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Post by Timothy Calla

Social media is a vast well of untapped and underappreciated talent in the world of spoken word poetry. Even as a term, “social media” harbors a negative connotation as a space reserved for vapid millennials and overly opinionated old people. Even if there is some truth to stereotypical exchanges, such as the older relative who violently comments about politics on all your pictures and the youth who immediately deletes those inappropriate rants, it doesn’t invalidate social media as a platform of expression. That messy and chaotic convergence of social media and spoken word poetry has born many aspiring spoken word poets. I echo a fellow Westwind-er Dylan Karlsson, whose article about InstaPoetry asserts that, for many young writers, social media is their only exposure to the world of poetry. For the spoken word bard, social media allows their work to be experienced anytime and anywhere. This liberty is so massive that it changes the nature of spoken word as a consumable performance.

Spoken word is a performance art–a performance poetry–where the actions on stage, the intonations of the voice, and the social surroundings play a role in the experience and interpretation of the poetry itself. Once a single performance is captured in a recording, that single act exists in a distinct realm different from the clones of its future or past selves. The act of rehearsing a poem for the stage is less about mastering the words, but about capturing the spirit of the poem in the performance. Thus, the poem and performance are synonymous to the identity of the work. And those small qualifying differences in performing the same poem then creates different versions of that poem. If I get on stage and perform a spoken word poem a hundred times, each time emphasizing different words, gesturing differently, with changing tempos and speeds, the poem, by the nature of the performance, will be different than its other ninety-nine counterparts.

That’s why social media and spoken word poetry tango so perfectly. They match each other’s steps, social media swings around the hip of spoken word poetry and spins it to new heights (Okay, I don’t really know how to tango). Social media creates opportunities for spoken word poets to be experienced beyond the stage or the open mic. Don’t get me wrong, to experience spoken word poetry live is still far more gratifying than through the screen, but it matters immensely that there is an avenue for poets to be experienced even if they can’t, or aren’t ready to, get on stage.The first performance of a budding, spoken word poet may be the recording posted to Instagram, where they perform in their room. That same poem will then be experienced on the stage once they are ready. And each recording of that poem, from bedroom to stage, will be distinct in identity. Social media allows those thirty second snippets of spoken word poetry to exist as its own form of art.

If you’re interested in checking out or supporting spoken word, I recommend a group on Instagram called Buttonpoetry. They post short clips of spoken word events, some of the poets are well versed and well known such as Rudy Francisco, and others are up and coming spoken word poets shedding themselves on the same stage as the pros.

Post by Peyton Austin

What does an 18th-century Irish satirist and a 21st-century high school TV mockumentary have in common? A lot of shit, apparently.

Jonathan Swift, an Anglo-Irish writer from the 18th century, is most famous for his novel Gulliver’s Travels and infamous for his satires, and in particular his scatological poems. Yes, you read that correctly: Swift’s three scatological poems dramatically describes how disgusting the body can become and usually includes the catchphrase, “Celia, Celia, Celia shits!”

American Vandal’s recently released, second season follows the investigation of a vandal known as “The Turd Burgler,” a student who poisoned the school lemonade with laxatives and watches the shitshow (labeled “The Brownout”) unfold–and after posting videos of the event, forces everyone else to watch as well.

Both of these works are satires. Swift’s poems aim to satirize men who romanticize women to the point of idiocy, with varying degrees of success; American Vandal satirizes the the recent true crime fad (with immense success). While Swift’s satire leans towards the bitter and angry, American Vandal takes the more light-hearted route. Yet, despite the three-hundred years separating them, American Vandal seems to have taken a few notes out of Swift’s works.

One of these notes is the mixture of extreme exaggeration and hyper-realism. In Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver voyages to fantastical islands with giants, miniature peoples, and enlightened, talking horses–but Gulliver and his travels are made to look as realistic as possible. Swift purposefully imitated the frontispiece of travel narratives of his time, and began the novel with a letter from Gulliver swearing the story’s truth. American Vandal not only imitates this but doubles down on its realism in its second season. Instead of naming the show’s actual creators, the show’s credits say the show is “In Association with Hanover High school” (the show’s setting), the executive producer is Mr. Baxter (a character), and that it’s “Shot and Produced by Sam Ecklund and Peter Maldonado” (two main characters). The second season opens with protagonists Peter and Sam describing how Netflix “bought” the American Vandal documentary to explain why the show is on Netflix at all. Vimeo had made the documentary a staff pick. Netflix added higher quality everything to the series. Peter and Sam even appear on The Daily Show. The show wants you to believe these are real people making a real documentary, despite its outlandish premises.

The biggest commonality between American Vandal and Jonathan Swift is their shared interest in shit. Swift’s highly descriptive language surrounding scat received disgust from his contemporaries (and future readers as well). In “The Lady’s Dressing-Room,” Strephon steals into Celia’s room, opens her chamber pot, and discovers “A sudden universal Crew / Of human evils, upward flew” (85-86) and an “excremental Smell, / To taint the Parts from whence they fell” (111-112). And despite every kids’ horror at the events of The Brownout, American Vandal barrages the viewer with video after video of kids shitting themselves, their wailing, and the excrement itself. These acts are portrayed just long enough that it’s hard to tell exactly where the creators take disgust in such acts and where they take pleasure, if at all.

Most importantly, what Swift and American Vandal understand about shit is its potential and indeed its ability to expose us as human beings, in the most base way possible. We daily romanticize our lives and people around us. Shit reminds us that we’re “human” in the sense that we’re not perfect, that our bodies betray our sensibilities and romantic idealities and firmly remind us that we can be disgusting and imperfect. This is what Swift and American Vandal recognize: there is something about our physical insides–bile, acid, vomit, and most of all shit–that exposes our moral and psychological insides.

Swift employs shit to expose men as idiots for romanticizing women. The men of his stories believe women to be purely innocent and angelic and nothing more; their discoveries that women have bodily functions (or possibly, the same necessary functions as men) shocks them deeply. While Swift’s highly descriptive language and detail of the women’s bodies mires him in controversy, the poems invite us to laugh at the idiocy of the men who cannot fathom that women are human beings. “He soon would learn to think like me,” writes the cheeky narrator of “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” “And bless his ravish’d Eyes to see / Such Order from Confusion Sprung” (141-143).

American Vandal, or more accurately the Turd Burglar, creates the Brownout (and other shit-related crimes) to expose the student body for romanticizing ourselves. The Turd Burglar couldn’t handle the disconnect between his fellow students actual selves and their ideal self presented on social media. “We’re all full of shit,” the Turd Burglar says in episode eight. “You all pretend to lead these perfect, happy lives when you know you’re just as lonely as me.” American Vandal constantly uses this language of concealment, referring to social media as a mask, pretend, and fake. The resulting exposure of the student body via the Brownout implies that this exposure was revealing the true self and, consequently, almost necessary.

Forcing your classmates to shit themselves and posting those videos online, all to show how fake they are, seems excessive. It is excessive. Yet satire revels in exaggeration, so the plot driving season two of American Vandal fits perfectly. This is also a show that other critics call one of the most realistic high school shows on television (which it is). Perhaps that is why exaggeration and hyper-realism coincide together so seamlessly. Swift’s works and American Vandal prove that because so many things in satire are hyperbolic, the rest of it must be extremely realistic. We have to believe the satire. The realism makes the exaggeration less extreme; the exaggeration makes the realism doubtful. They work together to excite, raise doubts, and yes, expose.

And satire invites shit. In every other genre, shit, the body, and all its implications, are mostly taboo. Satire’s exaggeration is the genre where shit can finally find its place. Perhaps this is why one of the greatest satirists of the English world and American Vandal were attracted to this shit in the first place. Certainly the attraction to shit is not entirely on the fault of the creator. There is entertainment value in shit, as shown by the critical response to American Vandal’s second season. There is even wary or gross interest in Swift’s scat. There is an audience to such satires. “Poop is funny,” Sam says in episode three.

Entertainment was not Swift’s desire in creating his satires. “The chief end I propose to myself in all my labors is to vex the world rather than divert it,” Swift wrote in a letter to Alexander Pope. Swift was successful in his vexations. Many of them came from his political pamphlets, where he was not afraid to expose others for their beliefs or deeds. American Vandal, on the other hand, is entertainment, and successfully delights and disgusts. It does not make the show without its message, though. It always has a more forgiving look on its subjects than Swift ever did.

“We’re not the worst generation,” Peter concludes in the end of the second season. “We’re just the most exposed.”

Post by Dylan Karlsson

This spring, Westwind is launching an instapoetry series on our Instagram account @westwinducla, lending our platform as a communal space for sharing instapoems by students, readers, and writers alike. Instapoetry appears on our feeds, on bestseller lists, and in our poetic discourse, often derisively, with undermining sentiment or parody. Despite the abundance of conversation and speculation about the merits of instapoetry, there is a lack of critical, serious engagement with the form. Westwind’s very own Tatianna Giron contended with critiques of Rupi Kaur’s work in her article. The go-to critique of instapoetry made by critics, that it is over-commercial, obsessed with branding and image, could just as easily be waged against the academic standard-holders of “Poetry with a capital P.”

Courtesy of @nayyirah.waheed

As poet Momtaza Mehri writes in her piece Letters From a Young (Female) Poet, “For some, Instagram and Pinterest will serve as a gateway drug into more complex and messy renderings of the human experience. This is especially true for younger, budding poets who are already hyper-aware of the feminized and racialized biases they will have to contend with. Young poets who want to experiment and grow don’t need to be patronized or lectured to about Real Poetry™.”

Poetry is always in flux, changing hands and mutating its structure, and along with it, audience and market. To begin to limit the definition of poetry would be to limit its potential, and to deny the many young poets, many of whom are women of color, just beginning their practice and career as writers. In envisioning the medium’s future, we should be working towards open access to tools of community and criticism, not expending our energy on a discourse that merely builds fortifications for a professional class of poets.

Courtesy of @nayyirah.waheed

As so many have articulated, poetry is not a zero-sum game, and so, acceptance of a new poetic community should not be predicated on assimilation into a singular poetic mold. Rather, new poetic forms can cohere new communities, which soon flourish into outgrowths of creation and further potential. In taking poetry to the realm of social media, even with all the entanglements that terrain presents, we are reminded of poetry’s tangible utility: how it can foster community, offer a sense of awareness and belonging, and promote resilience and mental health care. The practice of poets Nayyirah Waheed and Yrsa Daley-Ward is one attuned to healing and self-discovery, their work reading like meditations for a healthy practice of living through trauma and doubt. Still, the nascent instapoetry community is growing and exploring the possibilities for the medium.

In support of instapoets, with or without a “following,” Westwind invites submissions of your work to our Instagram page. We encourage a departure from the typical marketing-termed “engagement,” to a critical engagement with the words and work of active and practicing poets.

Post by Tatianna Giron

Rupi Kaur is a name that most people are familiar with, even if they don’t read poetry. The 25-year old Canadian-Indian woman has amassed a 2.2 million following on Instagram. Her work, milk and honey, has sold over a million copies online and been translated into several languages. Her newest work, the sun and her flowers, ranked #2 on Amazon’s bestselling list. You may not have seen her work personally, but parodies of it which are all over the internet and do an admittedly accurate job at emulating her style (see image below).

But Rupi Kaur has done something that most poets haven’t been able to. She’s made poetry—or at least her brand of it—an art form that few people read, popular. But does popularity translate to authenticity? Can Kaur’s work—and the works of other social media poets—be considered actual poetry?

Social-Media Style Poetry—“Instapoetry”

A Rupi Kaur poem (unaltered)

A meme (mostly unaltered)
Courtesy of UCLA Meme Page

Kaur’s style can be described as bite-sized aphorisms and reflections intended to resonate with the reader on the topics of trauma, abuse, and love. The language is simple and minimalistic, with random line breaks, a lack of punctuation, and liberal use of blank space. Among the numerous criticisms she faces for her work are:

  1. over-simplified language and content, you don’t have to exert a lot of mental energy to understand her poems (e.g. “if you are not enough for yourself/ you will never be enough/ for someone else”)
  2. anti-intellectualism, or, “the open denigration of intellectual engagement and [the] rejection of craft” (The Cult of the Noble Amateur)
  3. confusing personal trauma for collective trauma in trying to generalize the South Asian female experience, therefore possibly commodifying abuse (The Problem with Rupi Kaur’s poetry)

The issue that most critics seem to have, however, is that she’s profiting off these 3-7 line ramblings and receives multiple media coverage, when there are much more talented poets out there that dedicate much more mental energy to their craft, and they’ve been largely ignored by the mainstream.

Kaur isn’t the only poet who’s gained popularity through social media, but she is the one who receives the most backlash for her popularity (which is again, probably because of her Internet exposure). Social-media poets like Nayyirah Waheed, Lang Leav, R.M. Drake, R.M. Broderick, Christopher Poindexter, Nikita Gill, and Amanda Lovelace, are among others whose followers form their readership, and who all have the same aphoristic, cliched, and straightforward writing. But is it a bad thing to write poetry that is accessible to the masses?

What is poetry?

Courtesy of Free Library of Philadelphia

A quick Google search will tell you that poetry is defined as “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.” So poetry can be defined by two things: 1) the expression of feelings/ideas and 2) using style and rhythm to express them.

As someone that both writes and reads poetry, I would argue for two different definitions. Writing a poem is like trying to take a mental dump while you’re constipated. It’s quite painful, to be honest. You have to be precise with your imagery, word choice, and meter. But when you finish, you realize it’s just a draft, and you have to go back and reconsider all those things. And repeat over and over again. The whole editing process is mentally strenuous. But when you finally get it all out on paper, there’s an overwhelming sense of relief.

From a reader’s perspective, a poem should be like a puzzle. Some poems are 10-piece puzzles, and those are the ones that are easier to construct, but they give you less satisfaction because there’s no struggle. There’s little mental exertion. But other poems are 100-, 500-, and 1000-piece puzzles, and it may require a lot of mental energy to comprehend them—heck, some poems aren’t ever meant to be understood, and those are the 1000-piece puzzles. But when you can glean meaning from a poem, the mental satisfaction is worth it. Poetry is basically a masochistic art.

Rupi Kaur’s poems, and the other Instapoems, are like those 10-piece puzzles. It’s great to understand their words at face value, but there’s no intrigue. Because there’s little substance behind them, there’s no appreciating their beauty, or experiencing the satisfaction of finally uncovering their meaning.

Taste is subjective, but attention to craft and intention aren’t

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kaur doesn’t respond to criticisms of her work, but she has stated that she views poetry as the art of free expression. In her interview with The Cut, she reveals she used to teach creative writing to high-school and college students. As she states:

“For me it was like less about teaching writing and more about providing an environment where people were comfortable enough to express themselves freely, which is what I feel like is needed to write poetry…. the best part was they’d walk away, like, oh, I can do this, I’m a poet. I’m like, yeah, you are” (Fischer interviews Rupi Kaur).

She also states that she intends her language to be simple so that it’s accessible to even those whose first language isn’t English, such as the case with her and her family when they first moved to Canada when she was 4 (NPR Radio Interview). I can definitely appreciate her intentions to write in such a way that promotes free expression and accessibility to all.

Ultimately, I think whether or not you like Kaur and other social media poets is a matter of taste. They definitely have polarizing effects. One of my friends loved milk and honey, and said it was the most relatable thing she had ever read, while another said that Kaur’s poems read like something the 12-year-old her would have written in her private diary. Personally, I think it’s beautiful that Kaur was able to encapsulate feelings that millions of people related to. While I don’t find her poetry to be artistic necessarily, I do think of it as riding on that Instagram/Tumblr “spilled ink” trend. And if her Instapoetry helps make poetry as an art form accessible to more people, I hope it also serves as a gateway to better-crafted poetry. Sort of like how children who hate reading literature read Percy Jackson and the Olympians, then decide to read, say, The Illiad. As long as it promotes greater readership, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

 

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