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Twice as many people like poetry than Bush

CHICAGO, April 11 /U.S. Newswire/ — In a newly released report, Poetry in America, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago presents the results of an unprecedented study evaluating American attitudes toward poetry. Commissioned by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine and one of the largest literary organizations in the world, the research finds that the vast majority (90 percent) of American readers highly value poetry and believe it enriches the lives of those who read it.

"This study shows that America is more than ready to resume its love affair with poetry," says John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation. "It contradicts the assumption that poetry must be a marginalized art form; on the contrary, readers believe that poetry adds pleasure, depth, and understanding to the lives of those who read it."

For the first time, researchers gathered detailed data on who reads poetry, why they turn to it, where they encounter it, and what types of poetry they hear and read. The research indicates that Americans feel that poetry significantly contributes to their understanding and appreciation of life, and that people who read poetry lead more engaged and satisfying social lives than those who don't. In addition, fully two-thirds of respondents believe that society would benefit if people read more poetry.

The report, which is available free of charge at http://www.PoetryFoundation.org , is intended to assist educators, publishers, and arts organizations interested in building the audience for poetry.

The research summarized in Poetry in America is based on interviews conducted with more than 1,000 people nationwide beginning in the summer of 2005. The Foundation invited representatives from publishing, teaching, libraries, and literary outreach organizations to help design the study. The survey was conducted from a random sample of American adults who read newspapers, magazines, and books for pleasure, and who read primarily in English.

"Poetry in America will be studied for years," noted Norman Bradburn, senior fellow at NORC. "It is a landmark study that will provide organizations concerned with the arts and humanities, as well as the social sciences, with a wealth of data about the experience of poetry by Americans from all walks of life."

Key members of the poetry community have praised the report. "The Poetry Foundation has done the field a great service with this research," noted Fiona McCrae, director of Graywolf Press, a leading publisher of contemporary poetry. "Publishers, teachers, and librarians should all make good use of this knowledge to stimulate an even greater engagement with poetry in the future."

Tree Swenson, executive director of the Academy of American Poets, added, "It is so good to have a comprehensive study such as this to match against the explosive growth that we at the Academy of American Poets have tracked over the past ten years in two of our programs in particular: National Poetry Month and Poets.org."

While American readers are generally enthusiastic about poetry, the study suggests that there is significant work to be done in broadening the audience for it. Apart from brief, incidental encounters with poetry in public places, a relatively small percentage of Americans actively seek it out or consistently return to it.

Although people love and value poetry, they primarily hear and read it at weddings, funerals, and other important occasions, and buy books of poetry when they need a meaningful gift. Those who do not read poetry cite as reasons early negative experiences, usually in school, or lack of interest or time.

The study finds that current poetry readers tend to have had a more comprehensive experience of poetry in the classroom and were significantly more likely to have studied poetry at every grade level than were non-poetry readers. Considerably more current poetry readers than non-readers engaged in reading, memorizing, reciting, and writing poetry during their school years. These findings endorse Poetry Out Loud, the Poetry Foundation's national recitation contest, and other programs that extend poetry instruction at all levels.

"For the first time, organizations with a commitment to poetry can make their plans and seek their funding on the basis of quantitative data, not just the anecdotal impressions which, until now, have been the only information available," said Stephen Young, program director of the Poetry Foundation. "The research identifies what helps to make a person a lifelong poetry reader and will serve as a benchmark against which the Poetry Foundation will measure future initiatives."

The Poetry Foundation is acting on the study's findings about the ways Americans now read poetry-sporadically and for special occasions-and the ways they use the Internet. The Foundation recently launched PoetryFoundation.org, a comprehensive and easy- to-use archive of great classical and contemporary poetry. The site directs visitors to poems appropriate for holidays and other occasions on which people turn to poetry. The Web site also makes it easy to share poetry via email, a common practice among non- readers as well as readers.

People who would not ordinarily seek out poetry do engage with it and enjoy it when it is incorporated into activities in which they already participate, the study shows. The Poetry Foundation will continue to develop creative media partnerships in radio, television, print, and film in order to expose a wider audience to the benefits of poetry, increase awareness of contemporary poetry, and expand readers' relationships with contemporary poets.

The Poetry in America report was prepared by Lisa Schwartz and Norman Bradburn at NORC.

Poetry in America can be downloaded as a PDF at http://www.PoetryFoundation.org .

The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. One of the largest literary organizations in the world, it exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs. For more information, please visit http://www.PoetryFoundation.org .



The Poetry Foundation commissioned the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago to conduct a large-scale, national research study on the state of poetry in America. This groundbreaking study replaces the usual anecdotal information about poetry with factual information about Americans' attitudes toward and experiences with poetry. This research will enable the Foundation, and other literary and cultural institutions, to better understand the factors that bring poetry enthusiasts to their appreciation of poetry as well as those that may dissuade people from engaging with the art form.

Why Poetry?

Poetry is one of the art forms that defines our culture. It improves the quality of life both for those who create it and for those who appreciate it, educating and invigorating the citizenry, and enhancing people's lives by providing them with deeply meaningful experiences. The extent to which poetry achieves these goals is neither well understood nor easy to quantify. Poetry in America is the first national study that asks specific questions about both the personal and social benefits associated with reading or listening to poetry. Data from this study provide one of the first views of poetry's unique and shared contributions to the public good.

Project Goals

The Poetry in America study was conducted and designed by NORC to answer the following questions:

1) Who reads poetry?

2) Why do some people read and listen to poetry throughout their lifetimes?

3) How do people perceive poetry, poets, and poetry readers?

4) What prevents people without a strong interest in poetry from reading or listening to it?

5) What steps might be taken to broaden the audience for poetry in the United States?


The survey used a random-digit-dial sample of telephone numbers from across the country. Adults who read for pleasure and who read primarily in English were eligible for the study.

Key Findings

— 64 percent of adult readers think that people should read more poetry.

— Poetry is appreciated by a broad and demographically diverse portion of society; individuals from all walks of life and education levels read and enjoy poetry.

— Poetry readers tend to be sociable and lead active lives. They listen to music, read a variety of genres, use the Internet, attend cultural events, volunteer, and socialize with friends and family at significantly higher rates than do non-poetry readers.

— Most poetry readers (80 percent) first encounter poetry as children, at home or in school. 77 percent of all readers were read nursery rhymes as children; 45 percent of current poetry readers also had other forms of poetry read to them as children.

— Poetry readers believe that poetry provides insights into the world around them, keeps the mind sharp, helps them understand themselves and others, and provides comfort and solace.

— Readers turn to a variety of sources to find poetry: single-author books (77 percent), anthologies (58 percent), television (48 percent), radio (41 percent), the Internet (36 percent), poetry readings (29 percent), poetry magazines (20 percent), reviews/commentaries about poetry (19 percent), poetry slams (12 percent).

— When people encounter poetry in unexpected places such as newspapers, general-interest magazines, and public events, even non-poetry readers read or listen to it: 99 percent of all adult readers indicated that they have incidentally encountered poetry, and 81 percent reported that they read or listened to the poem when they encountered it.

— Approximately two-thirds of the respondents thought that both poets and poetry readers are people who are generally respected; 70 percent would like to meet poets, and 66 percent would like to meet poetry readers.

— Among the most frequently cited reasons that people don't read poetry are lack of time, loss of interest, lack of access, and the perception that poetry is difficult and irrelevant.

— Former poetry readers, while crediting poetry with many of the same rewards as do current readers, do so at much lower rates and are more apt to say that they personally received no benefits from reading poetry. Of those former readers who did find poetry rewarding, most championed poetry for its entertainment value and were less inclined to note intellectual or psychological benefits.

— While more than 80 percent of former poetry readers find poetry difficult to understand, only 2 percent of respondents don't read poetry because they feel it is "too hard."

— More than half of all current poetry readers read or listen to contemporary poetry, that is poetry written since 1945. About one-third restrict their involvement to contemporary poetry, and about one-quarter read or listen to both contemporary poetry and the classics.

Poetry in America can be downloaded as a PDF at http://www.PoetryFoundation.org .

One Response

  1. Hi there. Thought you might enjoy this: http://jkfowler.com/2009/11/09/sense/. Cheers, JK.

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