Poetry for the social media generation: Nayyirah Waheed and Rupi Kaur

Randa Salame
Staff Writer

Rupi Kaur.

Poetry is in the midst of a rebirth, driven by a new generation of digitally savvy “Instapoets” – young poets who are publishing verse on social media and have become known for summing up their work into concise and shareable posts.

These posts of inspirational short verses of poetry have quickly gained mainstream popularity and have pushed a number of young poets to publish their own work.

Among these successful Instapoets is Nayyirah Waheed. Based in the United States, Waheed self-published her first poetry collection, “salt”, in 2013 after having been repeatedly rejected by publishing houses. A number of critics have slammed Waheed for gaining popularity merely as a result of social media “hype”, rather than actual merit. Yet, “salt” is the most read self-published poetry book today, with Waheed’s work being studied in schools.

Loved for her sparse approach to literature and unusual use of punctuation, her writing inspires strength while expressing thoughts of passion, feminism, race, identity, as well as self-acceptance. “if the ocean can calm itself so can you. we are both salt water mixed with air.” As you can see, Waheed’s use of full stops and lower case letters is attracting a new generation of readers who have become increasingly excited about poetry.

Rupi Kaur is based in Toronto and her simple yet powerful poems are about love, loss, beauty standards, racism, and femininity. As a way to  brand her work, Kaur’s poems are usually accompanied by her own pen illustrations. The essence of Kaur’s poetry is characterized by its focus on soul and substance, capturing thousands of mainly young female followers. This is because Kaur is able to address the many varying features of femininity, including vulnerability.

In 2014, she self-published her debut collection, “milk and honey”, which became a New York Times bestseller. Kaur uses authentic, candid, and direct phrases in her work, acknowledging that she reaches people by sharing with them the same anxieties and experiences that they may have.

More importantly, Kaur claims that her readers constantly comment on the way she is able to capture feelings they have had for so long but could not put into words.

Kaur says, “I have this fascination, this drive to find the words for those things that I am feeling.”

While some have disapproved of her work as “formulaic or flimsy,” it is hard to deny how successful her poetry is, especially when it comes to articulating her readers’ emotions.

Using social media as a creative outlet, both Waheed and Kaur have revived poetry by demonstrating talent and ambition in conveying meaningful ideas through artistically presented written word.

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