What is a poet? With the growth of social media platforms, the world of poetry has seen an increasing rise in amateur interest: following the increasing success of ‘populist’ poetry (yes, that means you, Rupi Kaur…), it seems that just about everyone has penned a stereotypically abstract musing on self-worth or a failed teen relationship.
But who can be a poet? If everyone who’s ever written a poem or two can be called such, then surely this is a sad degradation of the importance – and skill – of creating meaningful verse? If, by comparison, anyone who’s ever drawn or painted a picture should call themselves an ‘artist’, there are billions of ‘artists’ around the world. Why is poetry treated differently?
It’s possible to consider this question through examining the development of poetry in recent decades. Arguably, the change in what it means to be a poet this past century has been more dramatic than ever before: while poetic style has changed between centuries in the past, the role of the poet themselves has remained more or less unchanged. Whereas poetry was once written to be performed at court or shared within intellectually/socially elite circles, nowadays, it is increasingly written for personal satisfaction, or to be shared to a select following on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.
While angsty teenage ‘poets’ might make for an infuriatingly pretentious display of edginess, perhaps this culture should be encouraged? While one might be required to sieve through lines of teen woes, even the greatest poets had to start somewhere – and, in a few decades’ time, some of these teen poets might be the next best-selling Kaurs.
Maybe this change is for the better? You don’t have to be an academic to be a poet anymore – poetry is more personally sincere; no more grand lyrics on tricky concepts or references to obscure epics. Poetry might not survive otherwise: already a dying interest, verse would finally fizzle into the abyss if it wasn’t developing to appeal to the average reader.
While I might not fully admire the effortlessness of contemporary free verse, I can respect that poetry’s role is developing in a different direction: and, ultimately, if poetry can be made accessible to a new generation of young writers, ensuring its preservation and new ‘phase’ for the coming years, then so be it.