Sharing is comparing.
I’ve been struggling with how to begin this post, because it feels awkward to just come out and say, “I’ve recently started sharing my poetry on Instagram and here is what I’ve observed about the journey so far.” But now that I’ve made things awkward by both saying the awkward thing and calling out its awkwardness, let’s just dive right in. (The word “awkward” will not be used again in this post, rest assured.)
As someone who never lets anything pass her by without observing, dissecting, and attempting to grasp full understanding, sharing my poetry has been as much an exercise in vulnerability as it has been an experiment on audience and community. It has been fascinating to see how my followership has reacted and changed with the new use of my social media, and what very human tendencies have become so apparent through such a seemingly trivial platform.
It’s not lost on me that my poems receive about half (or less) the amount of “likes” that my selfies receive. I think that fact is incredibly fascinating. Maybe it’s because most of my followers didn’t sign up for a poetry account in the beginning, or maybe it’s because it’s easier to like something that looks pretty (read: edited and filtered to perfection) than it is to like something that makes you feel things. Who knows?
I do know this, and it pains me to admit it – before I started sharing my poetry, I would monitor my posts and be disappointed if they didn’t receive a certain amount of likes. Writing that makes me cringe, because a large part of me thinks things like “followers” and “likes” and social media popularity are so shallow and worthless. I think that creating and sharing your gifts is worth everything, but caring about the numbers for personal validation is not (#sorrynotsorry).
But there was still a part of me that craved affirmation in that way. Call it the culture we live in, call it a character flaw, call it normal if you feel that way. But for me, sharing my poetry freed me from caring about the numbers, because those posts don’t get anywhere close to the amount of likes as pictures of my face, or my friends’ faces, or my cats’ faces (the cat posts are understandable, obviously). If I were to care about the amount of likes my poems get, I’d be constantly disappointed and, more importantly, I’d be distracted from why I started sharing them in the first place. I’ve had to extract the value of my poetry from the likes it receives, and place it on the small victory that is just hitting the “Share” button. So now I share, and I don’t check the amount of likes obsessively. I share, and I appreciate the comments I receive, if any. I share, and quite frankly, I’m just happy that no one has told me to go to hell yet (to my face, anyway).
My priorities have shifted toward being part of and building my community. While I no longer care (that much, I’m still human) about how many likes my poems are getting, I do care that I am able to grow my audience in order to reach people with my writing. That was the whole point of sharing these pieces of me to begin with, so it matters to me that people are seeing what I’m writing. This is what it comes down to: The more people who care to read my work, the more people there are out there with whom I share something. A feeling, an understanding, an experience. I may never meet some of these people in person, but knowing that someone halfway across the world resonates with a feeling I’ve had is comforting and community-building in its own right.
Now, let me take a step back and address something that has also been nagging at the back of my brain since I started posting my poetry on Instagram. Since I started following poets on Instagram. Since the renaissance of poetry in the 21st century has materialized on Instagram. Poetry, a form of expression that has carried so many incredible voices for years and years, a medium that captivates many and causes many more to roll their eyes, has found a new audience on social media. An audience that eats it up, that begs for more, that thinks poetry is cool. On the one hand, it makes sense. Social media is, at its core, an avenue for self-expression – as is poetry. Instagram, in particular, is based on the visual, and it can be argued that poetry is meant to be seen on the page as much as it is meant to be read or heard. On the other hand, every fiber of my uppity-English-majoring, old-book-smell-loving, respect-for-the-classics-having self wants to scream, “How dare we disrespect the most rich and esoteric form of writing by whoring it out to the masses for digital popularity?!?!”
But alas, I have become a poetry-whoring-Instagrammer now as well. I’m working to quell the anxiety of my old soul and embrace the many positives that come with having a communication portal to the world at my fingertips. I’m seeing those positives take shape in the form of newfound fellow poets supporting my work, and old friends coming out of the woodwork to do the same. People have messaged me over Instagram to compliment my work, and found me in person to say that my words had spoken to them. That’s a cool feeling. And it’s that feeling that I have to remind myself of every time I hit that “Share” button and silently spiral into an existential panic attack.
At the core of it all, speaking from my most honest heart, writing poetry has been my way of coping, of understanding, and of healing for years. I have been writing myself through the feelings I couldn’t name, through the pieces of my life I have been unable to stamp out, through the wounds that stood raw as the saltwater hit them. Poetry has given me a place to be free, to feel as hard as I need, to celebrate, and to grieve. I could have kept my poems to myself forever; kept this secret outlet and been content at that. But something in me felt the need to share, and I am thankful to the many, many modern poets who felt that need before me. Who have created a space for me and so many others to be vulnerable, without the weight of being the first to do so. Knowing I am not the only one at least takes the edge off the white-knuckled terror of spilling my feelings to the world regularly.
Sharing my poetry has changed how I view community, both in person and online. I am finding myself less interested in garnering a community that validates me, and more seeking of a community that connects with me. That sees me eye-to-eye. That I can learn from and grow within. And my hope is that I may find myself doing the same for others, because sharing is not about comparing, it’s about opening yourself up to finding where you belong.
P.S. If you’d like to read my poetry, you can find it here.