tiktok poetry isn’t bad poetry, maybe you should give it a chance

PoetryTok is modernising and democratising written creativity – and that isn’t a bad thing

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Hero image in post

PoetryTok is modernising and democratising written creativity – and that isn’t a bad thing

By Sophie Lou Wilson12 Jul 2023
7 mins read time
7 mins read time

Sometimes TikTok can feel like it’s designed mostly for scrolling endlessly through viral videos of glass bottles smashing down stairs or clips of someone telling you why you need to get blueberry milk nails, like, right now. Occasionally, though, you might swipe upon a video that digs its nails in deeper, finding a home in the mushy part of your heart that hasn’t been desensitised by all this mindless scrolling. Perhaps you stop to read a poem that reminds you that you'll never be a child again, that fills you with bittersweet longing. Or you're in late stage heartbreak and hear someone read out a piece that describes exactly how it feels.

There are many such videos on #PoetryTok, TikTok's flourishing poetry community where poets share their own verse in written or spoken word form as well as bringing old poetry to new audiences. The hashtag has 3.2 billion views, but despite its rapid rise, TikTok poetry is often met with scorn.

"TikTok has its fair share of bad poetry, but sweeping generalisations are unfair and dismissive of the many talented poets pouring their hearts out on the platform"

Following Rupi Kaur’s divisive rise to fame on Tumblr and Instagram in the 2010s, all social media poetry has been put in the same box. Kaur's 2014 debut milk and honey sold over 11 million copies, but her poetry has been widely panned as over simplistic and vacuous while any online poet who might imitate her style is accused of trying to imitate her success. There are few things as unpoetic as manufacturing a piece of writing to go viral. Consequently, poetry that abandons traditional form and gains attention on social media is often all tarred with the same brush.

The reality, however, is that TikTok poetry is expansive and exciting. Anyone can do it, making the form more accessible than it has been in the past. Of course TikTok has its fair share of bad poetry, but sweeping generalisations are unfair and dismissive of the many talented poets pouring their hearts out on the platform. Not every social media poet is simply Rupi Kaur-lite. Meanwhile, the idea that any poetry people connect with is ‘bad’ is a contentious issue in itself. If poetry is an expression of true feeling, who’s to decide whether it’s good or bad?

Before 24-year-old Megan started sharing her poetry on TikTok earlier this year, she was nervous about the potential embarrassment that can come from being vulnerable online, but she decided to do it anyway. “I asked my friends, ‘is this totally humiliating that I’m posting poetry on TikTok to a bunch of teenage girls about a boy who literally could not care less?’" she says, “And they’d say, ‘babe, Taylor Swift has made an entire career out of doing this.’”

To Megan, TikTok is the perfect platform for contemporary poetry because, like many great writing movements that came before it, it reflects the times we live in. Today, being a poet doesn’t have to mean living in obscurity, silently slaving away over verses and waiting for someone to discover your poems after your untimely, tragic death. “I’m no Yeats,” Megan says. “I was raised on barbie.com, MTV, Tumblr and the birth of Instagram. My TikTok has allowed me to channel this spirit of a girl in her bedroom who was raised by pop culture and the internet.” Megan shares her poems as text laid over videos of her alone in her room, petting her cat, painting her nails, lighting a candle, drinking a can of coke. This visual element references the sense of intimacy and solitude depicted in her poems.

Indeed, TikTok poetry is about more than just the words on the page. “TikTok has expanded the way we view poetry,” says Alida, 24, who started sharing her poetry in March this year. “I love that adding the right music can enhance the words I write and the feelings they deliver.” Sitting down with a book or attending a spoken word night are no longer the only ways to engage with poetry. TikTok has shown that there can be poetry in everything, from comic book style art series to hopecore memes.

"“TikTok has expanded the way we view poetry"
Alida, 24

For 24-year-old poet Lyra, who has amassed more than 80k followers since she started sharing her poetry on TikTok in 2021, social media has made poetry both more accessible and more appealing. In her opinion, the loose structure of most TikTok poems has given writers more room for rawness and authenticity. “TikTok opens the doorway to poetry for many people,” she says. “It encourages creativity. I think people see TikTok as a lesser form of poetry because they want to stick to academic poetry rules whereas social media poetry tends to be more straightforward and doesn’t require the same level of interpretation. I think both forms are entirely valid and people should just consume what they like and not hate on other art forms.”

“TikTok opens the doorway to poetry for many people"
Lyra, 24

It's true that most of us got our first proper introduction to poetry in an academic setting. As we made our way through the school years, poetry remained a core part of the curriculum, but, if you struggled academically or simply couldn’t relate to long poems written by white men who lived 200 years ago, then it might have been enough to turn you off poetry for good. Even if you loved studying, reading and writing poetry as a teenager, by the time you reached adulthood perhaps it fell to the wayside as work and life took over. After all, like most traditional art forms, few people make much money from writing poetry alone.

That’s why online communities like PoetryTok are so important for the current generation of writers. Not only is TikTok providing a platform for new poets to share their work, but it’s also attracting the attention of book publishers and allowing writers to monetise their work by selling postcards and prints. Lyra's TikTok account is the reason why she was able to publish her first book 'The Lost Girls' which comes out later this month. "A book was something I had always wanted to do, but I didn't start my TikTok account with the intent of doing advertising or gaining an audience," she says. "The audience came to me and then the idea of publishing a book suddenly wasn't just a dream but a reachable reality. Would I have got that if I had never made a TikTok account? No way."

The idea that you must have the time, inclination and academic background to structure a poem around a restrictive rhyme and metre in order for it to be a ‘good’ poem has been outmoded and elitist for some time. TikTok notes app poetry written on the tube or in the toilet at work might end up being our generation's epic poems that go on to be studied in schools someday. The best poetry has always been misunderstood and ahead of its time.

Of course bad poetry does exist on TikTok, but that doesn't mean that TikTok poetry is bad. Sure, some of it feels manufactured and lazy, but for the most part, even the bad poetry shouldn't be looked upon too harshly. If we continue to hold the art we share on social media to such a high standard then we risk losing room for experimentation and creative growth. We shouldn't scare people away from sharing raw and vulnerable work online, especially when they're just starting out. Besides, who among us hasn't written bad poetry at some point in our lives? In most cases, you have to write bad poetry in order to eventually write good poetry.

Rather than being bad, TikTok poetry is “fun, dumb, dangerous and beautiful,” according to Megan. “We’re gonna write. We’re also gonna post on TikTok. One day there will be studies on this. Let it be beautiful and fun and prophetic of what’s to come. Just let it be.”