The writer behind the account ‘Perseus’ is a University of Surrey student studying Economics. In recent years, the increasing popularity of Instagram poetry has divided opinion. While Instagram poets have been celebrated for encouraging and inspiring younger poets, redefining the genre of poetry and adapting to modern audiences, they have been equally criticised for lack of originality and often, laziness. With discourse rife, when the opportunity to speak to the University of Surrey’s very own Instagram Poet came up, I took it.
Perseus, known for the decapitation of Medusa, makes for an interesting name for a poetry account featuring poems about love and heartbreak. When asked, “why ‘Perseus’?” I half expected a long-winded, pretentious explanation, because while it may be outdated, the image that springs to mind when thinking of a poet, is very Dickens-esque, writing with a quill and sitting by a fire in a country house. But in fact, I was amused, and somewhat relieved to find out that ‘Perseus’ was chosen via the oh-so reliable Magic 8 ball app. This set the tone for the rest of the interview which truly depicts Instagram poetry as something that the regular person, student, parent, teacher, or even economics student, can be a part of.
In the digital age, I think it would be very rare to come across someone who hasn’t considered, even just once, starting some sort of online platform like a podcast, a blog, or YouTube account, to name a few. I was interested to find out how those initial steps were taken in creating the Perseus account. Perseus explained that they had written poetry for a few years before deciding to dive into the world of Instapoetry, and that the abundance of people starting their own accounts was particularly inspiring to them. Perseus explained that when it came down to it, they very much have a “what’s the worst that could happen?” mindset. While this suggests that the creator of Perseus is full of confidence, in actual fact when asked about the reason for anonymity, Perseus explained, with an air of humour, that “the shock of knowing I write poetry would probably have killed some of my friends and family.” It is interesting then, that despite the amount of poetry on sites like Instagram, and the increasing popularity of poetry as a genre, that someone would feel the need for anonymity. Perseus goes on to say that in fact, being anonymous has been helpful as they are able to write “freely” with “no preconceived notions” about the things they should be writing about. This certainly rings true even on a more personal level. As a creative writing student, I often feel embarrassed when reading a romantic poem that I have written, for fear of being labelled “basic” or “unoriginal”. When it comes to writing poetry, a genre that has existed for so many years, perhaps the appeal of social media as a medium, is the separation from the individual and the art produced, which allows free reign of the author. Coupling this with the “shroud of anonymity” as Perseus puts it, allows for greater artistic license, removing the fear of judgement.
It is certainly true that in recent years, Instagram poetry is becoming more and more popular, with many people using their accounts as a source of income, and for getting that first foot into the doorway of the industry. I wondered why it seems that Instagram poetry has become the main source of poetry publication. When asked about this, Perseus explains that part of the appeal of Instagram poetry is that it “takes some of the risk out of publishing a book” if one were to create a loyal readership online first. Speaking to a publisher, I once expressed my interest in getting into publishing poetry. She shook her head, sighed and said, “you
know there’s very little money in poetry books, don’t you?” And this tends to be widely accepted. I asked Perseus, as an experienced Instagram poet, why they think Instagram poetry is becoming more mainstream, in contrast to traditional poetry forms. Perseus explained that “the fact that some Instagram poets, such as Rupi Kaur, have made it so big and entered the realm of mainstream celebrity helps too. The increased media coverage for them has really put the spotlight on Instagram poets as a whole and increased people's awareness.” Equally, referring to Instagram poetry as a style in comparison to traditional poetry Persues says that Instagram poetry “tends to be quite short and easily understood, which appeals to people as other, more classical, poetry requires deeper thinking to really appreciate.” Instagram poetry is modernising the way in which we publish and read poetry, but also in the way we write and understand poetry. This is where most criticism of Instagram poetry lies.
I asked Perseus whether any of the criticism faced by Instagram poets can be justified, and simply, they answered “no.” They explained that while criticism is “fair game”, they are in no agreement with the notion that it takes less effort to write poetry for Instagram.
Perseus has just under 50,000 followers. I asked them, what makes their account so successful when so many other accounts, writing about similar things, in a similar style already exist. Humbly, Perseus says that “you would have to ask the people who follow me! I am the first to say that I have been fortunate, there are so many amazing, yet lesser known, poets on Instagram and I have been lucky enough to get the following I have. Maybe people find my work relatable, as it's about love and heartbreak, things that a lot of people go through.” This made me consider what makes poetry good. At school we’re led to believe that sticking to a meter, having a steady a,b,a,b rhyme scheme, using imagery, alliteration, symbolism, metaphors are all components of a good poem. While Instagram poets are acclaimed for being “relatable.” I do wonder whether there is the perfect balance between literary skill, and relatability. But the wonderful thing about poetry is that it isn’t my place to say. It is totally subjective.
While discussing their followers, I thought I’d ask for some advice, for any fellow students considering putting their poetry online. First of all, Perseus says “post regularly (but not at the behest of quality) and engage with your audience by responding to DMs and comments.” Finally, “be true to yourself in your work and don't fret about followers or likes. By that I mean, don't try to write your poetry like X, Y or Z, just write what you feel or are thinking and be real with it.”