Why you should care
Because this is about engaging through art instead of scrolling past endless updates.
When we think of connecting with others online, we tend to think of the usual Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. But when we think of really expressing ourselves and making meaningful connections — beyond the forgotten friends, mere acquaintances and casual enemies — the usual social media platforms can fall flat. And that’s especially true for Gen Zers and millennials. It’s no secret that Facebook is bleeding users, with the highest casualty being in the 12-34 age category. Younger generations in particular are looking for new ways to connect over shared passions.
One of these ways is poetry. Poetizer, a new social media platform, is connecting its users through verse. Aiming to be a positive, metaphysical alternative to the existing platforms, Poetizer is what co-founder Lukas Sedlacek calls “a safe space” online for creative expression and connection. In contrast to traditional social media, Sedlacek explains, poetry as a platform allows us to see what unites us as humans struggling to make sense of the world around us. And his social media experiment is catching on.
Sedlacek, himself a poet, first came up with the idea for Poetizer while sitting in Prague’s Stromovka Park, penning some lines and thinking about the role and needs of modern poets. Because poetry tends to be shorter than most written texts, it’s a natural communication method, he explains. But the short format also “enables and encourages clarity” when it comes to expressing complex issues and emotions, and our perception of the world. Sedlacek worked with his spouse, Johana Sedlackova Vamberska, to create a basic poetry-sharing app, and within several months, the user base reached 15,000 users in the Czech Republic — despite lack of promotion. This success convinced the couple to turn it into a social media platform.
You can also leave comments and like poems (but not dislike them — Poetizer is about being positive).
Poetizer launched in November 2018 and can be accessed via computer or app. After 12 months, it’s reached a user base of over 60,000 users in 120 countries, mainly from the U.S. To date, over 500,000 poems have been contributed (more than 35,000 are added each month). Fifty six percent of users are aged 18-24, followed by 27% in the 25-34 range.
Which isn’t that surprising when you realize that young Americans are really into poetry — reading twice as much in 2017 as in 2012, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. In the U.K., poetry book purchases by younger readers hit record highs in 2018. Social media has been a strong driver — in particular the popularity of instapoets like Amanda Lovelace and Rupi Kaur, who has almost 3.5 million followers. Poetry is gaining attraction globally, Sedlacek says, and people are using it “to voice all kinds of relevant societal, gender, economic, racial, religious and other issues.”
The Poetizer platform is quite simple. Users can create profiles or post anonymously. There’s no character limit — that’s good news if you’re into epic verse. You can add tags, as well as search by words, tags and author. You can also leave comments and like poems (but not dislike them — Poetizer is about being positive). And although you can be a lurker, Sedlacek says that everyone is “encouraged to write” to fully join the community.
Stephan Delbos, 36, an internationally published poet and literary critic based in Prague, has been using the app for several months. He says he’s impressed with the variety of work from a wide range of voices on Poetizer and sees it as a “promising social media channel” for writers. However, he adds, the minimalist site design, combined with the news-feed style of presentation “attracts a specific type of writer and a specific type of poem” — mainly short and observational. But he adds that these issues are more due to the realities of the technology itself.
Of course there are myriad ways poets can share their words online, the closest to Poetizer being Hello Poetry — however, it has ads (Poetizer does not). Poetizer is unique in the space for being “truly multilingual and so sophisticated in terms of software, writing tools and design,” adds Sedlacek.
That design is built and maintained by a team of 15 volunteers — mostly based in Prague. Sedlacek insists that the free app (donations accepted via the website) will remain ad-free and nothing is sold to third parties. The team is focusing on gaining the next round of investment so they can add more features like editorial support for new poets and publishing and marketing services for seasoned poets.
Will poetry sharing replace the social media stalwarts as the younger generation’s preferred platform for communication? Likely not — it’s still a relatively small community — but at least it’s an alternative. That Poetizer’s connections “are mediated through poetry means that they will be inherently different from those typically available on other social media platforms,” says Delbos. “That in itself is a success.”
In today’s era of Photoshop and fake news, “more and more of us seek truth,” Sedlacek says. And while poetry has been around for as long as there have been words, the 21st century can certainly use all the art it can get.