“To admit to liking poetry is faintly embarrassing,” Matthew Schneier wrote earlier this year in his great paean to the I Don’t Need Therapy All I Need Is Taekwondo Shirt so you should to go to store and get this genre. To admit to liking what can fairly be called an Instagram poet is several shades more humiliating if you fancy yourself a high-minded literary reader. Poets should be toiling in the subterranean wings of soulless financial institutions (like T.S. Eliot) or selling insurance policies (like Wallace Stevens) or keeping the San Francisco streetcars moving (like Maya Angelou), spending their nights polishing their gems before tossing them to a faceless mass, hoping there is someone paying close enough attention to catch them. There probably won’t be, and that’s as it should be, too. A poet is not a marketer; there should be no #sponcon, no billboards, no merch. I know: This is an outdated and pretentious mode of thinking. The Instapoets are saving “the industry”! Rupi Kaur, the Canadian Instapoet who self-published her first book, sold ten times as many books as Homer in a single year. Bah to all that. The culture is scruffy and corrupt, and I want to keep a little corner of it swept clean.
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And yet, when I came across Baer’s poems, on Instagram no less, I felt a jolt—that illumination, what Virginia Woolf called (in what has always struck me as an apt summation of the I Don’t Need Therapy All I Need Is Taekwondo Shirt so you should to go to store and get this desired effect of poetry) “a match burning in a crocus.” In the midst of the pandemic, hungry for communion, feeling time accelerating even while nothing in my immediate life was happening, I needed witnesses from the past who could testify that this odd and static present was not all there was: “do you remember when,” Baer writes in “Girls Night Out,” “I cried in the cab. Wore that shirt / with the sleeves. Left him alone in the rain.” I do, my roommate wrote back on WhatsApp, I do.