To Instagram or not to Instagram



It is a truth more or less universally acknowledged that whatever it is in you that makes you write poetry is also likely to make you unsuited to sticking your head above the poetry parapet and publicising your work – which is why, in an ideal world, poets would make enough money to employ a literary agent to do it for them. Alack. This world is far from ideal.

To be fair, I enjoy readings now I’ve learnt to adopt a persona to do the reading for me, ie someone who looks like me but who talks in a slightly lower register and who understands that it’s the poems that matter, not the poet. She lets the angst-ridden me-who-writes-the poems stand just behind her, not quite in full view, and together we give the poem our best shot.

Submitting to magazines and entering competitions, with all its attendant rejection, is a harder thing to keep doing. Even those rather more elusive acceptances can be anxiety-inducing if you are prone to feelings of unworthiness. Finding a group of poets who similarly struggle can be helpful in this instance. Gentle peer pressure, and the sharing of triumphs and insecurities, can be helpful in overcoming what is a very natural reticence.

Then there’s social media. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I love that this morning, before I even got out of bed, I went on a wander around a Christmassy New York, saw the Northern Lights in Iceland, and had a paddle around Bristol’s Floating Harbour in a canoe, all thanks to the marvel that is Facebook. But I don’t want to spend hard-won free time on FB, Twitter, Instagram et al shouting into a vacuum about my poems when I could be writing them.

To this end, I recently went on a course run by Josie Alford, who’s half my age and who knows how to do this stuff in an efficient and organised way. It was reassuring to find that I already do much of what she suggested to grow a readership, and that it was mainly a question of fine-tuning the process, by looking at the insights and doing a bit of analysis to find the best times to post, and who my target audience might be. Instagram, I decided, is probably not an ideal platform for my work. Two-line platitudes in an arty typewriter font don’t really float my boat, though if I could get one of my kids to show me how it works, I might post some photos.

I think I’m always going to struggle with the writing/publicising balance, and submitting, for that matter, but it’s a fact that writing poetry is essentially a collaborative art. Poems only really come into their own in the imagination of the reader. So if you want your work to achieve its potential, self-publicity is something that has to be done, preferably in the least painful and time-consuming way possible.

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Deborah Harvey’s poems have been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and broadcast on Radio 4’s Poetry Please. She has four poetry collections, Communion (2011), Map Reading for Beginners (2014), Breadcrumbs (2016), and The Shadow Factory (2019), all published by Indigo Dreams, while her historical novel, Dart, appeared under their Tamar Books imprint in 2013. Her fifth collection, Learning Finity, will be published in 2021. Deborah is co-director of The Leaping Word poetry consultancy.

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