Instagram Gives Rise to New Poets: My Love Is Like a Hashtag

Rupi Kaur, or @rupikaur_ to her followers, is turning poetry books into big sellers and fueling others like @AtticusPoetry; Publishers troll Instagram but is this truly verse? By Nina Sovich of WSJ Sept. 9, 2017

Among the hot new books of the fall season is a volume of poetry that might once have been relegated to the back of the bookstore. Rupi Kaur, a Canadian woman born in India is putting out her second book Oct. 3. The reason for the excitement? She has 1.5 million followers on Instagram.

Ms. Kaur sits atop a new wave in poetry. These Instagram poets, or pop poets as some writers call them, use social media to build their fan base for work that touches on love and loss. “The Sun and Her Flowers,” to be released in October, has an initial print run of a million books, an astonishing run for poetry. Fiction writers are lucky to have an initial print run of 10,000 books. Ms. Kaur’s first book, “Milk and Honey,” published in 2015 by Andrews McMeel, has sold more than a million copies in the U.S. and 700,000 abroad.

“For me, social media was the only way to go,” says Ms. Kaur. She began publishing poems on Tumblr and Instagram and found an audience both devoted and demanding. In 2013 she was posting a poem or two a week, spending two to four hours a day refining them. “It gets difficult to manage at a certain point,” she says of social media. Roughly two years ago she stopped posting new poetry to Instagram. Sometimes when her feed needs updating she will ask her sister or an employee to help with the technicalities so she can concentrate on writing.

To poetry traditionalists, these new poets seem to draw attention to photographs and illustrations rather than verse. Instagram poets use typewriters with thick linen paper and tattered edges, then photograph the work and post it to social media. Bad breakups, whiskey in the desert and exhortations to find inner strength are common.

“Think of Walt Whitman, ” says Lizzie Carroll, 21, and a student at California State University, Sacramento, who has blogged about her appreciation for Ms. Kaur. “You have to sit down and study it. With Kaur you can take any poem and read one line and know what it means.”

i don’t know why
i split myself open
for others knowing
sewing myself up
hurts this much

—Rupi Kaur

“Rupi is real and honest,” says Harley Henderson, 21 and a student at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. “She can relate to people and their problems.”

Atticus is a poet who doesn’t reveal his identity or show his face, but has roughly 440,000 followers on Instagram. His book, “Love Her Wild,” was released in July by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. It has nearly 100,000 copies in print. He says he receives several photos a day from people who have tattoos of his poetry.

“I wear a mask so I write what I feel and not what I should feel,” he said, in a phone interview. He declined to give his real name.

The challenge for publishers is to separate good poets from bad, and to confirm the fan base is stable and inclined to buy books.

“You have to look at all the comments to see, is there really a connection?” says Judith Curr, president and publisher of Atria Books, describing the process of bringing on a new author. “Are they responding to the poetry or the fame of the person?”

Editors at the publishing house keep an eye on Instagram. If a writer has a growing following, with comments that speak to the work, the publishing house will occasionally contact a writer directly to see if he or she is interested in doing a book. Booksellers are often reassured by a poetry book with an online following because it suggests committed buyers, publishers say.

“It’s good for all poets that the poetry section of the bookstore is suddenly the sexy section,” says Kirsty Melville, president and publisher of Andrews McMeel.

Poet Thom Young bristles at the popularity of the Instagram poets, publishing satirical verse on the web to prove his point. “Love made/ her wild,” Mr. Young wrote and posted in typewriter font just like the Instagram poets this past June. Even the Instagram poets acknowledge the medium is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they reach far more people than traditional poets. On the other, Instagram restricts form and length. There also is pressure to constantly feed the beast.

Christopher Poindexter is a 26-year-old poet with roughly 320,000 followers on Instagram. His book, “Lavender,” came out in February and will be rereleased in September. When he started, he posted one or two poems a day. Now, he still posts three to six times a day but he leans more toward photos or written descriptions of his life rather than poetry. The demands of Instagram can be draining, he says, and he is thinking of hiring someone part time to help with his feed. “I stepped away a little because of the intensity,” says Mr. Poindexter. “I know what people want, and I know what I want to write.”

“It’s not the poetry I would present to an academic scholar,” he says. “But it’s getting children back into poetry. It’s getting them in Kerouac and Rimbaud and Ginsberg and Cummings. ”

Write to Nina Sovich at

Appeared in the September 11, 2017, print edition as ‘My Love Is Like a Hashtag: ‘Instagram Poets’ Sell Well.’