Perception vs. Observation: Digital Poets’ Loss of Agency on Instagram

Though I can appreciate many of the affordances Instagram offers budding and established poets alike (community, feedback, global collaborative relationships, a way around gatekeepers/gatekeeping, and more), I’ve discovered that some of these supposed “affordances” are mere mirages that come with nerve-wracking constraints and repercussions. I worry if we don’t criticize the use of Instagram as a platform for the consumption and creation of poetry, we may lose our agency and ability to write poetry without limitations enforced by a corporation. My aim for this paper is to help poets develop their own sense of rhetorical ethics for using this platform, and hopefully encourage digital writers to resist losing their creative, ethical, and rhetorical agency. I will do this by first establishing Instagram as a space requiring examination. Then, I will discuss the loss of agency that happens when there is no separation of author from their text, using Rupi Kaur’s Instagram page as a case study. I’ll also look at the loss of agency for writers pigeon-holed into templates and caught in the web of appealing to algorithmic audiences, as well as the loss of agency that occurs when readers become monetized and datafied. Next I’ll look at what happens to Instapoetry when it is removed from the Instagram platform and attempts to fit into the traditional publishing world (which remains the goal for most poets, whether “insta” or not). Finally, I’ll end with an examination of Ada Limon’s—our current National Poet Laureate—Instagram page to show a different, perhaps healthier, way for poets to use Instagram for community and marketing.

Author: Meghan Harrison