by Niti Majethia
Graphics by Esther Shin
There’s no formula for what makes a good poem.
Because you see, there are so many different factors that influence the form of poetry. As time evolves, people change, technology grows and thinking progresses — the way something is presented may change, contexts may change, formats may evolve, but at the root of it all, poetry is still a raw, honest calling of the heart.
It’s true that with the rise of social media and the explosion of information at our fingertips our attention spans have shrunk. A lot of poetry critics worry that it’s this short attention span that has made a different style of writing popular: the famous Instagram short pieces by “Insta-poets” (as they are often referred to). Many argue that the quality of poetry has gone down, and we have lost the substance that a poem must offer: a profound view of the world and ourselves. But have we truly regressed? Or is this just another step forward in the evolution of this art form?
It’s undeniable that the expanse of the internet has opened doors where one couldn’t even imagine there would be windows. With social media, a whole new spectrum of sharing has emerged. With just a click, anybody can share their work online. Though this can often be a dangerous thing, (as it paves way for things like plagiarism) there’s also a different side of beauty to it. Self-expression has never been so easy and instantaneous. And yes, it is probably our short attention spans and the haste with which we mindlessly scroll through our feeds that makes shorter, simpler poems more popular. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Like it or not, social media has helped poetry gain popularity again, even if these poems don’t fit our traditional definition. A lot of millennials think of poetry as “vast and drab and impossible to understand.” And social media is helping change that.
Because at the end of the day, the length or format or even the topic doesn’t matter as long as the poem has integrity and touches you in any honest way. It may not always be emotional or deep; it can be humorous, sarcastic, straight up weird… The possibilities are endless.
The further we choose to explore this field, the brighter its future will be. The more open minded we are to these different forms and types of expression, the more we will learn. Because there’s something to learn from each and every style of writing, even if you may not immediately be a fan of it.
As Aiden Park (Editor-in-Chief of Spark and a Journalism and Creative Writing student) reflects, “I’ve learned the degree of depth in which a poem explores does not equate to worth. A poem doesn’t have to be profound to be worth something to any particular reader. How boring would it be if every single poem out there tried to be something? It would seem the world would be far too serious for me to want to be an active participant. Ultimately, the worth of a poem is determined by the individual. If a poem is important or meaningful to even just one person, that poem is of worth.”
Another element of writing that has taken off is the aspect of relatability, inspired by our passion for memes (I’m not even kidding)! It’s true that our generation’s love for memes stems from being relatable; the memes that trend make you think, “I know right!” This is a goal that “Insta poets” often seem to adapt. They too want their work to be relatable; they want their words to make the reader say, “So true!” These poets often focus on capturing everyday realities and make their pieces things with which everybody can empathize.
But when did we start writing through the eyes of the reader? In my personal opinion, this can often be a trap that suppresses creativity like nothing else. The essence of true writing is that it is done for oneself, from within — a voice that is not tamed by society, a voice that is alive and roaring in the spirit of its own wilderness. If it naturally comes out as relatable, so be it. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.
It is what it is. What it inherently wants to be.
Aiden mentions something interesting about this during our interview. He said, “Just like many other mediums of art, poetry is a reflection of the poet, not solely what the poet wants the viewer to read. When I write poetry, I don’t do it with the reader wholly in mind. I believe that’s a one-way ticket for a contrived piece and/or a poem that sounds forced.”
Thus, a personal observation that I’ve garnered, as a writer, is that social media often influences you to view your work through the reader’s mind by basing your success off of likes and comments.
Just a few months ago, I was chatting with a social media marketing agent, and I distinctly remember him telling me that if I wanted to grow my audience on Instagram, I had to stop making my poems so long and deep and focus on making them more simple and easy to understand. I understood his point, but for the sake of one’s creative health, it’s not possible, or even fair, for me to tame a piece of art that takes pride in its true natural habitat. I guess it differs for each artist.
There are so many other aspects of the evolution of modern poetry. It’s intriguing to see how spoken word has taken off. In today’s world, spoken word is a unique and powerful medium to express your views. Performing your poem in front of an audience is a truly striking and liberating experience. It’s also a very different way of building a relationship with your audience — one that cannot be compared to print.
Mah-ro Khan, a member of Spitshine Poetry, (an on-campus organization that has spoken word shows and aims to cultivate a community of writers) weighs in on the importance of performing poetry. She explains, “Spoken word is so essential in today’s world because it helps amplify voices, especially those that have been historically ignored and oppressed. Psychologically, of course, it allows one to express their feelings, which helps them heal their trauma, but in the end, it’s much bigger than the individual. We build a community. You go to these shows and read these works and it changes how you think. Sometimes you learn something new, sometimes you look at something in a different way, sometimes you realize that your experiences or your feelings aren’t just yours and other people are feeling these things too. With the pressure to look perfect and present your happiest, most successful self on social media, spoken word allows us to see how vulnerable we really are and that that’s okay. I know for a lot of people in Spitshine, hearing others’ work has allowed them to realize that they’re not alone.”
A lot of people I personally know that hate reading still get to indulge in the literary world because of slam poetry, spoken word performances and the limitless world of YouTube.
I visited a slam poetry event in Austin this month, and I was blown away by the zeal infused in each performance. Each performance was a new breath of life, the kind that instantly hits the bloodstream. Just a few words put together in the right order truly have the power to shake the world.
At the end of the day, poetry is an intimate way to explore the universe and your place in it. There’s something unique about each style of writing, something fascinating about each piece written from within.
A poem is born the way it wants to be born, there’s no controlling the raw fury, the stubbornness, the conviction. And that’s where the beauty lies. Playing with the thin line of consciousness and strengthening your perception. Unleashing when required and taming when necessary.
Unlike what some people believe, you don’t have to be “intellectual” to enjoy the world of poetry. There’s something for everyone — something that will understand you, move you, surprise you, maybe even change you.
There’s no formula for what makes a good poem.
And I’d hope not. •
Niti Majethia is a Writing & Rhetoric sophomore from Mumbai, India. In her free time, she can be found eating cake, exploring Austin, binge-watching Netflix or spending time with puppies.