Introduction

Charlie Gere, in his examination of digital culture and the conception of O’Reilly’s “Web 2.0”, acknowledges the rapidity with which digitality has permeated modern life. Indeed, the move towards conducting recreational and work-related activities online reflects what Morales Barba calls an “aluvión digital” (8). In an increasingly ubiquitous digital culture, a generation of Spanish poets has been seen to claim the social media realm as its writing space. Poetry published and disseminated via social media outlets such as Instagram provides readers with not only a “nuevo medio [que] equivale a nueva formación” (Quinto 198) but one that “allows for a better chance at understanding how literature participates in contemporary culture” (Schaefer 179). The years 2020–1 are marked by the Covid-19 global pandemic, during which restrictions on face-to-face interaction and various curtailments of public and shared events have forged an inevitable (and arguably, temporary) move to online operations. This prevention—or at least limitation—of physicality has privileged digitality in today’s society as many facets of work, leisure, and recreational activities are now conducted via, and are dependent on, the Internet. It is nothing new that poetry presents a means of portraying one’s personal experiences. However, this article proffers that these Instapoetas’ work forges connections between reader–users particularly in a period of isolation and uncertainty, providing readers with not only a digital poetry that is sensitive to the current period of immense change during the Covid-19 pandemic but one that pre-empts an uncertainty about the future.

Employing close and comparative textual analysis, this article explores the communicative capabilities of the social media space in conjunction with the digital publishing of poetry and thus will consider the effects of this on the “lectoespectador”1 (Mora). The pervasiveness of the digital space in the developed world is made hyper visible during the coronavirus pandemic. Under this lens, this article explores the ways in which Spanish poets such as Leticia Sala, Elvira Sastre, and Diego Bergasa utilise the digital space to portray and share their own experiences of the pandemic and its associated effects. The importance of examining a poetics that is published and disseminated digitally is underlined not only in Stein’s consideration of the “everywherenicity” of digital poetic modes (94) but also in Vicente Mora’s acknowledgement that we are entering a new, technologically visual civilisation. Vicente Mora’s postulation is only intensified by the current and ongoing pandemic and its restrictions in the Spanish context, where a whole or partial dependence upon the Internet is ever-increasing. Although some recent critical thought is beginning to be geared towards the effects of the pandemic, notably in scientific scholarship (Murphy; Hudson; Qu), there is little written outside of journalistic spheres that considers culture through the lens of the pandemic, linking digitality, poetry, and Covid-19 (although Haosen Xiang and Moon Yi’s study on poetry’s healing power within medicine is particularly informative).

Despite the fact that, according to Thumim, the Internet is “global in its structure”, this enquiry narrows its scope to readers in Spain. In 2020, 96 per cent of Spanish households had access to the Internet, with 39.14 million smartphone users, a figure estimated to rise to 6.8 billion in 2023 (Statistica). According to Statistica’s study involving individuals in Spain of any age who own and use at least one smartphone, between 2018 (pre-pandemic) and 2024 the number of users is predicted to grow by nearly three million to 40.33 million. Tejedor’s comparative study on the rise in smartphone use among students in Spain, Italy, and Ecuador during the Covid-19 pandemic not only cites OECD data to demonstrate that young people “felt lonelier and sadder during this period[,] increasing their exposure to technology and the consumption of digital media”, but also highlights an increased usage of smartphones during the period March–May 2020 (2). Therefore, this article focuses on the experiences of the Spanish Instagram user and reader during the pandemic and the resulting greater dependence on technology and the screen. Of course, a wider coterie of readers could also read the Instapoemas in question, but varying levels of Internet access compels a narrower scope. As such, this article will explore these links in the context of Spain, understanding that a move towards digitality in publishing, disseminating, and promoting poetic work is further endorsed in a pandemic-stricken society, on the part of both poet and reader–user.

Digital Literature and the Covid-19 Pandemic

At the time of writing, a simple Internet search for “coronavirus” brings readers a plethora of technologically facilitated information. Case maps, figures, graphs, symptom lists, rate data, amended minute by minute, are all framed by local and health authority’s social media posts, intended to quickly disseminate rapidly changing information. On 25 October 2020 the Spanish government declared a nationwide State of Emergency that included an obligatory national overnight curfew and provided regional governments with legal powers to impose further mobility restrictions in their region if deemed necessary. Such restrictions have increased our reliance on the Internet. Indeed, we find ourselves in what Mitchell coins the “smartphone age”, a notion complemented by Baron’s conception of the “always-on” lifestyle, where the digital space permeates contemporary culture. During his Peers Annual Lecture at the University of Liverpool in 2017, the great poeta de la experiencia Luis García Montero contemplated how Spanish lyricists are beginning to search for “their own space”. This new space is mediated by technology, where social media is seen as an increasingly—though not wholly—accessible form of literature in contemporary Spain.

In line with Vilariño Picos’ understanding of technology as the provider of both an interactive and a social space, David Bell’s research notes the symbiosis found in how modern technology is socially shaped, just as modern social interactions can, on the other hand, be digitally influenced. Initial efforts towards documenting and analysing electronic literature were made by N. Katherine Hayles in the seminal Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, where first-generation digital literature is acknowledged as hypertextual—merging graphic elements such as imagery with texts—and functioning in concert with “paradigms established in print” (2). Following on from Hayles’ formulation of generational e-literature, Christopher Funkhouser explored the kinetic and multimedia possibilities of digital literature, focusing on web-based digital poetry and emerging platforms in conjunction with contemporary electronic or digital literature.

Scholarship of this nature is also enjoying relative success and vitality in Spain’s contemporary field. Contributions from Sánchez-Mesa, Vicente Mora and García Landa on global, digital publishing and the characteristics of cyberliterature are innovative and important—studies which not only serve to emphasise the interdisciplinary nature of this poetic phenomenon and the digital sphere itself but highlight the ways in which digitality is receiving substantial critical attention in the Spanish context. More specific to publishing via social media platforms, Fanjul and Pequeño Glazier both produce digital poems and theoretical texts that analyse the effects of this genre on the contemporary reader. Notions of interactivity, participation, and sociality that underpin the foundations of social networking sites make this environment an interesting focal point for analysing digital poetry. Researchers interested in new media poetics are keen to underline the ways in which so-called “digital textuality”—primarily signifying literary texts created, published, and/or facilitated by the digital environment—“cannot be separated from the delivery vehicles that produce it” (Hayles 186). Digital poetic texts are under significant critical scrutiny, with particular emphasis on the opportunities afforded by multimodality and the combination of poetic verse with visual or audio-visual imagery—coined “mediamorphosis” by Roger Fidler in 1997. While some (see Hayles) see digitality transform texts from “object” to “event”, others prefer to view this technological space as, like literature in print, just “another gathering ground of poesis” (128). The idea that a fundamental change has occurred as a result of an ever-advancing technological landscape is undoubtable, however.

While digital or electronic literature is a continuously expanding field, having been the subject of interpretation and analysis over the course of the last twenty years, social media poetry (or more specific to this article, Instagram poetry) is a reasonably new genre within the field of digital literature. The emergence of poetry published specifically via the Instagram outlet has gained significant attention in both academic and journalistic circles, highlighted in John Maher’s 2018 article “Can Instagram make poems sell again?” where Maher reflects on the question of “poetry’s waning influence over the public sphere” in a pre-social media period.

The specific social media platform Instagram is this article’s focal point, although there is a rich, emergent landscape of literature disseminated and published via other social media outlets: Facebook (2004–), Twitter (2006–), YouTube (2005–), as well as the lesser-used Tumblr (2007–), Pinterest (2010–), Snapchat (2011–), and TikTok (2016–), makes up a non-definitive list of platforms that comprise the current state of O’Reilly’s “Web 2.0,” all with varying capabilities and characteristics, but all with the aforementioned share-driven logic of social media itself. Instagram is a social media application that privileges visuality. The photo sharing site was first created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger and launched in 2010. According to Jon Mitchell, “the point of Instagram, just as much as taking photos, is finding new photos”. Mitchell expands: “the simple mechanisms of liking and commenting provide great fun and feedback. It’s a new kind of network that’s perfect for the smartphone age.” After its launch in 2010, Instagram rapidly gained popularity, with one million registered users in two months, 18 million in a year, and 800 million as of September 2017, figures which serve to underline Gere’s understanding of the expeditious changes occurring concurrently in the digital sphere, evidenced in its continuous growth of users, likes, shares, and followers.

With the opportunities afforded by the convergence of verse with visual and audio-visual imagery and multimodal graphologies such as hashtagging—discussed later in the article in relation to specific case studies—Instagram is an interesting stage for the analysis of poetry and its operation within contemporary culture. Overall, the fundamental objectives of Instagram—communication, sharing, providing feedback—are pertinent to understanding the ways in which the contemporary poet employs social media for publishing their literature. Considering terms such as “Instapoetry” and “Instapoet” (in Spanish Instapoesía and Instapoeta), along with the addition of the prefix “Insta” to the Collins Online Dictionary in 2017, we can see that this literary phenomenon is forming an important element in contemporary digital literary discourse (Bagué Quílez). A fundamental social dynamic at play on Instagram is, according to the studies of Seargeant and Tagg, “the building and maintenance of networked relationships” (12). The ability of readers in this digital space to interact with each other through commenting and “direct messaging” capabilities, as well as with the poet themselves by liking and sharing poem-posts, forges connections that overcome spatial distance, heightening the possibilities for interaction between poets, readers, and users. In this way the reader can become an active user of and participant in online poetry, as will be demonstrated by the following case studies.

Leticia Sala—“Tears on a mask”

Leticia Sala is a prominent Spanish poet who often operates online. Although Sala has published in print, and so it cannot be said that her work is confined solely to the social media space, it is nevertheless clear that her work is dedicated to digitality and forms a compelling example of Instapoesía as an emerging branch of digital poetry. Indeed, in apparent affirmation of Bagué Quílez’s “lenguaje informático”, or David Crystal’s study on the eclectic graphology of writing in the online space, Sala is a poet who appropriates certain digital textual schema into her poetry.

For instance, Sala’s contracted verse adopts an abbreviation, BFF, a characteristic posited by linguists such as Crystal as increasingly common in digital texts in Figure 1.2 Arguably, the informal tone reads less as poetry and more as a message to a friend or a social media broadcast, where the recipient (in this case, the Instalector or reader) is both invited into the poet’s confidence and simultaneously left to decode the abbreviation. The notion of “infinity” appears extensively in the academic discourse surrounding the digital age; a nod to the plethora of texts already available online as well as the innumerable creative possibilities afforded to the writer by the digital medium (Stein; Goldsmith; Pequeño Glazier). And yet, where the concept of “infinity” is relative to Goldsmith’s conception of the “infinite possibilities” of the digital medium (24), infinity can also be connected contextually to the uncertainty experienced by poets and readers alike in the times of Covid-19. That which philologist Chris Perriam determines as an “awareness of the open-endedness of these new poetic enterprises” (199) in relation to contemporary digitality is seen reflected in the current social landscape precipitated by Covid-19, as well as many unanswered questions concerning the future, or, in Haosen Xiang and Moon Yi’s study, “the path forward”.

An Instagram poem by Leticia Sala with the verse ‘el infinito es mi bff.’
Figure 1 

@leti.sala.3

According to Haosen Xiang and Moon Yi, “during this pandemic, the dangers of loneliness and social isolation cannot be ignored” (603). McMillen, in his comprehensive study of the effects of both epidemics and pandemics on society, also understands that “fear and dread characterise epidemics … it arrives as a frightening and exotic invader” (4). In a period characterised by social quarantine, the screen has become the medium through which users interact with the world. Gane and Beer postulate that social media allows for writers to connect with their readership and produce a “virtual space in which collective solutions can be sought to seemingly personal and private problems” (53). Perhaps solutions to personal problems or social isolation, for example, arising from the quarantine and the coronavirus pandemic are not always proffered by contemporary, digital writers: this line of thought is, nevertheless, in keeping with Yochai Benkler’s conception of cyberliterature as precipitating “participatory culture”, a space of experience-sharing during a period of immense social upheaval in Spain.4

On 20 October 2020 Leticia Sala posted a series of clipped pieces of writing in which the reference to “tears on a mask” forms a direct reference to the pandemic (Figure 2). As in the previous Figure, Sala employs the English and Spanish languages interchangeably, a decision that, on the one hand, might alienate a native Hispanic reader, replicating certain emotional effects of the quarantine, and, on the other, serve to share this experience with a broader online audience. Goldsmith posits that, though the materiality of language is foregrounded in the electronic space, the medium nevertheless “allow[s] only varying levels of emotion or sense to come through” (18). Focusing on the materiality of language allows researchers to examine language in context: thus one can “focus on formal qualities as well as communicative ones, viewing it as a substance that moves and morphs through its various states and digital and textual ecosystems” (20). In this way can the digital reading process become not only one characterised by freedom of interpretation but one arguably also of difficulty, reflecting the experience of many during the Covid-19 pandemic.

An Instagram post by Leticia Sala showing 5 Tweets in succession, one reading 'ayer vi un caballo galopar' and another reading 'tears on a mask.'
Figure 2 

@leti.sala.

The following verse solidifies this line of thought. “Ayer vi un caballo galopar” is deceptively simple in its linguistic range, probably owing to the character limit of the medium—what linguist Crystal understands as the physical constraints of the screen serving as a limiting effect on Internet graphology. Textually, the Instagram user reads of a horse galloping, with its connotations of liberty in the outdoors, of space, and of freedom. The reader, living in social quarantine, is met with this devastating contrast. Heimes’ study on poetry therapy postulates that “the introspective writing that poetry fosters also offers patients an opportunity to reflect on their lives, enabling them to accept their situation with poise and peace” (2). By presenting readers with such explicit fantasies, it appears as though Sala is also, uncomfortably or not, forcing readers to confront and reflect on their current situation.

Alternatively, we may also conceive of a desperation in this clipped micropoem, creating the “tears on a mask”. Austin and Foxworthy’s studies on equine symbolism find a rich panorama of interpretations applicable to Sala’s poem. “Caballo”, slang for heroin in the Spanish language, the figurative representation of the horse, can often, in literary works, present readers with a figure emblematic of drugs, of death, of despair. In some ways, the galloping horse here may function as a means for the Instapoeta, and in turn the reader, to evade the reality of their experience of the pandemic, to reside in a figuratively lawless limbo and identify and communicate with others online. Spanish poet Blanca Andreu’s verse contains recurring and jarring imagery of horses—“Di que querías ser caballo esbelto” and “Fábula de la fuente y el caballo” both portray a horse character, a figure that represents a culmination of the themes that Andreu’s work openly tackles, as confirmed in an interview with Juana Salabert for El Pais: “las drogas, la infancia, y el paso del tiempo”. Overall, therefore, we can interpret Sala as following in Andreu’s poetic footsteps, employing the horse as a protagonist that confronts one’s desire to escape reality. In both interpretations, the Instapoeta nevertheless shares a deeply personal but extrapolated experience with her readers, sharing in their “tears on a mask”.

The aforementioned conciseness of such a text supports Ernest Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory”, where the physical constraints of the screen provoke a shorter poetic style that constitutes Hemingway’s celebration of a minimalist style, otherwise known as a “vignette” (Smith, 82). In producing a shorter poetic style, the contemporary Instapoeta is both limited and “dignified” by the medium, as the focus on surface elements allows the reader to become more involved in the “action” of the text (Giger). Although Giger, just as Hemingway, understands that such a minimalist style can be problematic to both the writing and reading processes, it is the “special quality of incompleteness”, embodied by the metaphor of the iceberg, that not only involves the reader in “the action” by providing them with the agency to interpret the text but also allows the text to become identifiable with the reader (54). This quality of approachability has, as Haosen Xiang and Moon Yi would argue, never seemed so important as during the current global crisis. Indeed, reader-response critic Bronwen Thomas understands not only the difficulty for researchers to understand the ways in which the digital reader (who may not even consider themselves a reader, rather a user) identifies with a text in the digital space but also “the fact that online spaces provide a means for readers to come together and establish a strong collective presence [that] certainly facilitates a sense of community and collective power” (191). In Sala’s text, Thomas’ “collective” power attributed to the digital reader is aided not only by the centrality or approachability of the theme and linguistic choices, but also by the freedom of interpretation afforded to the reader by virtue of its “micro”-ness (Sellers).

As evidence of this “sense of community”—heightened in a pandemic-stricken society that privileges the digital space—the comment section of Figure 3 exemplifies the ways in which certain capabilities of the social media space facilitate conversation between a poet’s readership and, at times, between writer and reader.5 Again, Sala’s writing is characterised by its conversational tone, prevalent in both the social media environment and Corral Cañas’ notion of the “cercanía” propagated between reader and writer in digital literature (309). Sala’s direct reference to “el registro tan nuevo” of “la pandemia” and a “falta de paz” resonates with her readership, again sharing her own experience of the pandemic. Indeed, the readers’ comments—“me siento muy identificada” and “me acabas de hacer sentir mucho mejor”—epitomise the argument of this article, where the detrimental effects of social isolation appear to be lessened through “experience-sharing” (Strevehoc 83).

An Instagram post by Leticia Sala, a photograph of foliage and trees in background, green verse covering the image citing 'mi insatisfacción o falta de paz interior actual es por la pandemia.'
Figure 3 

@leti.sala.

Elvira Sastre—#ColumnasDeLibertad

Like Leticia Sala, Elvira Sastre is a poet who operates online and receives substantial support. Benjamín Prado wrote the prologue to Sastre’s La soledad de un cuerpo acostumbrado a la herida (2016). Meanwhile, according to the blurb of Baluarte (2014), for poeta de la experiencia Luis García Montero “la poesía de Elvira Sastre es una apuesta verdadera, más allá de modas”. Sastre’s poetry often portrays personal experiences, being thematically linked with love and relationships. On 21 January 2021 the poet was commissioned by La Prohibida Cider to write as part of their #ColumnasDeLibertad initiative (Figure 4).6

An Instagram post by Elvira Sastre, with the text ‘paid partnership with La Prohibida Cider,’ and hashtag, columnas de libertad.
Figure 4 

@elvirasastre.

The reader–user is first met with the technologically appropriated hashtag (#) columnas de libertad, which only serves to solidify that the notion of freedom, as in Sala’s writing, is imbued within current cultural thought. When discussing Internet linguistics, it is useful to include some discussion of the hashtag (#). A metadata tag widely used in microblogging and on social media platforms, the hashtag is a user-generated device for tagging that enables cross-referencing of content that shares a theme or subject. Hashtags employed through social media platforms such as Instagram are usually used to categorise posts by adopting a keyword relevant to the photo-post. In the context of this composition, Sastre often adopts the hashtag to signpost readers to her print publications. The hashtags #aquellaorillanuestra, #adiósalfrio, and #baluarte are prevalent in Sastre’s feed. This is a strategic example of Duffy and Hund’s conception of “creative self-enterprise” that not only connects Sastre’s readers (or followers) to each other but also guides them to her print works available to purchase—a way in which she utilises the medium to her own self-promotive advantage. However, the digital poet also adopts hashtags for less performative functions. It is clear that this La Prohibida Cider post is a paid promotion, underlining the multifaceted role of the poet in the social media space, as Sastre becomes writer, translator, communicator, and businessperson. While there is no explicit link in the company’s press release to the pandemic, the discourse of freedom is nevertheless relevant to the period in which the campaign was launched. In this particular Figure, the reader can search the hashtags (#) for more on the #ColumnasDeLibertad initiative or select the tagged La Prohibida Cider to “follow” the initiative or view fellow follower’s profiles. Here, the medium can be seen to provide a level of freedom to the reader, strengthening Bagué Quílez’s conception of digital poetry as offering “santuario”.

Bagué Quílez also likens the digital reader to a “flâneur de Baudelaire”, a term symbolising the freedom afforded to the reader through the virtual environment of Instagram (“Atrapados en la Red” 334). Baudelaire’s “flâneur” is usually identified as the dilletante observer of urban life, one who “walks the city in order to experience it”, an “amateur detective” or a “passionate wanderer” (Stephen). An essential part of nineteenth-century European culture and modernism, Baudelaire’s figure of the flâneur can be applied in the contemporary, digital context, as flâneur become flâneurs, from “local community to global one”. Where an aimless wandering of the physical city is restricted, or even prohibited – especially with others—during the Covid-19 pandemic, the digital realm becomes a space in which users can “wander the depths of the Internet” and communicate with wanderers alike. The contemporary reader is permitted to explore the poetry on social media without constraints, as they can, according to Strevehoc, enter a new world of poetry, escaping the realities of “fear and dread” (83).

It is not only through their poetry that these digital poets reference the pandemic. Indeed, captions alongside the body of the poem and comments form a noteworthy part of the digital text (Crystal). Coupled with the image in Figure 5 of Sastre herself looking down and wearing a mask, the poet writes “me siento atrapada”, a confessional affirmation that not only appears to portray Sastre’s personal experience of the pandemic but also corroborates readers’ experiences of societal uncertainty. In another ratification of Rodríguez-Gaona’s “catarsis”, the caption, like Sala’s texts, reads more as an informal message to a friend or diary composition, in some ways privileging the reader by making them privy to this personal text (95). Where Sastre is seen to harness her emotions through the digital space, readers will, in turn, feel justified, “enabling them to accept their situation with poise and peace” and feel less isolated (Heimes 2). Sastre’s reference to “días sin fin” replicates the social uncertainty previously mentioned in relation to both the pandemic and the “infinity” of the digital space. Sastre is pictured standing in front of the mural in an Instagram post, demonstrating the multimodal affordances proffered by the social media space, as the poet offers a visual and textual representation of her personal experience.

An Instagram post by Elvira Sastre: a photograph of Elvira wearing a mask, in front of a mural painted with healthcare professionals holding hands.
Figure 5 

@elvirasastre.

Poesía en tu sofá—“Mediamorphosis” in Instapoesía

Previous discussion of Instapoemas as a digital poesis that allows user–readers to interact, participate, and share experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns underlines the interactive qualities of the social media space, with open comment sections and the adoption of hashtags allowing viewers to seek further information and the opportunity to comment on a poet’s piece.7 However, a notable technological affordance offered to contemporary poets in this digital realm is decidedly the opportunity to harness multimodal exhibitions of their poetic work. While in the contemporary age we are living “en una civilización de la imagen”, the Instagram account @poesiaentusofa employs the multimedia capabilities of the social media space to “enrich” this poetic work (Mora).

Given the rich oral tradition of poetry explored by critics such as Perriam and Cullell, the relationship between sound and poetry is just as embedded in literary history as visual imagery. That said, the ease with which contemporary poets can create what Óscar Martín Centeno describes as a “híbrida” multimedia poetry, given the technological capabilities of social media applications such as Instagram, remains a salient line of enquiry in this article. In his missive on Verse in the Digital Age, Kevin Stein postulated that: “In e-literature’s fondness for image as well as wordplay, for sound as well as silence, one encounters a multi-sensory form” (116). To describe writing in the online space, Amerika also coined the term “Designwriting”, underlining the opportunity to merge different modalities in a singular text in the digital field. Indeed, he theorises that digital writers are afforded “a model of language practise that purposely blurs the distinctions between image and text, page and screen, sonic and visual, publication and exhibition” (409). Audio-visual recitals published by @poesiaentusofa serve as evidence of these “blurred distinctions”, where, rather than reading verse, a contemporary Instalector can simply click “play” on a recital video and listen (Figure 6). In many ways, like the complementary addition of imagery previously mentioned, sound has the potential to enhance a poetic product as well as the “reading” process itself. During a period of sustained social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown in Spain, Spanish poets united to present their work in online poetry recitals and slam competitions through accounts such as “SlamTalks”, the “Inverfest 2021” festival, and, specific to this article, “Poesía en tu sofá” (@poesiaentusofa), filling the gap that physical social events left behind. Recitals were coordinated and transmitted, line-ups advertised, and Instagram “countdowns” and posters published before the events. These digital events allow attendance, communication and interaction that goes beyond the potential limits of physical company, thus heightening at least the possibilities for this kind of interplay.

Home page of the Instagram account @poesiaentusofa, highlighting 35.9K followers and a group of advertising posters of various Spanish poets.
Figure 6 

@poesiaentusofa.

Figure 7 demonstrates Elvira Sastre’s involvement with the Poesía en tu sofá initiative. Self-reflective references to the pandemic and its effects are recurring: “ya que todos estamos aislados” and repeated references to “nuestro confinamiento” and “los momentos en que estamos viviendo” ground the electronic poetry recital in context; a period where a dependence on digitality is strikingly prominent. The affordance of the Instagram space, initially intended for sharing photos but whose capabilities quickly grew to include video forms, allows poets the opportunity to engage with their readership by opening an auditive and poetic dialogue that differs, in form, from previous Instapoema exemplars. Here, the social media space allows for writers to create a multifaceted and multi-discursive poetry, enabling poets such as Elvira Sastre to share her “miedo” to express that “me gusta sentirme libre” and to discuss “las despedidas” during a period of immense cultural and social change through text, video recitals, and “Instagram live” audio-visual events. As in previous case studies, the informal tone employed (adopting the “tú” form), coupled with body language—hands clasped together or used to blow kisses to the audience—perpetuate a sense of togetherness, where listening to the poet’s voice presents readers with a new conception of contemporary literature. This line of thought is especially reminiscent of the critical scholarship of Vicente Mora, as he theorises that, in the digital age, “debemos entender que el lenguaje acepta una acepción más amplia que la de lengua” (68).

A still image of a poetry recital by Elvira Sastre via Instagram Live. Elvira looks at the camera as she reads her poetry.
Figure 7 

@poesiaentusofa Elvira Sastre poetry recital.

As Elvira Sastre is able to gaze down the lens of the camera, figuratively viewing her audience just as she is being viewed, we can conceive of a multidirectional dialogue between poet and reader, between Instagram broadcaster and viewer, in which she is able to introduce—with no caption character limits—the themes, content, and ideas behind her texts. Of course, the understanding of this exchange as conversational dialogue is nuanced. As Sastre asks “qué tal?” she is aware that her audience are unable to respond audibly—however, as in previous Figures, they are able to “like” or comment on the video in real time. Ultimately, the digital space of Instagram is seen to foster Roger Fidler’s process of “mediamorphosis”, where the merging of different artistic modes, although not always exhibited, is changing our conception of what constitutes the literary (Stein 127). As the @poesiaentusofa becomes a temporary replacement for in-person poetry events in Spain, contemporary digital writers such as Elvira Sastre channel multimedia affordances of the digital medium to share their work and connect with their readership during a particularly tumultuous period.

Diego Bergasa: “más sonrisas y menos mascarillas”

According to Graham and Dutton, “the Internet weaves the fabric of our lives”, the digital space having become the “backbone of all activities in all domains” (i). The ubiquity of the Internet in the developed world’s “smartphone age”— and the number of smartphone users in Spain was on the rise during the Covid-19 pandemic—is pertinent to understanding readers’ interaction with the social media space (Statistica). Diego Bergasa, writing under the social media handle @tucuerpoenverso, is another poet that utilises the social media space to present the “fabric of [his] life”. New Year’s Resolutions are usually intensely personal goals (Alpaio, Liu & Mata). Here Bergasa, like Sala and Sastre, allows the reader to enter a “new world” from the poet’s perspective, amplifying the notion that the digital medium becomes an interesting site for experience-sharing (Strevehoc). Within Figure 8, the resolution is explicit in its wishes for “más sonrisas” and “menos mascarillas”. In a society characterised visually by compulsory mask-wearing, Bergasa not only externalises his “private problems” but replicates those of his readership (Gane and Beer). Moreover, in a similar vein to Goldsmith’s postulation of the “infinite possibilities” afforded by the digital space and its previously forged link with the precarity surrounding digitality, Bergasa’s employment of the subjunctive mood “tenga” replicates this uncertainty, expressing a wish or desire that does not serve to proffer solutions to these problems (of “loneliness and social isolation”, as in Haosen Xiang and Moon Yi’s study) but rather shares such disquietude and nostalgia for pre-pandemic life. Indeed, Haosen Xiang and Moon Yi note that poetry during a pandemic provides both “a look back and a path forward”, a line of thought concretely affirmed in Bergasa’s poem. Looking to the year ahead, 2021, by reflecting on the pandemic during the previous year characterises what these critics understand to be “the healing power” of poetry in a pandemic.

An Instagram post by @tucuerpoenverso, an all white background and just the verse 'Objetivo 2021: Que el mundo tenga más sonrisas y menos mascarillas.'
Figure 8 

@tucuerpoenverso.

The recent emergence of so-called “lockdown or Covid poetry” or “poesía en en estado de alarma” (Popa; Fox; Lucas) presents an exploration of poets’ personal experiences of the pandemic in a poetry written with the purposes of sharing and interaction in mind. What is more, where critics are seeing this emerging literary phenomenon disseminated in the social media space, the communicative and aforementioned sharing possibilities are only heightened. In the context of Bergasa’s poem, Objetivo 2021, the digital medium affords readers, as previously mentioned, the opportunity to comment on the piece and even reply directly to the poet’s comment. Interestingly, Bergasa chooses to comment from his personal account (where @tucuerpoenverso forms his poetic repertoire), a facet that only serves to heighten the sense of relation between poet and readership. Of course, not all poets will harness this function and respond to all readers; rather, the digital medium provides the opportunity to “immediately” communicate with the author—as we can see in the Figure with the response “quererme más” to the open question “¿cuál es tu objetivo 2021?” made available by the online space.8

Rodríguez-Gaona’s “aproximación a la poesía digital” forms a framework that understands the contemporary, digital poet to also be “influencer y community manager poético” (52). Understanding digital writers as gaining a high profile online quantitatively—that is, through gaining and maintaining “followers” among their readership—is imperative to exploring the fundamentals of electronic literature. Where qualities of sharing and interaction are propagated as expectations in developing social media culture, we might expect to see that writers are also able to bolster their own readership or “network community”. Indeed, the very term “social media” exemplifies what Van Dijck understands to be “user centred platforms”, where digital creators “can be seen as online facilitators or enhancers of human networks—webs of people that promote connectedness as a social value” (11). In this way our digital poets are seen also as a kind of “community manager poético”, where Bergasa’s questioning “¿cuál es tu objetivo 2021?” is deliberately inducing user interaction and sharing (Bagué Quílez 52). Here, Chris Perriam’s nod to the “open-endedness” of such poetic enterprises resonates in Bergasa’s text, where the poet looks to the future ahead, coaxing readers to join him in considering “the path forward” not only in a society overcoming a public health crisis but also given the implications of this reliance on digitality in contemporary literature in general (Haosen Xiang and Moon Yi). Indeed, while Escandell-Montiel posits that the pandemic “ha mutilado el tejido del espacio creativo,” the question remains whether this change will be long-lasting in the literary field (1).

As Bergasa interacts with his readers, he also—as in the other case studies—employs informal language, evinced in the adoption of the “tú” form in Spanish, a subject pronoun indicating a kind of relational intimacy. This “habla cotidiana” is, according to Rodríguez-Gaona, one of “cercanía” (72). The adoption of the “heart” emoji is an interesting (and digital) alternative for physical contact, similar to Sastre’s blowing kisses to the audience in her audio-visual Instagram recitals. Some critical thought engages with the notion that digitality can serve to alienate readers, reminiscent of Goldsmith’s conjecture that digital language “allow[s] only varying levels of emotion of sense to come through” (18). That said, in considering linguistic schema propagated by social media, Barach, Feldman and Sheridan also understand that “emojis have many functions that support reading” (1). In their seminal article, the extent to which social media has permeated contemporary linguistics is evident in the neologism “emojified text”. While Crystal’s comprehensive linguistic study critiques this notion, acknowledging that “Internet exchanges lack the facial expressions, gestures and conventions of body posture and distance …” (23), Barach, Feldman, and Sheridan’s more recent theoretical study posits that they effectively “convey semantic information” in their study tracking eye movement during the reading of emojified text (1). Clearly there remains critical debate surrounding this linguistic phenomenon. However, relative to this form of Instapoema, it can be argued that Corral Cañas’ conception of “cercanía” provided by digitality is fortified by a linguistic and stylistic replacement for the traditional social relationship in the digital space during a period where physicality is either restricted or prohibited. In considering this “cercanía”, this article can also return to the affordances of the digital medium as facilitating and even heightening the possibilities of this replacement for physicality. Indeed, the digital medium, as previously mentioned, allows for social relationships to develop and to evade certain spatial or geographical limitations, thus broadening the potential community.

Conclusion

The Spanish poets considered in this article have found in the social media space an effective medium through which to publish and disseminate their work, while also connecting with their readership. It is evident that the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have restricted physicality, and subsequently privileged online operations. In this culture, some digital poets are harnessing the interactive qualities of social media platforms such as Instagram to portray their personal experiences of the pandemic, employing colloquial language that at times is technologically appropriated with hashtags, abbreviations, and emojis, and coupled with visual imagery. User–readers are met with a multimodal poetry that is transmuted into a tool for sharing and communicating in a period of isolation and uncertainty. This kind of poetry has the potential to assist readers in navigating the changing social fabric of today, as well as pose important questions about the future of (digital) literature. In the spirit of Haosen Xiang and Moon Yi’s research, this literary phenomenon not only allows for reflection, or “a look back”, but also prompts readers (and scholars) to consider “the path forward” in relation to contemporary literature’s thematic devices, emotional undercurrents, and digital dissemination.