Scrolling Through Poetry: A Conversation with @poetryisnotaluxury
By Elizabeth MetzgerAugust 16, 2023
Some of these poems were familiar yet were uncannily matched to my present mood. Others were poems by poets I hadn’t heard of, which somehow reminded me of selves I had once been and did not want to lose. Even in my messy, chaotic home, poetry was not letting me go. It became an essential part of my day, a new poem appearing magically, it seemed, each time I nursed the baby. A small gift, a token, if not a luxury. It was not long before I was writing again. My relationship to the page felt nearly lyric as I’d wait for a poem to be shared, a poem I knew would transform my own moment and potentially inform my own next poem.
In a world of false surfaces, petty distractions, simplified messages, and quick fixes, the @poetryisnotaluxury IG account has clearly awakened a need for poetry in poets, poetry readers, and newcomers alike. The account has garnered 745K followers and thousands of likes per post, such as this exquisitely charged fragment by June Jordan, posted on June 28, which received over 12,000 likes:
I am my soul adrift
the whole night sky denies me light
Increasingly curious about the mind behind the account, I wanted to thank the poetry citizen who was forging a new kind of community through poetry. Through interactions with each other’s poetry content, we soon began an online conversation, and I was thrilled to learn that the creator of the account is a living, breathing poet and poetry reader residing near me in Southern California. While making the world of poetry feel expansive and accessible, @poetryisnotaluxury also reminded me that the virtual potential of poetry sometimes brings us closer to our real place, our real moment, and the creative spirits closest to us. Though they wish to remain anonymous, the curator of @poetryisnotaluxury has helped me and many other followers feel miraculously seen and understood through heartache, life transitions, isolation, and grief.
This conversation, about poetry’s power for connectivity, the evolution of the IG account, and the creative drive behind it, took place informally over many months of emails back and forth. As fragmented and charged with gaps as many of my favorite poems, our conversation moved around and left space for each other’s new projects, hard personal losses, life changes, and ordinary boons—two spirits sharing poetry by the light of the internet.
ELIZABETH METZGER: I could start by saying that @poetryisnotaluxury, your Instagram account, has been a shockingly essential part of my pandemic experience. You’re clearly devoted to a constant curation of poems, new and old, and it gives so many readers (both poets and newcomers to poetry) so much inspiration, comfort, and joy. What inspired you to start the account, and how does your time, brain, and life revolve around it? What does it give you?
@POETRYISNOTALUXURY: My morning poetry ritual inspired me to start the page. My phone was absolutely cluttered with pictures of poems, and I thought, I’ll just post them on an Instagram page, it’ll be simple. Who knew that anyone would ever look at them? I genuinely wasn’t thinking in that vein when I began, but when the pandemic started in 2020, I definitely gave my everything to it and it became all-encompassing. It allowed me to lose myself in books.
Since then, the page has been a gift to me; I don’t take for granted that I’m in conversation with poets like you and publishers I’ve admired for years. It’s a gift to be able to connect with others through poetry.
I have always loved setting a mood, and finding connections in poems came quickly. Organizing these photographs/poems on my phone felt a lot like making a mixtape. I realized I was putting them in categories, like moon, mom, Monday—accidentally putting together a series of anthologies, so I began organizing an actual anthology in the form of the page, inspired by themes of love and loss. What poem goes next on the mixtape?
Interesting that you thought of it as an anthology. Instagram poetry gets a lot of flak from poets, but here you are finding ways of showcasing such a wide range of poems in a format that may be more digestible and truer to poetry than the “book” or “collection.” I notice the thematic flow of two or three poems about moonlight or winter or a series by a particular poet (on the occasion of their death or birth). Since we are encountering these poems in the midst of our daily scroll, it’s as if you are cultivating a daily mood. It feels cleansing and purposeful in the midst of other social media nonsense. Has curating the page changed your relationship to the poetry you read? Do you read books differently as a result?
Yes, the page has absolutely changed the way I read books. I am usually reading multiple poets at a time, always thinking of the page, trying to narrow them down or stitch themes together. I am such a word junkie.
Curating the page has driven me to get poetry to new readers, I did not think about it that way before. I am always thinking of ways to share poetry.
In that vein, I am excited about an upcoming collaboration with Boxwalla, curating a subscription poetry box series starting in August. It will be a great opportunity for readers to build their poetry library. Each box has a theme that pulls together classic and contemporary authors and includes a thoughtfully selected bookish gift. I hope to illuminate some rarer books and epic anthologies and to spotlight new writers every month. For me, it’s an opportunity to do what I’m doing on Instagram in a new way, take things into the physical world, and invite readers to enjoy poetry in a way that doesn’t involve our phones.
Can you speak to why you chose Audre Lorde’s phrase for the IG handle?
Audre Lorde’s words changed me, shifting the way I think and move through my life. I think Audre Lorde should be required reading, just reading the title “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Think about what those five words are doing. It’s the thesis for life—a simple way of saying that we need art to survive.
I’m curious how this relates to your choice to remain anonymous. I could imagine this task of managing so many voices making me more self-conscious but also creating an incredible sense of company. Has curating the page informed your own private writing practice?
As a curator, I want to remain invisible so the poets are the focus. And I think my writing practice has absolutely changed; in some ways, my writing has become more cathartic. I feel fully engaged as a reader like never before.
As I mentioned, we’ve had the wonderful chance to connect via your page. As I encountered the voices of poets I hadn’t known or familiar poems I had forgotten, I became more and more curious about the person behind the account. I guess it was also during that strange, disembodied moment of the pandemic, where most relationships felt virtual. Have you met or connected with people via your posts?
I’ve been able to meet a great deal of poets and readers over the last few years. I have definitely made a handful of lasting friends on IG. It’s that wonderful thing where you feel like you are in the same room reading together.
I have been privileged to help Cupid with a true love connection. One couple that I know of met through the comment section. They continued to message each other, and they’re now engaged, declaring they wouldn’t be together if not for the IG page. Some of the most lasting bonds and satisfying conversations I’ve had with followers have been about our shared grief or love of nature or a bond over an author. Often just talking about the way a certain poem heals our heart.
Wow, the idea of poems bringing people together is magical, and even more so when it’s in this virtual context. Sometimes I think of a poem as a person. I think I feel them in conversation on your page, meeting and falling in love with each other beyond their authors. Have any of the poems you’ve shared sparked particularly satisfying or controversial conversations?
I remember I was surprised the first time one of my posts got reported. One of my favorite Nikki Giovanni poems, “Kidnap Poem,” was flagged and removed for violent content. That also happened with “The Warning” by Robert Creeley—such sweet poems, but definitely using maybe dangerous figurative language, triggering language for certain readers. I think it changed what I share—now I’m a little more aware of the audience. I think a few of the most intense comment sections have been Marge Piercy’s “Ethics for Republicans” and Tess Gallagher’s “I Stop Writing the Poem.” Both prompted a spirited dialogue, stirring up a true personal debate on marriage and family, freedom and the rights of citizens. I love the community and the conversations. But I also want to push back against the impulse towards censorship.
At this point, I could put together an anthology just of the poems that readers have flagged for violence or inappropriate content, and it would be some of the best poems!
Are there any specific ingredients that “take the top of your head off” in a poem or that seem especially right for sharing here?
So much depends on personal taste and context, so I think perhaps there’s no way to know what ingredients make for a hit. Though certainly love, certainly salt. I think substance, flavor, the senses reach in and get under the reader’s emotional skin. Political pieces are incredibly relevant, of course. Also, always loss, doubt, love, escape, trees, mom.
I think about how poetry is oral and aural, how one of the casualties of the pandemic was the in-person poetry reading. IG emphasizes the visual qualities of a poem in exciting ways, but I’m curious—do you like to read the poems you post aloud?
I do read the poems I share aloud. I am always reading poems to others, asking, “Is this one better or that one?” Like an eye doctor trying to find the right lens. I also text pictures of poems to faraway friends. I love to read poems when I am alone as well, to be able to sit with the text, holding it in my hands. For me, the tactile is just as important, which is one of the reasons I want to help the people who follow the account find their way to books through the Boxwalla subscription and other projects I’m working on.
In a way, I feel like your site teaches us a rhythm for the virtual age of blending omnivorous reading and the focus each poem deserves. Your posts are the perfect treat and sensory reset, like truffles! But how do you yourself navigate that balance of devouring everything (I’m sure you are receiving manuscripts and book mail constantly) and lingering on one poem? How do you find ways to slow yourself down?
I love the way you put that. Yes—definitely truffles. I do want to devour everything made of words. It has become a little obsessive in that way, and it’s hard to slow down, I think, at least in part because, you know, social media doesn’t want me to. Still, I do find time to take breaks and step away.
This year has allowed me to find a comfortable pace. Sometimes it’s a challenge to hold back from posting six poems a day like I used to when I started the page, but I think that now each poem and poet gets a bit more time with the readers.
The time away allows me to get lost in poems. I do linger on some poems. Sometimes I read a poem every day for months and it is such a soothing feeling to finally post it and sort of let it go like a kite into the sky after having held it so close for so long.
I love the art and images you share on the story feature. If your account was not virtual but a real space, what would it be?
I studied film and theater. I love to pair images when I can, often from movies I love. I also love art and photography. When words and images can be sewn together, it feels like a moving conversation. Just as I like to bring readers to new poem and poet discoveries, I hope to bring them to other artists and art forms whenever I can, sharing what moves me. It is an emotional dialogue.
If my IG were a real space, I think it would be a series of anthologies that are housed in a library-style bookshop with a stage.
What would take place on the stage?
The stage would host poetry readings, live music, stand-up, open mic, folk jams, screenings—anything and everything. I thought of a stage because I want there to be a place of performance and ceremony inside of a community center. I suppose IG is sort of a virtual stage. It has become such a place of community and performance.
The Instagram account @poetryisnotaluxury curates poems, poem excerpts, and related ideas to assemble an ever-expanding community archive. It is operated by an anonymous poetry aficionado based in Los Angeles.
Elizabeth Metzger is the author of Lying In (2023), as well as The Spirit Papers (2017), winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry, and the chapbook Bed (2021). She is a poetry editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and lives in California.
Featured image: David Kakabadzé, Abstraction Based on Flower Forms, IV, 1921. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of the Estate of Katherine S. Drier. Photo: Yale University Art Gallery. artgallery.yale.edu, CC0. Accessed August 14, 2023.
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