Prague, Czech Republic – This week, Kafkadesk spoke with Lukas Sedlacek, founder and managing director of the first social media in the world entirely dedicated to poetry, Poetizer, born in the Czech Republic.
“A few years ago, I was in Prague’s Stromovka park and scribbled some poetry lines. Well, wrote them on my phone actually, for lack of anything else”, Lukas Sedlacek, a Prague-born amateur poet told me. “Once I came home, I started thinking about what to do with my poem: post it on Facebook or Instagram? Didn’t seem appropriate. Write it in a notebook? Why not, but I also wanted to share it with other people.”
The first poetic social media in the world
And Poetizer was born. Well, almost. “That’s when I realized there may be a lot of people out there who, like me, enjoy reading and writing poetry, but didn’t know what to do with it; people who were passionate about poetry but who weren’t being published, and didn’t feel comfortable posting it on social media for all their friends, acquaintances or colleagues to see”.
That’s when Lukas decided to launch Poetizer, the world’s first social media dedicated to poetry. “At first, we launched Poetizer just as an app, for fun, just to try. But we quickly realized that people spent a lot of time on our platform and were even starting to organize events and meetings in real life!”
That was the signal: it was time to take it up a notch. Along with his wife Johana, who was just finishing her Russian and East European studies at Oxford, Lukas brought Poetizer to a whole new level: in November 2018, a wholly new interface with an integrated web platform was launched and started to rapidly spread in the U.S. and other Western countries.
“In the United States alone, research shows that 12% of the population is interested in writing and reading poetry. That’s nearly 40 million people! There’s a huge potential audience, including in other English-speaking countries, like Canada and the U.K.”. All the research points to one growing trend, mainly driven by the young, digital-savvy millennials: poetry is in, probably more than it has ever been.
“Before Poetizer, the most popular way to post your poems and reach out to a wide audience was Instagram. But people grew tired and dissatisfied: if you wanted to post a poem on Instagram, you had to take a picture of it, present it in a nice and catchy way. It was more about the image than the content; it didn’t help you unleash your creativity, as poetry should”.
Poetizer: Where poetry gets social
Poetizer aims to provide a safe-space for people to post their poetry and express themselves with honesty, without the fear of being judged or insulted; a place where people can talk about anything, their daily joys and existential depressions, their intimate fears and personal yearnings; a social media devoid of all the negativity associated with other popular platforms. Isn’t this exactly the perfect place for Internet trolls and so-called ‘haters’ to unleash their poison? “Honestly, it doesn’t happen that much. And when it does, we have very efficient reporting and screening mechanisms to quickly delete any kind of hateful and negative comments”.
“All the data shows that users see the main social media platforms, like Facebook, as a source of stress and anxiety. Our goal is to take the opposite stance and, above all, respect our users. That’s also one of the reasons why we refuse to put the standard advertising model on our app as on other social media platforms (reading poetry and seeing a random ad, seriously?) and are adamant about refusing to sell information about our users to third-parties.”
Like Cambridge Analytica… “Yes, everyone was surprised and shocked about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but the users gave them permission in their user terms to sell their info to third parties, so why the surprise? That’s something we refuse to do. We reject anything that could pollute the platform and hamper our users’ creative drive”.
How does Poetizer work?
A look at the Poetizer platform shows exactly what he means: powered by a minimalist and stripped-down design, Poetizer showcases only one thing: the poems of its users, the choice of words, the structure, its melody and its rhymes. “Poetizer is like any other social media”, Lukas emphasized, “only for poetry: the words are king”.
On Poetizer, you can choose to be anonymous or use your full name; you can scroll through the more than 150.000 poems already out there, research them by hashtag and author, find the ones you like, and choose to follow some users. You can decide to write your own or simply read other people’s work and comment on the poems you particularly enjoyed. Almost painfully simple. “We’re also considering new updates on the platform, including introducing a private messaging feature”.
The breeding-ground for tomorrow’s poets?
“Ultimately, our goal is to help our users and anyone who’s serious about poetry gain more fame, more visibility, and why not, get published. All we want to do is to make it easier for people to get their poems read – if they want to – and empower them, in the most transparent way possible, to write poetry”, Lukas explained.
Today, Poetizer boasts over 40.000 users, with the majority of them located in the United States but also thousands scattered around 120 different countries, including non-native English-speaking nations half-way around the world, like India or the Philippines.
A digital academy for future poets? “Why not? In time, we’d like to help our users make a living out of writing poetry.”
Poetry and social media: an unlikely marriage?
As soon as I heard about Poetizer, one question popped into my mind: Aren’t there people who would consider it ‘blasphemy’ to “mix the beautiful world of poetry with the swampish quagmire of social media”, so to speak? “We did get that kind of criticism of course!”, Lukas laughed. “But honestly, it remains pretty marginal, hailing from those who still think poetry has to abide by 19th century standards.”
“It’s like wine”, he explained. “A bad oenologist will tell you that old and expensive wines are the only one worth drinking. A good one will show you that taste depends on a wide range of factors; and that, ultimately, what matters the most is your own subjective appreciation: if you like the wine you’re drinking, then it’s probably good for you”.
How did he respond to such criticism? “Every time I hear these comments, I just say that Poetizer is a medium, like any other, like printing was a mere medium at its time. Posting poems on social media neither downgrades nor upgrades the content. Our goal is simply to promote and encourage self-expression, freed from constraints, from the fear of being judged, looked down upon or mocked”. Plus, digital expression is increasingly accepted, as Lukas reminded me, especially by younger generations, that make up the bulk of Poetizer’s users.
When Poetizer gets political
A former international relations student from Prague’s Charles University and Cambridge, Lukas Sedlacek, also, has a bigger agenda in mind. “During my studies, I learned two very important things”, he told me. First, the importance of soft-power and with that the power of culture in international affairs. “The second chief issue I learned is how much our contemporary, globalised world has lost all bearings and identity references, which explains the current rise of nationalism, xenophobia, conservatism and populism, including here in Central Europe”.
The global identification process has failed, according to Lukas. “Because of my father’s job, I lived and grew up in many different countries, including Finland and Denmark. I moved to the latter when the country was facing an unprecedented wave of migrants and witnessing a rise of anti-immigrant sentiment. As a foreigner myself, I felt that acutely. Sadly, it seems the Czech Republic is currently going down a similar path”.
“And that’s where Poetizer kicks in!”, he added. “Poetizer aims to bring down the walls and create new bonds, not because of or despite people’s race, nationality or political affiliation, but through poetry, through the expression of intimate feelings and personal experiences”.
“I know it’s a long shot”, he self-admittedly conceded. “But it’s worth trying”.
The last question had been tickling me right from the start: “Who’s your favourite poet?”, I asked him before parting. “Canadian singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen”, Lukas told me, smiling. “Cohen mixes an incredible lightness of writing with an amazing depth of emotions and ideas.”