Poetry has been pronounced dead time and time again, but literary doomsayers may want to check Instagram before nailing the coffin shut.
It is there that Miami native Robert Macias, who uses the pseudonym R.M. Drake, has forged a space in the mainstream for the out-of-favor art form. And his reach is considerable — Macias has amassed more than one million followers on his poetry account @rmdrk since joining Instagram in November 2012.
So how did a poet gain traction in a social media universe populated by the same high school students who groan at Edgar Allen Poe assignments?
Macias’ posts are easily distinguishable by his fans for their succinctness in verse and visual appeal — both of which the 32-year-old credits to his success.
Before he uploads his work to Instagram, Macias types each piece up with his antique 1940s Royals typewriter on handmade paper and photographs the image. All of his poems are signed off with his pseudonym R. M. Drake — which comes from his childhood nickname, Bobby Drake, the iceman superhero from X-Men.
The Instagrams often yield more than 60,000 likes and Macias says he is tagged in about 2,000 fan reposts of his work on the social network app each day.
“It has a lot to do with that the way social media is so fast and quick,” Macias said. “Instead of reading a short story, I can just take the meaning of that and convert it to just a few sentences and people get something out of that.”
His work has resonated with a handful of celebrities, including rapper Ludacris, the Kardashian sisters and actress Sophia Bush, who was the first celebrity to repost his work on Instagram. More than 30 celebrities now follow him on Instagram, he says.
“It has been a snowball effect and has been growing ever since,” Macias said.
Macias prefers to classify his work as “micro-narratives,” rather than poems, and sees this as a medium with a lot of potential in the domain of social media.
“I like to think of it as a revolution even though its in the digital format,” Macias said. “There are a lot of emerging writers out there because of the social media platform.”
Love and loss are the through lines of most of his poems and short stories, inspired by his on-and-off girlfriend of seven years and the recent loss of a close friend last year to heart failure.
“I write my heart out,” Macias said. “It is stuff that I have been through. I tell young writers ‘don’t be fake to yourself.’”
Words seem to flow out of Macias, and not just on a keyboard. Sitting outside Panther Coffee in Wynwood, he expounds on his feelings with little prompt. His appearance does not conform to what is customary of the creative types who frequent the neighborhood. Instead, Macias has on a green Star Wars t-shirt with a windbreaker, and is wearing square-framed glasses.
Nearby, young girls ogle the poems Macias has spray-painted on sidewalks around Wynwood, but no one approaches the poet.
For such a large fan base, Macias has maintained a low profile, which he says is deliberate. He he tends to shy away from attention, he says, denying invitations to poetry readings and television interview requests.
“I just feel better when no one really knows who I am,” Macias said.
A first-generation American, Macias’ parents moved to Miami from Colombia. He grew up mostly around Sweetwater and attended Miami Coral Park Senior High School in Westchester.
“I was real aggressive when I was a kid,” he said. “I used to get bullied so I used to fight a lot because of that.”
But throughout school, Macias says he was always doing something creative — whether it be street art, sculpture or website design. He sees himself more as an artist than a poet.
“I have always been interested in innovating and creating something,” Macias said. “All of my life, I’ve done art.”
Macias went on to study computer animation at Miami Dade College and digital media at Florida International University, where he graduated in 2010. After a stint as a content developer for a small company, he took a job as the art director at Univision, but he started feeling depressed.
“I just didn’t feel inspired and didn’t feel like I was fulfilling what I was supposed to be doing,” Macias said. “I started writing a bunch of dark, deep stuff and it just kind of took off from there.”
For awhile Macias, who lives in Doral, continued to work at Univision, writing whenever he could, but he soon saw becoming a full-time writer as a viable option.
“I saw my fan base was growing and I left to write a book,” Macias said.
He has since self-published three poetry books, one of which, Beautiful Chaos, is ranked No. 6 of Amazon’s poetry bestsellers, above Homer’s The Odyssey and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. More than 50,000 copies of Beautiful Chaos have been sold according to Macias, who manages everything from shipping to customer service.
Neither of Macias’ parents speak English and they struggle to grasp the degree of his success.
“They don’t really understand what is going on,” Macias said. “They don’t understand social media at all. They don’t understand if I tell them my book is an Amazon best seller.”
And soon, he’ll have another book to add to his portfolio. Recently, Macias finished the first draft of a novel, which he says is a psychological thriller. He shopped the novel around to major publishing houses, but says he ultimately decided to self-publish the novel like he has with his anthologies.
“I think that deal would have made more sense for someone who didn’t have a fan base and wasn’t selling any books,” he said.
The novel is around 70,000 words, an ambitious task for a writer accustomed to brevity.
“It’s a hard process, man,” Macias said. “It is a war — seriously.”
Macias describes the novel as “dark and scary,” and says it is about a girl suffering from depression who begins to take a drug that makes her hallucinate.
“It is kind of like an Alice In Wonderland, but a little more current,” Macias said.
And now that his novel is finished, Macias hopes to venture into other art forms.
“I definitely want to be more involved into art and I don’t know how people will take that since people know me as a writer, but I am just an artist overall,” he said.