Poetry: the unlikely darling of Instagram

Image Source: The Cut

2016 was indeed the year poetry’s popularly took off. You know this is true because (A) it’s the year that Wired (yes, the technology magazine) published, “Don’t Look Now, but 2016 is Resurrecting Poetry,” (B) it’s the year Rupi Kaur, now the best selling poet of today, self-published Milk and Honey, and, finally (C), two years after the trend’s inception, Adweek reports “Brand are using poetry to cut through the noise and grab viewers’ attention.”

All this being said, the power of poetry didn’t occur to me via any of these headlines. It’s impact hit me via a friend of a friend. She’s your classic Colorado hippie kid, new to LA. She read me something while we were taking a coffee break on Abbot Kinney. The poem was good, disarmingly so. It just felt weird being shared alongside children spinning in the astro tuff of Tom’s cafe, their parents cautiously eyeing our exchange.

I wasn’t per say sold on poetry in that moment, but I was warming up to it’s allure.

I can remember an earlier moment when poetry caught be off guard. I was popping in and out of shops in Silverlake, I remember a particular day with a certain store clerk. I think it was a while ago, may 2016. He was kind enough to engage in a bit of banter about writing and recommend The Tin House. He also admitted he dabbled in poetry. I just have this feeling (now) that he’s probably pretty good but in the moment I recall being baffled by his interest in such archaic art.

Tin House, Portland


Beyond my friend’s interest, that store owner’s, and even Nike’s, I’ve finally woke up and realized that poetry might be having a moment. The more I looked for it the more I saw: The Disconnect was featuring poetry next to articles on modern culture. Vanity Fair’s’ Hot Type page I realized highlights new books of poetry. The New Yorker’s poetry podcast. It’s lovely. And one of my new favorite books, Light the Dark, references poem after poem, moralizing that these little sets of verses have catalyzed many careers.

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Poetry is indeed having a moment. I have since confirm with Google. And that moment is surprisingly happening in large part on Instagram.

So for all those, like me, that have been in the dark. Poetry is not old and dusty, and clearly not dead. Nor is it solely for speaking of meadowlarks and daffodils. Poetry right now is ringing with politics and other timely topics. It’s punchy. It’s short, to the extent it can fit on a filter-worthy post. The new era of poetry is empowering the old guard to step up their game, but the new era of poetry is led by the youth. Gen Y, as per usual, knows what’s up.

To get specific about the metrotic rise of Instagram poetry look no further than the author mentioned above: Rupi Kaur.

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Speaking more broadly, somehow the rise of poetry feels very 70s. Poetry — when well-written — has a way of transporting you to a place and emotion that often takes longer with prose. It has this intimacy with the reader, and a degree of vulnerability. Poetry isn’t wiring. It’s more like music, demanding to be felt first and understood later. Look no further than the great John Ashbery for a bit of confusing beautiful lines. 

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When sussing out the state of poetry. It’s worth mentioning. The critics of pop poetry are many, and they may have a point when they say that poetry is intended to be “hard,” but in these times maybe a little bit of flower power 70s love and verse is just the kind of medicine Instagram needs……………….or pop poetry could be just another kind of photogenic nonsense disguised in feelings and flux typewriter font. 

Who’s to say, but when it comes to personal taste, I think I’ll take the confusing over poems that fit neatly into perfect square, all the while thanking the ‘pop poets’ for putting this art form on more radars.

The Hipster Aesthetic

Culture still seems way too obsession with the high-low mashups. Transport yourself back to 2007. Before the market crashed, before Norcor, before Instagram, The New York Post declared:

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So. It’s been (at least) ten years since this trend started making headlines, and we’re still loving the irreverent humor in high end perfumes selling scents like “Lip Balm”… sterling silver soup cans courtesy of Tiffany’s … and comedians in contemporary art museums. These are just a few random examples, but let’s get serious about the size of this look’s allure. High-low is essentially the basis of today’s most popular street style looks. It’s at the heart of all “eclectic” interior decorating trends, and is the only reason Slaughterhouse 90210 makes sense. (See previous post for more on just how awesome that book’s author is.)

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That said, above are only one-off examples of high-low pairings. The macro example of juxtaposition in culture has to do with interior design. Some call it the “Hipster Aesthetic.” Kyle Chayka coined the phrase “AirSpace,” and Quartz blames it “the Brooklyn look,” but irrespective of its various names, make no mistake that ‘the look’ (maybe even an ethos) has wrapped itself around the planet. And the power of the architectural trend comes down to a sense of access: “For the people who live in towns and cities far from the top-tier of globally-connected metropolises,…the global aesthetic that these establishments bring to their towns contribute to a sense of connection with their peers in Copenhagen and San Francisco.”

The Economist goes on to argue, “this is not so much a flattening of taste as a democratization of it,” but I would have to disagree. How are we to engage in creative pursuits if we’re all drawing inspiration from the same visual playbook? I’m not here to comment on the economic implications of a world where we all like the same style…but all our visually-based social media platforms likely have something to do with a world that seems to gravitate to the same design preferences. And it’s not that I dislike ‘the Brooklyn’ look, it’s simply that when you transplant that look into the Ukraine, the story behind the style, if it ever had one, doesn’t translate.

Airbnb took off, at least in part, because it offered a place to stay that promised originality and personality. The point wasn’t ‘I have to stay in the nicest accommodation or a place that looks like what I know.’ The point was to feel like a local. To understand, through homes, the stories of community of people that live outside your hometown.

Image source: Lobster & Swan blog

To me this is why “cultural decorating” (a totally terrible phrase I’m coining for the point of this post) will be so important to our sense of identity moving forward. Do you know how to build a nest for yourself based on objects that symbolize your personality, your set of values, your passion points? It’s more effort, it’ll likely cost more, but to build a narrative-based space is to dwell in a sense of self more deeply. I’m for that and for helping more people achieve that unique look for themselves as well.

Finding your tribe: The rise of niche social & new social houses

From online to off, we’re crafting new ways to find “our” people. Last year, the Verge proclaimed, “the old promise of the internet — niche communities, human connection…never really lost its appeal, but [in 2017] [the desire for us to realize that promise] came back with a miniature vengeance.” They couldn’t have read the tea leaves better. With the current controversy surrounding Facebook’s failed privacy protections, many are beginning to rethink their relationship with traditional social media.

As usual, the kids seem to be ahead of the curve with the invention of Finstagrams — As in the offshoot accounts that allow you to more privately send off “ugly selfies, inside jokes, personal rants…that sort of thing, to a relatively sympathetic audience,” reports the Guardian to those over the age of fifteen. #smartsocialhacks

But adults want new private outlets where they can confide and connect with smaller communities too! Hence the rise of Tinyletter: Limited circulation newsletters that offer “an easy a way to build that tiny, private audience away from the ugliness of the internet at large.” And given all the anonymous haters, it’s little wonder Tinyletter become the popular alternative to personal essays.

But the truly beautiful pivot to new community-based trends is happening offline. From lushly designed co-working spaces to workout studios with wine bars, the hottest new places to socialize are doubling as hubs of productivity / wellness.

High Court promises “urban elites” a reclusive place to “realign, expand their thinking and connect with like-minded others.

Modeled after SoHo House and NeueHouse, High Court involves a rigorous application process. Beyond proving your stature and income, you’ll also have to convince the board you’re a tasteful aesthete. Instagram accounts are a large part of the consideration process.

Another European-based social club, Spring Place, will be installing its latest club house in Beverly Hills come 2019. The highly anticipated membership “will offer LA visionaries a business hub to work and reboot throughout the week.” Cassandra Daily confides, “the club’s TriBeCa location is already known for attracting a bevy of beautiful people despite outward attempts to seem under the radar.”

For a more hippie take on the wellness club trend, one might turn to The Aerie Collective. Their philosophy focuses on sharing collective wisdom, nutrition and zenful practices. And the site makes it obvious the club caters to a Silverlake shaman with a green thumb, sunsoaked blond hair, and a healthy love of sound baths.

Coming up on the network side of things, Canopy describes itself as “a sophisticated new workspace for the ‘mature’ professional” and, as the design implies, was developed for young techies and startups founders able to manage the “monthly rent.”

The Assembly is yet another San Fran, co-working and community stand out. It’s claim to fame? To create this entrepreneurial sanctuary, the founders “transformed a 7,000 square foot, aging church into a dreamy, modern space—where every corner is Instagram-worthy—that reflects their warm, eclectic style and intense attention to detail.”

And while the origins of its location might not be as special, The Wing is easily one of the most famous examples of a female-driven social houses. One of the many reasons to love?  It was designed to be a well-decorated haven for “lonely workaholics searching for identity and meaning.”

Co-founder of The Wing, Audrey Gelman, elaborates, “technology has made us globally more connected, but locally more isolated.” Joining allows members a place to find workout buddies, interviewees for your next podcast, and straight up new friends.

We’re all thinking about identity and who we are, how what we do, and how who we engage with defines us,” founder of The Ruby, so aptly articulates. “Maybe that’s why these integrated spaces are popping up. When everything  is entangled, it’s hard to separate work from play and social media. We’re in this place of real growth and change.”

What an empowering time to find your tribe.

Time in the Mind

It’s not necessarily real, but at times it feels more awakening than any external experience. But what do you call a time in the mind?

Calling it an experience seems ridiculous. If social media has taught us anything, then an “experience” is quantified by documentation. No photo, no “experience.”

Maybe you felt, or thought, or dreamt something profound. Maybe you didn’t. There’s a strict one-admin policy for the theater of the mind.

Image source: Vogue

That said, the Alice-and-Wonderland depth that exists in all of us — that well filled with mismatched memories, places, and emotions we turn to when we’re craving an escape, or jolt of inspiration — surely that must have some intrinsic value, even if doesn’t immediately translate into a shareable entity.

Light the Darkness, an anthology of interviews with famous writers, articulates the pleasure of memorizing a poem:

“When you internalize a poem, it becomes something inside of you. You’re able to walk around with it…Poetry is as important today as it’s ever been, despite its diminished public stature. It foregrounds the interior life of the writer who is trying to draw the reader in. And it gets readers in contact with their own subjective life. This is valuable, especially now.”

The author of this essay Billy Collins explains that poetry’s diminished stature in modern society stems from an invisible, constant pull into “public life,” elaborating:

“The sanctuaries of private life are so scarce these days. Every [the most banal activities,] from ‘I’m going out for pizza,’ to ‘JoAnne is passed out on the sofa,’ are broadcast to the wide word…We’re not suffering from an overflow of information — we’re suffering from an overflow of insignificance.”

Public broadcasts. Endless scrolling.
Today’s cultural currency. Endless scrolling.
Everyone’s game. Endless scrolling.
Our reality. Endless scrolling.
An epidemic of insignificant overflow? Maybe Collins has a point.

America has always been about freedom and the merits of individualism, originality, creative expression and personal vision, yet today we’re so easily dragged this way and that by the currents of our online communities. Not to mention, with the omnipresence of A.I. and data-based recommendations, do we realize just how much we’ve entered codependent relationships with digital feedback loops…that seem to know us better than we know ourselves? Need Netflix to direct you to a new series? Swiping on Tinder for your next date? Want a party playlist courtesy of Spotify? And that’s not even including all the articles we’re force fed through Facebook or the shipments Amazon nudged us to buy.

As we give with our online updates and receive through digital recos, the cycle sucks us in from both directions, leaving us little room to escape.

Source: Hilgard Gardens

“At last I had time to have time,” author, journalist, and solitude expert, Tiziano Terzani, once said while taking a hiatus from society to live in the woods. Having time for time is such a luxury — And a luxury that can feel daunting once finally made available, as it often asks us to hold a mirror up to ourselves. Yet somehow the “selfie generation” is also the cohort responsible for bringing yoga, meditation, plus a host of other self-knowledge rituals into the mainstream. To put a finer point on the paradox: Might we be the generation obsessed with projecting our public selves, but equally obsessed with better understanding the richness of our interior selves?

How very millennial of us.

Y2, a trendy fitness studio in the heart of West Hollywood’s wellness scene, offers a mind-body experience that truly taps into the self, if you let it. The studio creates an inky black, bar-like ambiance. Mirrors don’t exist. All you can see and hear are drippy silhouettes of humans moving to bass heavy, hip hop soundtracks and the husky voice of an inductor that could at any moment become a cast member in the next Magic Mike movie. This description is laced with scepticism for today’s LA yoga craze, but I have to give it to Y2, regardless of your commentary its aesthetic, the place has a way with making you present with yourself.

And maybe there’s some value in that.

It’s a thrilling, some might even say out of body experience, to cut ties with the digital world to better become one with our interior universe. After all, as Matthew Bowker, a psychoanalytic political theorist, explains in The Virtues of Isolation, “it might take a little bit of work before it turns into a pleasant experience. But it becomes … the most important relationship anybody ever has, the relationship you have with yourself.”

And maybe the benefit of prying ourselves away from the overflow of insignifiance… the invisible influence of technology…and the incessant feedback loops of social media, isn’t about isolation after all.

Could it be that from spending more time in the mind, we might locate something seeming unreal that we make real. Something significant enough to truly warrant sharing?

Harkening back to Light the Dark, author Kathryn Harrison argues, “art is material even though it expresses the ineffable. A book might be inspired by darkness, but it is a material, concrete thing made from worlds — real things that, put together, mean approximately the same thing to me as to you. That’s what I do, what a painter does, what it means to engage in a creative act: balance there, on that line between the dark and the light.” Between our individual imaginations and our hyper-connected culture. Between a disconnect, and deeper reconnect.

The passages that change us

Part of a new series What makes us human.

“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.” –Slaughter House Five, Chapter One

I read this line at the dentist.

I was trying to cramming in a half page here, a paragraph there in between her trips to the cupboard to grab floss or the floride. It was rather ridiculous, and I either came off is a socially awkward bookworm (my wish) or just a rude annoyance that couldn’t be bothered with even a second of downtime while getting my teeth cleaned.

Nevertheless, this line stuck with me while they clawed by mouth open in various formations.

I love that I had this little nugget of inspiration to make the mundane more interesting. I’ll admit: maybe I was primed to pick out this line. After all, I’ve begun reading a book, or rather an anthology of short stories, about the profound impact a seemingly innocuous literary passage can have on writers’ lives. The intro of Light the Dark describes the shared phenomenon, explaining, “these writers inhabit one world when they turn the page. By the time they flip it again, they inhabit another universe entirely. Something about the way the words were written aged them in an instant and provided a glimpse of who they would now have to become.”

Reading something profound is unnerving in the best way possible. The experience demands a higher expectation of the self for that day. It’s like a flame is at once lit in the soul and suddenly the future — however briefly — suddenly feels infinite. At this point life doesn’t work in weeks. Life segments become millenniums.

Honestly though, this silly line snuck up on me. I’m bashful to admit its impact.

Later on, over booze, I would have a conversation about tattoos where I would learn that Loraine’s very first time with ink resulted in a cursive “Limitless.” She still has the evidence scrawled across her left pointer finger. “I got it when I was 18. My first one. Because who doesn’t want to be limitless when their 18.” And despite her cavalry response, it didn’t seem cliche. It felt honest in that I instantly felt her youth and wonder alongside her wisdom. She has a sense about herself that’s deep seated, yet to me she would be one of the most likely people to let her personality be molded by single phrase.

I guess that’s what I find so gratifying about the premise of this book. It speak to people’s willing to learn about themselves. How amazing to be able to immediately speak to a set of words that altered your perception of the world?

And from the perspective of a writer, how gratifying to think your words could be changing the course of someone’s story; that they could be so profound as to make someone stop and re-see the world, or sense that for once they are seen and validated because a feeling so personal to them was suddenly written in front of them, committed to words. This feeling that felt too deeply rooted inside them to ever be shared by someone else.

The intimate yet inanamous dialogue between a reader and a writer is so intoxicating. And feels like something increasingly sacred in a world dominated by visibility and instantaneous affirmations, feedback, commentary and the likes, all the likes.

I love that passages that speak to me can become a part of me if I slow down long enough to acknowledge them. And I love that they can be my secret. That is until I run into the rare person willing to ask what book or author or group of words I love the most. And when that day comes, I will care far more about there their response to that question than stating mine.

In defense of personal taste

Part of a new What makes us human series.

Nothing truly worth doing was ever easy. Said everyone, but maybe we keep on saying it because it’s true.

So here I am ¾ of a pop tart and and 2 ¼ glasses of wine in, writing because this morning I said I had to start posting daily. Even if my thoughts were brief and half baked.

Today it occured to me that if you write from a well regarded platform — Man Repeller, Goop, Refinery29, The Atlantic “By Heart” column, then the name of the game is as much about staying the course on quantity. The preciousness of what you have to say, to some degree, dies off. In short, maybe writing is a bit like college; the hardest part may just be convincing yourself you deserve to get in the door.

So that’s my self help to myself bit. Now for today’s actual rant: Why we need to defend the art of achieving a sense of personal taste.

We’re drowning in tech aids that could tell us what we want. We could trust that these faceless computer recommendations know us better than we know ourselves, but that’s for the weak at heart.

Anyone worth having a drink with knows what they love (film…food…fiance-wise) from within…Or as Maris Kreizma explains in An Algorithm Isn’t Always the Answer: “Picking a great book is all about going with your gut. It’s all in the read,” furthering, “the best things in life are unquantifiable.” (1)

I say this because I think it’s worth giving due credit to three visionary human beings that have reached stellar levels of success via kickass point of views, personal style and above all, from within, anti-algorithm personal taste. Cue in:

The one and only, controversial, but totally badass beauty: Gwyneth Paltrow, CEO of Goop

“What, exactly, is someone buying when they buy into Goop or Preserve? Besides a monogrammable wooden longboard ($495, Goop) or a custom-made geometric print Pendleton wool “trail trench cloak” ($1,350, Preserve), that is. ‘A set of values that are associated with Gwyneth,’ [says Goop’s] Gersh.” And she’s not alone, “celebrities are increasingly moving from endorsing products to being the product,’ said John Demsey, group president of Estée Lauder. ‘This is only going to get more common.’” (3) Sounds like we could all take a page from Goop’s playbook on cultivating a personal look….a  particular lifestyle…that at times seems to almost invite the critics to come out and play.

Next. The quirky, daring editor, writer and Twitter-lit-legend: Maris Kreizma, also author of Slaughterhouse 90210

On her book: “It is an argument, presented with blunt evidence rather than explanation, that works of what we consider high and low culture can not only be appreciated by the same people (a tiff we’ve been having in the cultural criticism world for quite a while now), but can be placed in direct conversation with each other.” (2) So in short, she’s killing the game with a sense of taste that feels original and groundbreaking because it dares us to examine serious works of art with levity… and appreciate pop culture with a more nuanced eye.

Last. The shape shifting, too-cool-for–you fashion maven: Haley Nahman, Digital Editor of Man Repeller

On why it’s critical to put time into the “gathering stages” of cultivating a sense of personal taste. (+ Proof that you CAN stop dreaming and actually reach out and grab that “dreamy” job that seems just out of reach):

Q: “How did you get started at Man Repeller?”

A: “Before this I was working in talent experience at a design firm in San Francisco. I would explain that in more detail if I didn’t think it would bore you. There is almost no overlap in duties between that career and this one unless you include my unpaid side-gigs which were writing for my blog, helping my friends with creative projects and vigorously reading the internet….I’ve been obsessed with Man Repeller since 2011, but it wasn’t until 2014 when I decided to get less hypothetical about ~following my dreamz~ that I even let the idea of contributing enter my field of vision. Fast track to earlier this year, after several attempts (and failures!) to contact MR, when I found myself on an email chain with Leandra and Amelia (via my friend, angel and writer Carlye Wisel). I sent them a bunch of my writing and a cheesy powerpoint deck and then hyperventilated for a few minutes. When Leandra eventually offered me the gig I quit my job and moved across the country. I’m an indecisive overthinker and I’ve never had to consider something less.” (4)

Convinced yet that your gut instincts might know more than your Netflix recommender? I hope so…and hope more people might consider that in our data saturated world, the ability to cultivate a sense of taste may in fact become one of our greatest points of difference between humans and cyborgs…….. but then again, maybe I’m just paranoid.


“An Algorithm Isn’t Always the Answer,” The New York Times, 11/24/17 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/24/opinion/sunday/holidays-gifts-algorithms-online-dating.html

Slaughterhouse 90210, by Maris Kreizman via “Culture Talks To Culture In ‘Slaughterhouse 90210’,” NPR, 10/07/15 https://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2015/10/07/446576801/culture-talks-to-culture-in-slaughterhouse-90210

How Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Has Become a Role Model for Other Celebrities, The New York Times, 11/14/14 https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/fashion/how-gwyneth-paltrow-goop-has-become-a-role-model-for-other-celebrities.html

“Get to Know Team MR: Haley, Digital Editor,” Man Repeller, 05/16/16 https://www.manrepeller.com/minor_cogitations/get-to-know-team-mr-haley.html

The Cowboy Cool Collection by Calvin

In the 90’s Calvin Klein became a moneymaker via well branded underwear, but at the end of the day the brand was selling “American cool.” Fast forward to 2018. The label is still selling the same sentiment, it’s just that this time around “cool” comes in the form of cowboy.

If you’re not convinced, trying buying their $1,400, silver-toed boots…a sold-out success. Hypebeast has helped cement the power of Raf Simon’s Wild West vision, asking readers, “Will cowboy boots be fall’s biggest footwear trend?” Maybe. Style thoughtleaders from The New York Times to ASOS urged shoppers to pony up and soon retailers were barely able to keep western wear in stock.

Interestingly, rugged renegade style translates internationally as well. At last year’s Paris Fashion show, “cowboy-boot maker Lucchese crafted signature Western snip-toe boots” with Georgian label, Vehement to much fanfare.

Who knows exactly why The West is suddenly in vogue, but this trend spells like a byproduct of our seemingly insatiable craving for craftsmanship and good ‘ol Americana nostalgia.


How Western Wear Turned Into High Fashion, GQ, 03/18

Will Cowboy Boots Be Fall’s Biggest Footwear Trend?, Hyperbeast, 10/17