If your TikTok FYP (that’s “For Your Page” for the luddites out there) has even a slight taste of angsty Gen Z teen, then you’ve surely seen Aliza Grace’s poetry—or, at the very least, stumbled upon one of her many, many fans.
Born in West Virginia, the 19-year-old poet has over 600,000 followers on TikTok and has published 16(!) poetry books on Amazon. This also includes a journal and a coffee table book featuring Lana Del Rey lyrics and quotes, an ode to the queen of melancholy who inspired Grace and of course, creates easily digestible, sad girl fodder. In some ways, her poetry too attempts to be LDR-adjacent. Grace’s recent video with over 2 million views shares a poem that goes: “it makes me sick / how in love i was with you // the thing is i was never in love with you / i was in love with a version of you / a version i made up.”
Another popular post reads, “this is your sign / check his phone / go through his TikTok likes / Insta saved…” In case you haven’t cracked it yet, most of Grace’s poetry looks at themes of heartbreak, young love, and feeling disillusioned in a relationship. Her feed is a homogenous sea of black-and-white videos set to broody, internet friendly, heartache tunes like “Space Jet,” “Romantic Homicide,” or any other slow and reverb-heavy song. All her posts follow the same format: Each video shows one of her books placed on a pearly white crushed cloth, opened to a random page of poetry.
On a platform where creators are forced to change up their content for clicks, Grace thrives with simple consistency. Most of her poems are uncannily prosaic, epigrammatic sentences like you would find on a greeting card or a vibey Instagram page, structured with sudden line breaks to add perceived character. Cue: “you / kiss me / and the world stops spinning.” That’s it. That’s the whole poem, and it has 149,000 views and hundreds of comments like, “how do you understand the way I feel,” and, “I’m so obsessed with your work.” This praise isn’t limited to TikTok. Grace’s Amazon and Goodreads reviews have a fair share of hearty compliments as well. The most common rhetoric is that her poetry is relatable and captures how a lot of the readers feel.
In case the young poet’s work reminds you of Rupi Kaur, Atticus, R.M. Drake, or any other infamous social media writer, you’re not alone. Clearly, Grace is to the coming-of-age Gen Z crop what Kaur was to millennials who just stumbled upon Instagram’s pithy squares. And much like the Canadian poet who has sold over 11 million copies and still remains widely discredited and disparaged, the up and coming 19-year-old also faces boundless online hate. On Twitter, a user reposted Grace’s poem and boldly asked, “how dare you call this poetry”—and this is among the nicer comments, so you can only imagine how wild things get.
But even if you place all intellectual and literary bias aside, it’s hard to come to Grace’s defense because, well, most of her poetry is blatantly copied from writers big and small, singers, canonical poets or… Instagram memes. In fact, fellow poet Sabina Laura has an ongoing 65-tweet-long viral thread chronicling every poem that the 19-year-old has plagiarized, with side-by-side pictures of the same work from the original creator. These include poems by Laura herself along with Kristina Mahr, Chloe Frayne, Lang Leav and Beau Taplin, a Lady Gaga quote, Phoebe Bridgers lyrics and numerous generic screenshots that have done the rounds on WhatsApp groups for years.
Laura’s Twitter thread has over 6,500 likes and has been shared nearly 3,000 times with newer copied poems being revealed as recently as February 2023. With plagiarism that is documented so publicly and meticulously, the first question that comes to mind is, how does Aliza Grace get away with this? Turns out, the poet treats plagiarism-flaggers the same way we treat a toxic ex—she just blocks them everywhere. While reporting the story, I witnessed this in real time. One day, her post had several comments accusing her of taking people’s work, the next day all the comments were gone. It’s like they never existed.
“I commented on the video and said ‘this is my poem,’ Immediately, I got blocked on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, and then I realized this isn’t going to go well.”
— Kristina Mahr
In order to hear Grace’s side, I commented on her videos explaining that I’m a writer interested in her poetry. I even left out the triggering “p” word. Apparently, I’m not special either and was swiftly blocked. Determined, I hunted down her private Instagram and sent a follow request. To my surprise, two weeks later, she let me in! There were 14 odd posts, most with an apparent boyfriend and with little to no reference to her poems. After a quick skim and stalk, I began typing a message to her and within seconds, her profile disappeared. Instagram told me the account I’m looking for doesn’t exist anymore. Perhaps having “journalist” in my bio gave me away.
After tracking down what seemed to be Grace’s Facebook profile page, we attempted to contact her through that platform as well. Her phone number and email is not publicly available and The Daily Beast exhausted various means of contacting her.
Both Laura and Mahr attempted to confront Grace for stealing their poems and faced the same fate. “I commented on the video and said ‘this is my poem,’ Immediately, I got blocked on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, and then I realized this isn’t going to go well,” Mahr explains. She then approached TikTok and Amazon separately with claims of intellectual property theft. Luckily, Mahr’s collection of poems was published by Amazon in 2020, while Grace’s book featuring the same poem was released in 2021. As a result, it wasn’t hard to prove the plagiarism—and that particular book by the young poet was immediately taken down by Amazon and the posts were deleted by TikTok.
However, Laura reveals that a few weeks later Grace just republished the work on both platforms and continues to profit off of stolen work. “I would estimate that at least 100 people have told me they reported Aliza’s TikTok, but the platform hasn’t done anything,” she says. I also reached out to Amazon and TikTok and have not yet received a response.
Since the giants haven’t taken lasting action, legal recourse would be the next step, except spoiler alert: That didn’t work out either. Mahr worked with a copyrights lawyer to issue a cease and desist letter, but despite strenuous effort, they failed to find a functional email or postal address for the poet. “We couldn’t find any contact information. There is no proof if that’s even her real name, so there’s no way to take action against someone with such little trace,” she explains.
Surely, there has to be a better solution to addressing plagiarism on such a large scale, right? Jonathan Bailey, a former poet and journalist, founded Plagiarism Today in 2005 to help independent creators address these copyright issues. After having his work stolen by over 700 artists, he decided to navigate the world of online copying on his own.
“If the creator has their work on Instagram or any social media platform where it’s timestamped, they have proof of when it was published. But it’s tricky to get Amazon involved in plagiarism battles,” Bailey says. “With the sheer volume of books that Amazon publishes, they have the largest anti-plagiarism databases in the world. The issue is, they don’t invest their resources on checking books for stolen work because it requires time and money, and this doesn’t fit the platform’s ethics.”
On the other hand, as a photo and video focused app, TikTok spends its limited energy checking for song and video copyrights, so detecting text within a post and flagging it is a much bigger investment for the app, Bailey explains: “Community enforcement is very important to get the giants to take notice.”
Unfortunately, these gaping limitations leave young poets and writers exposed to plagiarists like Grace who bank on a large social media following and continue to profit from popularity. “She has a lot of fans who defend her. Some of them don’t believe she has plagiarized anything and others don’t care that she has. Her books move them, so they still want to buy them regardless,” Laura adds.
Some fans don’t think it’s their responsibility to care if Grace’s work is copied. Although she is often considered to be on the same tier as Kaur, there is an unmissable distinction between the two. Kaur is a Canadian poet whose South Asian identity, fierce on-camera presence, and offline interactions frame her celebrity and fame, whereas Grace has carefully removed any and all writerly presence from her poetry. Her social media feeds only share her text. We have no idea what Grace looks like, and we have never heard her do a poetry reading. Fans are purely there for the words. Aliza Grace’s signature is in how fans identify with the work, but there is no attachment or admiration for the poet herself.
For a fandom to first be created and subsequently wronged, the celebrity must indulge in at least a minimal parasocial relationship, which is entirely absent here. Grace capitalizes on the easy relatability of her stolen poetry. On a quick consumption platform like TikTok, her punctuation-free, all-lowercase, abbreviated stanzas stand out for discussing heartbreak and telling people how to move on.
“Whether or not literary critics appreciate Grace’s poetry, it serves a function in generating a community and constitutes aesthetic value,” remarks Christian Bök, an experimental poet who specializes in studying stanzas on the internet that theorists discount as poetry. According to him, poets like Grace who appeal to non-traditional readers serve as a gateway drug to poetry, and make an otherwise resistant institution more welcoming.
Despite a body of work that seems almost entirely plagiarized, a serious lack of human presence, and a TikTok account that regurgitates the same format on repeat, Grace remains a famed creator on the platform. Users respond to her poetry with personal experiences and comments like “it hurts so much,” “wish I could send this to him,” and “I miss him so bad.”
Morals aside, the only strategy that appears to keep her incessant churn of poetry alive and thriving is that just like any other core and clan on social media, Grace’s words make people feel seen. Turns out, on TikTok that’s enough to keep you afloat—until plagiarism is taken more seriously.