Is 'micro-poetry' still poetry?
Updated: May 26, 2020
10 years ago, poetry was pretty much dead, let’s not lie. Like the Latin language, it was still studied and written, but the likelihood of getting published was slim, and the chances of sustaining a career as a poet, even slimmer. But, with the rise of social media, has come an unexpected rise of poetry, and now it seems that the art form is thriving more than ever.
However, just like the rest of us, poetry has had to change a little, in order to fit in.
Gone are the epics like Paradise Lost and The Divine Comedy - instead, the ‘micro-poem’ - short, sometimes just two-line sentences, made popular by Instagram.
Naturally, where there is something new to talk about, there’s something new to hate. And boy is there some hate. Some critics have gone as far to say that 'insta-poets' are destroying the centuries old art form.
So can we really call something that is barely more than a sentence, poetry? Or are they just glorified quotes?
This is a tricky one for me, because I write this kind of thing myself, and I’m always a bit unsure what to label it.
But let’s have a look at some examples:
From Rupi Kaur’s, Milk and Honey:
I am losing parts of you like I lose eyelashes unknowingly and everywhere (p.135)
I think this is just beautiful. It tells a story, it gives an emotion, and has some unique imagery. The concept of the eyelashes is just so interesting and thoughtful as it’s so commonplace, yet overlooked.
Now let’s look at the definition of poetry:
According to Google, aka, the only source that matters, poetry is:
‘literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm’
So, feelings and style – and I would say that these two lines definitely have this. In fact, isn’t it more impressive that all this in achieved, in only two lines?
Seeing as the definition doesn’t mention how long a piece needs to be to be considered poetry, I’d pretty much take this as a yes, ‘micro-poetry’ is still poetry.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s all good poetry. Because there’s such a limited space, I also think it’s incredibly easy to get it wrong. It’s also a lot harder to be original too. While Rupi Kaur has seen incredible success, she is also one of the most highly controversial modern poets.
Let’s look at some more examples from Milk and Honey:
I was a museum full of art but you had your eyes shut (p100)
It’s not the worst, but it’s not really good either. I can see a clear difference between this one, and the one about eyelashes. Actually, it would even be okay if it wasn’t followed by this one, just 15 pages later:
I was music but you had your ears cut off (p115)
That’s literally the exact same thing, just with ears not eyes - and this metaphor’s even worse! She’s basically just plagiarised herself here. Did she think that by spacing it with 15 pages no one would notice?
This one in particular has been heavily criticised:
stay I whispered as you shut the door behind you (p131)
It’s just not really doing much, is it. Let’s be honest, it’s just a sentence that she’s spit up by hitting the space bar a couple times.
No wonder twitter is filled parodies like this:
But, while I think p131 is simple and a bit naff, someone else might be able to deeply relate to it and connect with it. That pretty much describes why people read poetry doesn’t it?
I mean, the fact that some of these are literally two lines long and yet we can draw enough meaning from them to have a debate about them, must count for something, right?
So to those of you who might read p131 and say, ‘that’s just not poetry!!’, I would say, it is a form of poetry, it just also happens to not be very good. This is the problem with filling the majority of a book with micro-poems - they can’t all be winners.
Let me take the spotlight off Rupi for a second, and give another example of what I consider to be a good micro-poem.
This one’s from Love Looks Pretty on You, by Lang Leav:
There are days when I don’t see you, touch you, hear you. But not a day goes by where I don’t feel you. (p 175)
It’s cute, it’s simple, but it articulates the emotion in a careful and considered way, and it resonated with me, so I like it.
For me, a good micro-poem has got to have some sort of substance. Maybe it has some great imagery, or maybe it ends in a rhyme, but either way, it’s got to look like you haven’t just written a sentence out, and then divided it up as an afterthought. It’s got to have reason.
So, in summary, while I can understand why lots of people are reluctant to call this form of writing, poetry, I think it does no harm to do so. Haikus are only 3 lines long but we still call that poetry. Shakespeare’s written hundreds of poems, but we still mainly remember the most famous few lines - ‘shall I compare thee to a summers day’, for example. Why not just skip all the crap and get to the point? What insta-poetry is adding to the poetry world, is not taking away from the classic poets and poetic styles that we know and love. No one is going to stop reading Keats just because we have Rupi Kaur now.
Would I recommend filling an entire book with micro-poetry? Probably not, but it does no harm filling the gaps here and there in a longer poetry book, or to occupy the space of an Instagram feed, if it’s going to bring a smile to someone’s face whilst they read it on their lunch break. This is 2020 - I thought we were beyond labels now, anyway?
So that’s my opinion – I’d love to hear yours! Do you think micro-poetry is still poetry?
Leave a comment below!
Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey, (Andrews McMeel, 2015)
Lang Leav, Love Looks Pretty On You, (Andrews McMeel, 2019)