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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

How Instagram provides poets with opportunities 

Social media can be a distraction from books, but for the region’s poets it offers an exciting platform

Instapoet @wordsmithalisha Alisha Patel. Antonie Robertson / The National
Instapoet @wordsmithalisha Alisha Patel. Antonie Robertson / The National

Traditionally, publishing houses are not known for taking a chance on an emerging poet. Those in the creative field know this. And yet, in this day and age, that no longer seems to matter.

While Instagram might not be the first tool that comes to mind when you think “writer” or “poet”, the image-based medium, together with Tumblr, Twitter and other platforms, have popularised poetry, creating a new genre of digital literature.

One emerging poet, 34-year-old Dubai-based Alisha Patel from India, says that thanks to technology, she and other local writers and poets have been provided with the impetus to get their voices heard, and words read, and it’s all thanks to social media.

“This is really how many poets are getting their voices heard, both in the UAE, and across the world as far as Australia and Canada,” says Patel.

She’s right. The best current example might be the Instagram poet Atticus, who started the Instagram account @atticuspoetry to post short poems and epigrams, and then, hundreds of thousands of followers later, after becoming an Instagram sensation and dubbed as “the world’s most tattoo-able poet” by Galore magazine, landed a book deal.

The anonymous poet’s book, Love Her Wild, was released last summer. Today, Atticus boasts over half-a-million followers online.

So for Patel, an ex-journalist who works full-time as a public relations consultant, it made sense to explore her passion for poetry, a form of writing she had not previously attempted, via Instagram. Less than a year ago, she launched @wordsmithalisha on Instagram without telling anyone, preferring to gain followers because of the reach of her words.

“I decided to use Instagram as a platform because it really allows any of us to just share and there is nothing that makes me come alive more than sharing a part of myself with someone else, ideally through language. But creativity in isolation doesn’t do much for me.

A post shared by Alisha Patel (@wordsmithalisha) on

“With my Instapoetry account, I’m able to touch someone on the other side of the world with my words in literally a second, or just interact, get their feedback, hear what they have to say; it’s a shared energy, a chance for a future artistic collaboration. Instagram is a perfect platform for that sort of thing.”

In under a year, she had gained over 300 followers, solely through the popular appeal of her writing.

“I’m doing it slowly, I want those who follow me to really want to follow me; I’m slowly but surely building my followers,” says Patel. Doing it this way is the only way she’ll know if she’s any good, she says.

“If I published a book today, it would be wonderful but I would never know what people think, in that personal manner that comes from receiving instant comments and messages on social media. On Instagram, I’m getting real-time feedback from people. The first time I ever posted, a yoga teacher from Bali wrote to me in two minutes. It was so uplifting.”

Social media – often blamed for making us read less – is full of surprises, and has certainly made such poetry not only approachable but also widely available. The truth is, jostling for followers alongside #Instafood photos, filtered holiday landscapes and a deluge of selfies is good old-fashioned writing.

“I had Barack Obama’s former speech writer Jon Favreau ‘like’ my poem on the former president a second after I wrote it,” adds Patel.

A post shared by Alisha Patel (@wordsmithalisha) on

“This was literally as Trump was being inaugurated and the world was glued to this strangest of affairs. It was crazy.”

And no topic is off-limits. Patel writes about love, loss and spirituality, but should she wish to write about food, or travel, she could. Eventually, she hopes to collaborate with other artists on mixed media work, working alongside artists, musicians, sculptors and designers from all over the world to bring sound, words and visuals together.

Recently, she was contacted by Italian sculptor Lorenzo Quinn, son of actor Anthony Quinn, because of a poem she wrote and posted online. If it weren’t for Instagram, a connection like that could never have happened, says Patel.

“If there was ever a way to get your voice heard today it’s through technology. Gone are the days when Penguin [the publisher], alone, could make you famous.

“Whilst we are all in search of that book deal, there is no greater joy than the applause of hundreds and thousands of ‘followers’ from every corner of the planet.

“I’m currently writing longer poems for traditional media but Instapoetry is what keeps me going regularly as it allows for interaction with strangers – and this is what I love about the platform.”

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