not only to write again, but I actually have something to write about. Poetry has been the way I have expressed myself from the age of five. I’m not exaggerating here. From the moment I started school, even if I couldn’t articulate and write my thoughts down yet, it was there. I would make up stories in my mind and I had a lot of imaginary friends. Once I knew what rhyming was, I quickly started making little poems up and I loved it. I actually remember my first poem I wrote down on paper, I was seven years old.

In March this year, I created a poetry account on Instagram @EmmaJanePoetry, I wrote a poem on paper, typed it up, placed it on a colourful background and clicked upload. I could feel my heart thudding in my chest as I waited. What have I done? What if people don’t like my poetry? What if people are mean and say hurtful things? What if I’m never taken seriously as a poet or a writer because I have posted these words on an Instagram page? My stream of worries disappeared when I saw what happened next. Slowly but surely, people not only started following me and reading my poetry, they commented on my writing ability, told me that my words spoke to them, made them feel something. I had personal messages from people commending my poetry and asking when I was releasing a collection. I’m no Rupi Kaur, I have 387 followers. But I don’t want to be an Instagram influencer, I don’t want fame and fortune. I just want to write poetry and have someone to share it with. I want people to read my work and Instagram is a good place to start.

I’ve just watched a poetry documentary on YouTube about the ongoing debate between academics and young people who disagree on whether the Instagram effect on poetry is a positive or a negative one. It’s what inspired this blog post. I believe that there is space for everyone in the writing world. Commenting on whether poetry is “good” or “bad” is completely subjective. Poetry is personal for the reader. Yes, there are people on Instagram posting two or three line quote-type musings and calling it poetry. Let them. Poetry has never fit into one box. I have read some classical poetry that academics rave about and I thought it was useless drivel. But hey, that’s my opinion.

I think the real problem here is not about the definition of what a poem is, it’s about technique. As a Creative Writing graduate myself, I had to study poetry, learn about technique, different styles, how to create imagery in a poem. I took the time to learn about my craft. I think some writers are angry that young people, with no writing skills, are stringing a few generic phrases together, posting them online and calling themselves “a poet.” I get it, I really do. But like I said, there is space in the writing world for everyone. Spending time ranting about it just makes you an insufferable snob in my opinion. Compare this idea to art. You have your Mona Lisa portrait, that is considered to be one of the greatest portraits in the world alongside a modern piece of art, a few crisp packets hanging on a piece of string. One person may love classical art, so they deem the crisp packet art as rubbish, unworthy and unoriginal. However, some modern artists may respectfully admire the Mona Lisa but prefer unique and unconventional representations of art such as the crisp packets. Poetry is no different. We all like different things.

What I have noticed since I became a part of the Instagram poetry community is there are some extremely talented poetic voices out there, that would have never had their work read without social media. They may not have the confidence to go marching up to a publishing house and say, “publish my poetry please.” By sharing their work, they are receiving a positive response from their readers and this increases their confidence in their writing ability, what’s so wrong with that? Artists and writers want the same thing, to get their work “seen.” We live in a world with social media at the centre, we can choose to embrace it or ignore it, the choice is ours.

Poetry is changing. I know that by posting my poetry online, I am accepting that this is the 21st century and culture is adapting to be part of the digital world. We now have many platforms to share our words with millions of people. Why not utilise and use it to share our art, whatever that may be? We live in a society that likes to put labels on things. It makes us uncomfortable if we don’t categorise or explain something. If someone ever branded me as an InstagramPoet or an InstaPoet, I would politely correct them. Not because I would be ashamed of that label. I would tell them that yes I publish my poetry on Instagram, a social media platform. I also post it on Facebook, my blog and Twitter. But I think of that little girl, with her notebook and pen, writing poems about her imaginary friends and I smile. I always have been and always will be, no matter where I share my poems, simply… a poet.

Like My Status, Like My Life

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Facebook is part of our daily lives, it’s a mechanical process to scroll down our newsfeed every morning and see what our friends have been up to, but do we realise the truth behind the façade? Do we have the ability to step away from the virtual world and live entirely in the real one?

Facebook has been around for a while now and it’s no surprise that it’s the most popular social media site, it is a great way to connect with friends and family that you can’t see every day, it enables us to like pages, photographs and statuses and it can keep us entertained for hours. Conversely, there is a negative side to social media and Facebook can be psychologically damaging for many reasons, entertainment can quickly turn into and addiction.

Facebook is also a false elucidation, a prism that only shows the sides of our life that we wish to share with the rest of the world. Unconsciously, we build a fictional wall, on Facebook we show the person we so badly want to be but behind the wall, a flawed person stands with many insecurities about how imperfect their life actually is.

It’s human nature to want attention, we crave it and not everyone will admit it out loud but we all want to be liked. Facebook is a platform for this. People, wait for their friends, family members and even strangers to like the events that have happened in their lives. When somebody likes our photograph or status, we get instant satisfaction. Liking a status means that somebody else, whoever that may be likes you and in that moment, that is all that matters.

Delusion is a side effect of being on Facebook. There is an unhealthy gap between reality and the online persona that we create online. We might share our engagements, the birth of our children and our new jobs on Facebook but we don’t share our deepest thoughts and feelings, we keep all the important thoughts to ourselves. There is nothing genuine about our online selves, seeing picture perfect profiles doesn’t only create bad self-esteem but can bring other negative emotions to the surface, such as jealousy, resentment and general unhappiness with our own lives.

It’s almost too easy to manipulate others and pretend to be someone that we’re not. Facebook has many advantages but its biggest disadvantage is its ability to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. Social media sites are slowly killing society, the current generation and the ones that follow will no longer know how to communicate and this is worrying to say the least. Facebook and other social media sites have substituted our need for real conversation. I’ve seen it happen, people looking down at their screens at a party because they have no social skills and no awareness of those around them.

How many Facebook friends do you have? Two hundred, three hundred maybe? The important question to ask yourself is how much do you really know about them? You might know their job status and that they have been in an on and off relationship for four years but does it go deeper than that? Do you know their biggest fears? Do you know that they bite their nails when they’re nervous or that they are unhappy with their lives? Facebook creates an illusion that you know lots of people but do you know the real person behind the online façade?

The only way to free ourselves from the grasp that Facebook has is to realise that it isn’t real and it is okay to not be liked by everyone. Facebook can be a great way to connect but don’t forget to connect with real people and live in the present moment. I too am guilty of letting Facebook turn into my whole world when really it should only be a fraction of it.

I know that Facebook is just an illusion and if people want to get to know the real me, then they should look away from my Facebook profile as it only illustrates the highlights that I choose to reveal. Facebook is a great way to document snapshots of your life but as long as you step away from the screen and see the rest of the world around you, well, I guess it won’t do you any harm in small doses. Just remember that life is happening right now, so look up from your smartphone and enjoy it.