Sewing a New Era of Poetry
OFTEN WHEN I ASK people what they think of poetry, their first thought is of the famous poets we studied in school—Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman. That, plus the higher likelihood of scrolling through their phones on social media rather than reading a book of poems, makes many people likely to miss the exciting new voices in poetry. How we view poetry, however, is changing, and Button Poetry (@buttonpoetry) is one agent of that change.
One of the fastest-growing poetry platforms through social media and YouTube, Button Poetry is an independent publisher for performance poetry. The company highlights poetry performances across the United States through media, audio recordings, video, local and national events, publishing chapbooks, and scholarships. According to Button Poetry’s vision statement, it seeks “to broaden poetry’s audience, to expand its reach and develop a greater level of cultural appreciation for the art form.”
The company was founded by Sam Cook and Sierra DeMulder in 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as a website and blog. By 2012 Cook and Dylan Garity rebranded Button Poetry to target audiences through social media and their channel called Button YouTube.
They soon launched their third album, The Good News Poetry Tour, and videoed more than fifty poetry performances at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational and Women of the World Poetry Slam. Through this, Button YouTube grew exponentially, reaching more than five thousand subscribers. That same year, Button released its first published poetry chapbook, Aziza Barnes’s me Aunt Jemima and the nailgun, winner of the 2012 Button Poetry Prize. After broadcasting the 2013 National Poetry Slam on its YouTube channel, Button’s popularity skyrocketed, breaking four million views.
Now with more than a million subscribers and 220 million views on its YouTube channel, Button has published ten chapbooks and dozens of poetry books and provided a platform for young poets to speak their truths to a global audience online.
Two Viral Button Poets
Sabrina Benaim, a writer and slam poet from Toronto, Canada, is renowned as the winner of the 2014 Toronto Poetry Slam. Her poem “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” was uploaded on Button’s YouTube channel and now has over eight million views. Her performances began to go viral across social media and jump-started her writing career. Button published her collection Depression and Other Magic Tricks in 2017.
Rudy Francisco is a poet, writer, and social advocate from San Diego. He is arguably one of the most recognizable spoken-word poets and has won several national poetry-slam competitions. He writes about love and the intersectionality among race, class, gender, and identity. YouTube videos of his performances have received more than three million views. In April 2019 he performed his spoken-word poem “Rifle” on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, a follow-up to his March 2018 performance on the show.