Saturday, June 16, 2018

Taking Note: Poetry Reading Is Up!—Federal Survey Results by Sunil Iyengar

“In recent months, I’ve come across various news articles and at least one press release declaring that social media has contributed greatly to poetry’s readership. Some of these sources even attribute to the technology a bump in 2017 poetry book sales. While it remains unknown how much of that reading is directly due to these still-emerging platforms, we now can report with confidence: poetry reading in the United States has increased since five years previously.
Nearly 12 percent (11.7 percent) of adults read poetry in the last year, according to new data from the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). That’s 28 million adults. As a share of the total U.S. adult population, this poetry readership is the highest on record over a 15-year period of conducting the SPPA, a research partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The 2017 poetry-reading rate is five percentage points up from the 2012 survey period (when the rate was 6.7 percent) and three points up from the 2008 survey period (when the rate was 8.3 percent). This boost puts the total rate on par with 2002 levels, with 12.1 percent of adults estimated to have read poetry that year.
“Growth in poetry reading is seen across most demographic sub-groups (e.g., gender, age, race/ethnicity, and education level), but here are highlights:
• Young adults have increased their lead, among all age groups, as poetry readers. Among 18-24-year-olds, the poetry-reading rate more than doubled, to 17.5 percent in 2017, up from 8.2 percent in 2012. Among all age groups, 25-34-year-olds had the next highest rate of poetry-reading: 12.3 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 2012.

• Women also showed notable gains (14.5 percent in 2017, up from 8.0 percent in 2012). As in prior years, women accounted for more than 60 percent of all poetry-readers. Men’s poetry-reading rate grew from 5.2 percent in 2012 to 8.7 percent in 2017.

• Among racial/ethnic subgroups, African Americans (15.3 percent in 2017 up from 6.9 percent in 2012), Asian Americans (12.6 percent, up from 4.8 percent), and other non-white, non-Hispanic groups (13.5 percent, up from 4.7 percent) now read poetry at the highest rates. Furthermore, poetry-reading increased among Hispanics (9.7 percent, up from 4.9 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (11.4 percent, up from 7.2 percent).

• Adults with only some college education showed sharp increases in their poetry-reading rates.  Of those who attended but did not graduate from college, 13.0 percent read poetry in 2017, up from 6.6 percent in 2012. College graduates (15.2 percent, up from 8.7 percent) and adults with graduate or professional degrees (19.7 percent, up from 12.5 percent) also saw sizeable increases.

• Urban and rural residents read poetry at a comparable rate (11.8 percent of urban/metro and 11.2 percent of rural/non-metro residents).

“Reviewing the data about young adults who read poetry, I couldn’t help but recall the 2006 founding of Poetry Out Loud, a program cosponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, and administered in partnership with the state arts agencies of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

“More than 300,000 students from more than 2,300 high schools around the country participate in this poetry recitation competition. Last April, champions from 53 states and territories competed in the National Finals here in D.C. This year’s winner was high school senior Janae Claxton from the First Baptist School of Charleston, South Carolina. Janae and her fellow contestants should be ample proof that the genre continues to thrive, but it’s good to see the numbers.

“I also spoke about the findings with Amy Stolls, NEA Director of Literature. ‘These increases definitely reflect what we’ve been witnessing over in our corner of the office,’ Amy told me. ‘I suspect social media has had an influence, as well as other robust outreach activities and efforts, many of which we support through our grants to publishers and presenters, fellowships to individual poets, Poetry Out Loud, and the NEA Big Read.’ Each year, the NEA Big Read supports community reading programs in approximately 75 communities nationwide, and includes poetry books such as Joy Harjo’s How We Became Human and Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke in the available titles.

“Complete results from the 2017 SPPA will be rolled out over the next several months, beginning with findings about arts attendance and reading habits. Subsequent reports will address arts creation, arts consumption via digital media, and other arts-participation topics. The raw data itself, along with technical documentation, will be posted to the NEA’s National Archive of Data on Arts & Culture, so that researchers and policymakers everywhere may dig deeper into these and other findings. Stay tuned!”

Taking Note: Poetry Reading Is Up—Federal Survey Results by Sunil Iyengar, NEA Director of Research and Analysis, June 7, 2018


  1. In Defense of Poetry by Lauren Schmidt
    The Haven House for Homeless
    Women and Children

    Come celebrate
    with me that every day
    something has tried to kill me
    and has failed.
    —Lucille Clifton

    To you who say

    poetry is a waste of ten homeless mothers’ time—
    that I should correct their grammar and spelling,
    spit-shine their speech so it gleams, make them sound
    more like me, that I should set a bucket of Yes, Miss,
    Thank you, and Whatever you say, Miss on their heads,
    fill that bucket heavy, tell them how to tip-toe
    to keep steady, that I should give them something
    they can truly use, like diapers, food, or boots—

    I say

    you’ve never seen these women lower their noses
    over poetry, as if praying the rosary, as if hoping
    for a lover to slip his tongue between their lips,
    or sip a thin spring of water from a fountain.

  2. The Salt Stronger by Fred Marchant

    I have seen the legislators
    on their way,
    the jacketless men
    in mid-winter who will cast
    their votes like stones for this war.

    Men who have to cross the street
    through slush
    and over gutter, their cuffs
    now vaguely blued with a salt
    that dries in dots where it splashes,

    and mingles with the finely
    woven cloth
    of the chalk-stripe suits,
    the soi-disant practical men,
    you can see them now tiptoeing,

    now leaping, balletic, windsor-knotted,
    and shaved,
    they pass, they pass
    the window of the Capitol Deli

    wherein I am writing to my friend
    in Baghdad,
    he a “witness for peace,”
    a poet who for years has wondered
    what good poetry is or has been or does.

    I compose today’s answer from here,
    I think of poetry
    as a salt dug from a foreign mine
    that arrives like a miracle in Boston

    as pellets to break underfoot
    and melt
    the dangerous plated ice
    and cling to the acknowledged lawmakers,
    to stay with them in their dreams,

    to eat at the cloth and reach down
    to the skin
    and beyond the calf
    into the shin. I think the soul
    is equivalent to bone, and that conscience

    must hide in the marrow,
    float in the rich fluids
    and wander the honeycomb at the center.
    There, and not in the brain,
    or even the heart is where

    the words attach, where they land
    and settle,
    take root after the long
    passage through the body’s by-ways.
    Just think, I write, of how some poetry rolls

    off the tongue, then try to see the tongue
    in the case
    that faces me, a curious,
    thick extension of cow-flesh
    fresh from a butcher’s block, grainy and flush.

    I think that if my tongue alone could talk
    it would swear
    in any court that poetry
    tastes like the iodine in blood,
    or the copper in spit, and makes a salt stronger than tears.

  3. The Secret by Denise Levertov

    Two girls discover
    the secret of life
    in a sudden line of

    I who don’t know the
    secret wrote
    the line. They
    told me

    (through a third person)
    they had found it
    but not what it was,
    not even

    what line it was. No doubt
    by now, more than a week
    later, they have forgotten
    the secret,

    the line, the name of
    the poem. I love them
    for finding what
    I can’t find,

    and for loving me
    for the line I wrote,
    and for forgetting it
    so that

    a thousand times, till death
    finds them, they may
    discover it again, in other

    in other
    happenings. And for
    wanting to know it,

    assuming there is
    such a secret, yes,
    for that
    most of all.

    1. Thank you, Glen! Some good news, for a change!
      That having been said, does that mean that less people are bothering to read newspapers &/or books? (Since poems are short, & usually more easily read {although not necessarily digested}.)
      Funny, that, too, there has, of late, been talk that Barnes & Noble is losing business big-time (well, this due to Amazon),& may close, while independent bookstores (my shops of choice) are doing well: customer loyalty.
      This is actually not good news in the sense that it's such a large chain &, yet again, SO many people would lose their jobs. I have had the very sad experience of shopping at Carson's (a buyout rather than closure refused; better for the COMPANY's bottom line to lay off do many people rather than sell, & have personnel keep their jobs), where customers all voiced their sympathy to the clerks, one clerk getting all choked up, stating, "Thank you. & where are we supposed to get new jobs? Toys 'R' Us closed, some Macy's are closing, Claire's has closed (& so on)..."
      Which is why the government news ("fake") that unemployment is down is very, very hard to believe...

  4. "When poems are written
    with greater brevity,
    they will be written by
    Kenneth Previti."
    At a very early age, I recited this poem of my own. Of course, my juvenile ego considered it as brilliant poetry with a tinge of humor.
    Fortunately, this bent toward poetry and later encounters eventually led me to truly brilliant poetry such as that written by Glen Brown. (No joke. It is meant as a sincere compliment.)
    The fact that less poetry is taught in public schools today than in previous decades leads me to believe that social media, song lyrics, and other less apparent social forces are at work and helping to increase the reading and appreciation of poetry.
    Whatever causes the increases, the fact that poetry appreciation is actually increasing is a ray of hope in our rather bleak American literacy skies.