Poetry isn’t popular. Arguably, it’s always been a struggling art form with its ups and downs in history. That’s not to say that poetry is bad, really it’s the contrary, but people have often preferred novels and plays to poems. Children were taught in school how to rip apart a poem and dissect all of its pieces without learning how to appreciate the words and the craftsmanship required to put them together, nor simply taught how to read a poem and enjoy it. Because of this, not many people really take the time to enjoy a poem or write one for their own amusement.
In recent years, however, the internet has changed the game for poetry.
Now there is easy access to poetry written hundreds of years ago and poetry written a few hours ago thanks to the development of websites like poetry.com, poets.org, the Poetry Foundation, Button Poetry, etc. Not to mention the hundreds of online literary magazines that populate the internet, which can often be discovered by a quick google search or a scroll through Twitter. This easy access to the world of poetry is not only astonishing for poets, but it’s beneficial for educators and everyday readers who want to expand their knowledge of the genre.
I can’t imagine my own life without having discovered the online literary community through Twitter and various online literary magazines. From these resources, I have learned so much about my own poetic voice and how to experiment with different forms of poetry. But personal experience aside, the internet has made an astonishing impact on the lives of poets and readers around the world. Most obviously, the internet has given poets a new platform to grow and expand on social media, blogs, author websites, and more. Some poets would never have been discovered without Instagram and the social media websites where they began sharing their work, and some writers would have never begun writing poetry if it wasn’t for access to these contemporary poets online. Younger generations now have exclusive access to the world of poetry through websites that are just a few clicks away, eliminating the need to go to a library or buy expensive books to learn about this incredible art form.
And let’s talk about online literary magazines! There are hundreds of them out there just waiting for you to submit your poetry to, oftentimes without a reading fee. It’s a wonderful feeling to see your work published and available to people all over the world, and the opportunities offered to poets as more and more online lit mags open up are endless. There are so many different kinds of magazines, too. There are lit mags for young writers (hey Juven!), lit mags geared towards specific themes and genres, the big name ones we all dream about (like the New Yorker), and some that are even just for poetry (Beloit Poetry Journal, for example). There’s something for every contemporary poet out there, and that’s pretty spectacular if you ask me.
Now, the effect of the internet on the poetry world hasn’t been all positive. For one thing, those hundreds of literary magazines are not always easy to get published in. I myself have experienced countless rejections, and so have many other poets who frequently submit their work online. Because many people submit to lit mags on a monthly basis, often simultaneously, it’s not easy to get published, especially for new and inexperienced writers. It’s a blessing to be part of such a big community, but also frustrating when you really want to get that one poem you’re proud of into a journal that many other people also want to be published in. And as with all the rejections we face in life, the more often you get pushed away, the more likely you are to stop trying.
That’s one of the major problems with the online poetry world, and the writing world in general -- it can be cutthroat. It’s tough sometimes to keep writing when you are constantly being told that your words aren’t good enough or it’s not the right time or it’s not personal (it’s always personal) or to try again next time, but it’s something that every contemporary poet (and writer) faces all the time. This intense exposure also seems to affect young writers the most. I feel obligated to mention that wonderful organizations like TYWI are founded to help with the problems that young writers face, but for the purpose of this article, I’m going to dive deeper into the issues young poets face in a technology-driven society.
The literary world is so competitive for young writers, especially young poets. Colleges in the United States encourage (read: force) anyone interested in writing to win a big award or competition or be published in at least three impressive lit mags as a way to prove themselves even worthy of studying their craft. This is extremely limiting to the potential of poets and writers who don’t have access to these competitions, who cannot pay the entry fees, or who don’t have teachers to sponsor them for awards like Scholastic. It also limits those who are just discovering writing as they enter college/finish high school, or who are testing the water with different creative projects and maybe throw a piece or two out there into the online literary world but come back with rejections that don’t offer them advice. The online literary community should be a place for poets to grow and expand their knowledge, not face discouragement because they don’t produce an Emily Dickinson-like piece on their first try.
In these cases, it’s a problem of being overwhelmed by online resources with a lack of offline resources to offer encouragement. And it’s unfair that these wonderful writing opportunities and competitions provided by the internet are viewed as measures of worth by colleges and many young writers rather than as learning experiences and ways to grow. This is what’s truly unfortunate about the internet’s effect on the poetry world: it discourages many amazing poets from continuing to explore their craft and build their voices. Rejection is tough, but it is even tougher when you are rejected for something that a mutual on Twitter is praised for. It’s not only damaging to the mental health of young poets, but to their creativity and potential to be successful as well. Of course, organizations such as TYWI help in solving this problem by offering free resources for young writers, but what we do is just the beginning for young writers as the online literary community continues to grow and writers continue to become more competitive.
Speaking of the online literary world, let’s talk about scandals. As with every online community, there are toxic aspects to be found. In recent times, there have been scandals surrounding magazines that publish the work of known sex offenders, lots of plagiarism cases, and probably more that I’m not aware of. These recent events have really put a sour taste into the mouths of poets and literary fanatics in the community. It is easier for scandal to spread like wildfire on platforms such as Twitter or Instagram rather than just by word-of-mouth because that information is spread by thousands of people at a given time. But I should point out that the literary community is not the only place on the internet where things like this happen, and one could easily argue that it’s not as terrible as some other communities out there, but that doesn’t make the toxic aspects of it justified. We’re artists, not criminals. Let’s keep it that way, ok?
In recent months, there has been controversy over how the internet has changed how poetry is written. Poets like Rupi Kaur and other Instagram-famous writers, such as Amanda Lovelace, have become controversial and faced lots of recent backlash because of their casual, straightforward approach to poetry. I’ve even seen poetry accounts on TikTok write in this same, straightforward style and gain thousands of likes, thousands of followers, and comments where people describe how much they love this type of writing. It fascinates me, as someone who prefers traditional poetry, and raises many questions in my own mind…
Does this straightforward style of writing make their poetry worse or better than the thousands of other, more traditional poets out in the world? Does it simply resonate better with Gen-Z because we are so used to instant gratification that we don’t even want to search for the deeper meaning in a poem? Are these poets paving the way for a new future of poetry, or are they simply another bump in the road for the many forms and genres that poetry has taken throughout history to appeal to the masses? Are these poets the next Emily Dickinsons? I don’t think I have the answers to these questions yet, but maybe the next time you read a Rupi Kaur poem or stumble across a heart-wrenching piece from your favorite online lit mag, take a moment to consider them and come up with your own conclusions. I know I will try to.
The internet has changed the way we live. That’s a given. But as time goes on, it’s important to analyze and understand the way that the internet has changed literally everything we do, even the way we write. So the next time you open Instagram or Twitter and scroll through the various writing accounts you follow, remember to be grateful for the opportunities that the internet has given you. But also, don’t forget to put the phone aside and actually write a poem or two once in a while. Who knows, maybe you’ll get it published in an online journal -- the world is full of possibilities just a few taps away.
is currently a junior in high school with a passion for writing and reading about pretty much everything. Elizabeth runs a book review blog under her pen-name, Seaglass. She is currently an intern at The Young Writer's Initiative.