How I Became an Instagram Poet

Calling myself and Instagram Poet may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, but I am sticking my toe in those waters by posting my first ever published poem and my first published translations (which actually predate the first poem) on Instagram. My plan is to follow these with more poems, mostly from my first two books, but also some that have been published online and are no longer available.

The reason why I’m doing this has everything to do with the revisions I’ve been making to my site this week, so this is really the next in the series of posts about changing themes and moving to the block editor.

After setting up my static home page and book pages, I realized one thing that was still missing from a good author website was a page with links to individual poems or other published work. Fortunately, I had that on my university web page, so I only needed to update the list with some recently published poems, including two that went online last week at Juke Joint.

Once I had that page created, though, I felt that it wasn’t enough. On the one hand, a list of links isn’t visually exciting, and on the other hand, I wanted to be able to add more poems than the ones that are currently available online. I was thinking about my first book of poems, which is out of print ,though I still have copies. (Setting up a simple store to sell those online may be another post topic for another day.) I’d like to give people a taste of my early work and I’d like to republish a few poems that have appeared in obscure print journals or only appear in a book.

WordPress has a block for Verse, so I could just type them onto a page or make a blog post with a poem, but that seemed too limited. I’ve known for quite some time that Instagram poetry is popular, and though I have few illusions about becoming a famous Instagram Poet and earning a mass following, it did seem like a good platform to be on. I also realize that a lot of what passes for poetry on Instagram is more like self-help slogans than poetry, so I could say that as an academic poet I refuse to post poems on social media. On the other hand, ever since I got my start in poetry at the Uptown Poetry Slams at the Green Mill in Chicago, I’ve been in favor of bringing poetry to the streets. I started as a college poet and quickly learned that being pretentious won’t get you very far, so why not take your poems where people are reading poetry?

Common advice, though, is not to post things online for free when you can publish in a literary magazine for a contributor’s copy and a credit for your CV. Once a poem is put online in any format, most magazines will call it ‘published,’ so I plan to only post poems that have been published somewhere already: either in a book or magazine. I may also post a few poems that I don’t plan to send to magazines or that I write specifically for Instagram and my website.

But I have a wealth of poems to draw on from my early work, and I have copies of most of the print journals they were published in. It seemed like this would be a good format to use for an Instagram poetry post. For those where I don’t have print copy like ones published in online journals that no longer exist, I can create an image of the poem either from the book they were in or by taking a screen shot of the file. I could even post a video of me reading a poem or find other creative ways to use the platform. So it makes sense to post poems on Instagram in order to then display them on my Poems page, which will also give me a way to frequently update content on the page.

That left me with a decision, though: should I use my personal Instagram account or should I start a new one just for poetry. I have a Facebook account for myself and a page for me as a poet, so two accounts does make sense. In the end, WordPress helped me make that decision by limiting what I could do.

I went down a rabbit hole trying to see how I could embed Instagram posts on a WordPress page. Ultimately, it’s pretty easy, but what I learned informed my decision on how I wanted to do it. I’ll say right now, I use WordPress Personal. This level is pretty inexpensive and allows me to avoid having ads on my site and lets me have my personal web domain kendalldunkelberg.com. The new Block editor has two ways to interface with Instagram: you can link to a specific post (as I did above), or you can link to an Instagram account and display the latest posts, as I do on my Poems page.

Theoretically, you could use the Custom HTML block to embed content, but Instagram doesn’t provide much in the way of code to embed a feed. I could use a third-party tool that would give me more control over which posts to include, but that is a level of complexity I wasn’t comfortable with. I’m sure I could set it up, but something would inevitably go wrong: the tool I was using might change or disappear, or Instagram could change their policies and the tool might no longer work.

I could also upgrade to WordPress Professional, and for twice my monthly rate, I could link to an Instagram account and filter by hashtag. It’s not that expenive, so that’s what I would probably do if I wanted to keep just one Instagram, but then my poems and my personal photos would all be mixed together. Since it’s cheaper and easier to have a separate poetry Instagram, and since that helps me keep my personal stuff off the poetry account, it seems like the best way to go, at least for now. Professional has other advantages, including a simple store and more control over my theme with custom CSS, so I may end up going that route in the future, though I may also find a better and more cost-effective way to sell a copy or two per month (or per year?) of my out-of-print books, so I will probably stick with WordPress Personal for awhile.

In the end, once I had my Instagram poetry account set up, linking it to my page was fairly simple. I used the Latest Instagram Posts block and entered the address of my account. The only problem I had was that it took a few tries to unlink my personal Instagram account (which I had linked while testing) in order to link the poetry account, so I would recommend setting up the account you want first. You can only link one Instagram account to a WordPress site, so that may influence your options if you want both personal and professional content from Instagram on your site. In that case, I would recommend WordPress Professional or a third-party option for linking to Instagram.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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