We are living in a time where political opinion has become divided and stretched between generations. Poetry has always been a powerful vehicle to speak out about issues, workshop our feelings and reach out to others. Put the two together and the millennial community is experiencing a poignant poetic renaissance.
Emerging young poets are finding new ways to show audiences their poetry and their voices in a society that is rapidly changing and affecting their everyday lives.
Social media is at the forefront of the revolution and offers an advantage to newer and younger audiences. In fact, it is mainly the millennial demographic that is boosting book sales in poetry in different parts of the world. As an example, since 2016 the UK has seen a sharp rise in the popularity of poetry, in large part due to the announcement of Brexit and the socio-cultural schism it speared between the generations.
No, poetry is definitely not dead, it is still a powerful empathising tool for human unity. In Australia there has recently been a surge of poetry written about the 2019/2020 bush fires by Australian poets, expressing the social uproar felt by the public against a government who neglected them and the fallen fire-fighters who gave up their lives to help others, Poetry was also used as a rousing voice to instill a sense of hope to the masses.
UK Millennial poets such as Warsan Shire and Rupi Kaur are combining methods such as illustration and poetry and distributing it onto the most dominant social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.
The Rise of the Instapoet Rupi Kaur
Professor of contemporary writings at Northumbria University Katy Shaw said to the Guardian
“Poetry as a form can capture the immediate responses of people to divisive and controversial current events. It questions who has the authority to put their narrative forward, when it is written by people who don’t otherwise hold this power …Writing poetry and sharing it in this context is a radical event, an act of resistance to encourage other people to come round to your perspective.”
27 year old Canadian/Indian poet Rupi Kaur ,who has amassed 3.9 million followers on her Instagram account, is amongst this class of poets. Willing to speak out about her feelings and perspective on pertinent social/cultural issues, her poetry is designed to build empathy and a community for young and old readers. According to the New York Times, Kaur is an empowering individual who has dealt with many issues other women face on Instagram and off: comparisons, aggression, bullying.
Kaur started putting her poetry on the micro-blogging website Tumblr before transitioning to Instagram. Her first collection of poetry Milk and Honey amassed book sales of over 2.5 million copies and featured on the New York Best Seller List for over 77 weeks. Her second collection of poetry The Sun And Her Flowers (2017) stems from the subject matter of love and loss, trauma and abuse, healing, femininity and the body.
Rupi Kaur told the Guardian, “My book would never have been published without social media.”
“I wasn’t trying to write a book, it wasn’t even in my vision. I was posting stuff online just because it made me feel relieved – as a way of getting things off my chest.”
Modern warrior poet Warsan Shire
While Warsan Shire is a few years older than Kaur, at 31 she is a formidable talent in contemporary British prose. In 2013 Shire was awarded the inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize, chosen from a shortlist of six candidates out of a total 655 entries.
Warsan Shire was born of Somalian parents and migrated to England at the age of one. Shire came into the British public eye through her poetry’s focus on immigration. Shire’s prolific and powerful poetic style has arrested audiences and has The New Yorker describing her poetry as the ‘new language for belonging and displacement.’
Shire received national acclaim with her poem “Conversations about Home (at a deportation center)” which shared the line
‘No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.’
Shire grew into global prominence through Beyonce’s 2016 album Lemonade which Beyonce drew inspiration from and quoted in the album’s accompanying film.
In the era of Brexit, Shire’s poetry has become even more relevant, giving voice to displaced people who find themselves in a country they feel confused about, socially, culturally and emotionally.
‘Her poetry evokes longing for home, a place to call home, and is often nostalgic for memories not her own, but for those of her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, people who forged her idea of her ancestral homeland through their own stories.’ – The New Yorker
James Patterson of I-D magazine asserts, ‘Warsan Shire’s work proves art provides hope and the possibility of redemption in times of despair.’
The way poetry is being used today, it is still seen as important on the literary market and as a valuable social tool. Rupi Kaur and Warsan Shire are just two of many millenial poets in the world today that echo the same position as that of Leonard Cohen and Eileen Myles. They have the ability to reach out and give voice to the struggles of the common people, documenting the visages of human emotion, social and political injustice, and preach it positively, intimacy and immediacy, on modern day media platforms such Instragram, Tumblr and Twitter.
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