Contemporary Social Media:
and Creative Practice 2018

Hosted by
the Social Media Narratives Class
Art and Technology Studies
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Facebook and Twitter
November 1 - 6, 2018

Kathi Inman Berens
Assistant Professor, English Department,
Portland State University

Kathi Inman Berens, Assistant Professor at Portland State University's English Department, works on digital-born literature, contemporary book history, and digital contexts of book publishing. A longtime scholar and artist in the electronic literature community, Kathi joined Portland State University's book publishing faculty in 2015 after completing a Fulbright in Digital Culture at the University of Bergen, Norway. Kathi's current scholarship examines the digital bibliographic conditions of 21st-century books, including creative amateurism in Instapoetry, and metadata of picture books depicting nonwhite kids and families.

Instapoetry Matters

Why do fans of Instapoetry buy printed versions of exactly the same poems they can get in the Instagram app for free? Why buy what they already have?

The answer to this question wends through immigration offices and CreateSpace automated book publishing software, through an ocean of likes, reposts, hashtags and comments, and plants a flag onto bestseller lists with such unambiguous force that almost half (47 percent) of poetry books sold in the United States in 2017 were written by Instapoets. Hereís the same awesome metric in different terms: twelve of 2017ís top twenty bestselling poetry books -- 60% -- were by Instapoets. In 2012, Instapoetry didnít exist. It is a publishing industry disruptor par excellence.

As an artform, Instapoetry lacks most of the attributes readers of print-based poetry associate with poems. Instapoetry is semantically simple. Some say it's banal, even opportunist, more like branded content than an artwork freestanding from a cult of personality. To what extent does the legacy of literary modernism influence what counts as "poetry" today? Is the "slow reading" necessitated by richly allusive, complex, text-only poetry an artifact of print culture? Modernist poetry resisted the ways technologies like automobiles, telegrams, typewriters, ticker tape, and cinema speeded up culture. What to make of poetry -- Instagram and otherwise -- in a faster age powered by inhumanly fast computers and byte-sized attention snacks?

Transcript of Kathi Inman Berens' Facebook conversation
for the Contemporary Social Media: and Creative Practice 2018 panel

Closing Statement

For me, it's not so much politesse or academic reserve as my sense that Instapoets are the NYT bestsellers of the digital-born world. They are earning livings, and have escaped the precarity endemic to most e-lit artists, working without academic funding. If you think about the provenance of a book like The Bestseller Code, which uses macroanalytics to parse shared traits among bestsellers across genres, you begin to see patterns that apply also to Instapoetry: use of common language close to spoken word; themes of intimacy and closeness. In Instapoetry, they can be saccharine because undiluted with, you know, plot and action typical of bestselling fiction.

I would add: the most interesting thing about the Instapoetry is not the poems. It's the conversation they can excite. Some of the comments are, admittedly, banal. The kind of adoration that is simply encouragement. But other poems spark conversations about, say, Trump's policy of separating refugee and immigrant families at the US border.

The challenge to any scholar, as opposed to hobbyist, following Instapoetry is the sheer volume of output. Even if I were able to scrape all the data -- which I could do, with some help -- there would still be a flood of superabundance. In this sense, then, close reading rather than macroanalytics is (at least for me) the best way to reading Instapoetry as data.

2018 SAIC ATS Panel Participants

Gary O. Larson
the State of Artmaking on Social Media

Kathi Inman Berens
Instagram Poetry

Joy Garnett
Art Censorship on Social Media Platforms

Robert Gehl
Facebook Algorithms
and Alternative Social Media

Ben Grosser
Facebook and Twitter Demetricators

Juana Guzman
Issues in Social Media for Arts Organizations

SAIC ATS Class in Social Media Narratives:
Maca Burbano, Sora Candelario, Jessica Darnell, Nichole Therese Fowler, Amanda Jean Heldenbrand, Bao Thoa Luong, Jose Carlos Pena, Kate Pritchard, Matt Ryerse, Dexter Colin David Stokes-Mellor, Samantha Jordyn Travis, and Chris Tsai.

Produced by: SAIC ATS Part-time Faculty: Judy Malloy: Introduction to the Panel