R.M. Drake

More Depth to Instagram

Ruby van Schaik


Before today I was already aware of the different concepts and/or communities that are represented on Instagram. However, a recent Intermediality lecture brought a new concept of posts to light. Unknowingly I had been familiar with the concept already, but it just didn't stick out to me. I didn't seem to separate the different types of posts that I see on the application. The type I am talking about is 'Instapoetry'. Everyone is familiar with poetry to some extent, but Instagram now provides us with a platform that makes poetry accessible to all users. Users decided Instagram was an appropriate medium to share poetry on, it was not designed as such to begin with. I will introduce you to two poets, both with significant fame. The poets that I mention will be referred to by their Instagram username, because to me that is their identity on the platform discussed. Nonetheless, I will also include their ‘offline name’ in their introduction, since they are also published authors. 

With the rise of social media, including Instagram, Instapoetry has become increasingly popular. The best example of this growth is poet R.M. Drake (@rmdrake). I have been following @rmdrake for years, not realizing how big poetry actually is on Instagram. @rmdrake is considered the most famous poet on Instagram. He now has over two million followers, including several celebrities. These celebrities began to share his inspirational work a few years back and unintentionally helped him gain fame. @rmdrake since had several books published and is even a New York Times Best Selling Author! The picture below is a screenshot of R.M. Drake’s Instagram feed. He uses Instragram solely for the purpose of his poetry. He either posts poems or self-promotes his publications.

Feed @rmdrake

While @rmdrake has been inspiring to me for years, I want to share a poem from a different author, that I found subsequent to this lecture, called Rene Oskam (@reneoskam). He is a Dutch poet, also with published works. The poem below is about the routine he created in his job and life while he used to have dreams when he was young. He is at the point he imagined ‘later’ to be, but has not realised the dreams he had as a kid. For me this grasps the concept of where I am at currently, and how it’s up to me to not have this happen in the near future.

Instagrampost by @reneoskam

When we analyse the poem itself we see a similar layout and font as is used by @rmdrake (and many others). This typewriter-style is a reoccurring phenomenon among the Instapoets. The typewriting is from a real typewriter, they photograph the typed poem afterwards to post on Instagram. However, when we would compare the entire feed of these two poets we can easily spot some differences.

Feed @reneoskam

Where @rmdrake is focussed on his poetry and self-promoting, @reneoskam also gives a sneakpeak into his life. He allows us (his followers) into his life by posting pictures of his travels. He gives away a piece of his thoughts by sharing small drawings with words, he promotes his publications and he shares his emotions, combined with all of the above, in his poems. By giving his followers slightly more insight into his life he creates authenticity, individuality and most importantly personality. This invites the followers to be more invested in him and to support him as a person, not just as a poet.

Unfortunately, the rise of something new often comes with critiques. This, resulting the rise of Instapoetry to arouse a controversy among classical poets. An example, Rebecca Watts, a British poet, has been very vocal in her critics on for instance Instapoetry. She links the short, easy poems to the change social media made to our attention span. Twitter only using 140 characters or less to send your message is the biggest example of this ‘short-form communication’. She goes as far as to say: 

“Artless poetry sells.”

But what if there is art to Instagram? The canvas is one small square, but in addition the post is Insta(nt), accessible and sharable. There is immediacy to Instagram as a medium, giving it authenticity. The poets use a typewriter and often include the typo’s they have made. With the introduction of the typewriter ‘the intimacy of handwritten expression’ was considered to be lost according to Friedrich Kittler (1986). The new, self-proclaimed poets repurposed the typewriter, relating it to authenticity. Its newly established authenticity stems from the contrast between the digital of our current society and its unirascible directness. This is a form of remediation of the typewriter. Also, many of the poems that were created by a typewriter have to be photographed before they can be posted. This material code interrelates with the linguistic code. The picture that was taken is a form of self-expression, photography in itself is already ‘art’. Combining photography and poetry makes for a mixed media. But, we do not really perceive many of these poems as the picture that they truely are. We are in the middle between the written and the shared image. Instagram is for sharing images, but now used to share text in an image. This oblivion in between two transgressional media could be considered the Instapoetry’s synthetic intermediality. And, to answer the question, if we look at art history, we see a change from ‘art is mimesis’ al the way to our current idea of the embodied meaning and the wakeful dream aspects within art. We thought we knew what art was before, but all artforms change over time. This can also be argued for poetry as an artform, with Instapoetry as its newest development.