Sunday, January 06, 2008

Who Reads Poetry (other than poets)? Part 1

Notice that I've changed the name of this site from "Blog" to "Venue." I hate the word "Blog" and feel it to be off putting to others as well. So, welcome, once again, this time to "Ed Coletti's Poetry Venue."

Drawing by Jim Spitzer
Who, Aside From Poets, Read Poetry

As I suspect it might with many of us, this question was troubling me a year ago. I put it out there to several folks. The following were attempts at figuring this out.

Please do join in with your own responses.

First something older from Jack Spicer

Thing Language

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Is bread and butter.
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

If poets only write poems about poems
or about poets writing poems about poems
then no one who reads poems
but doesn't write poems
will care to read poems

(Katherine Hastings)

well, if you teach a kid to write a poem in a non-traditional way
that kid will have a massive head start when it comes to
learning how to read a poem....which is maybe like
bringing a kid into the kitchen as you cook fish and asparagus
down the line that smell and that involvement might allow them
to enjoy them instead of hide from them

just a thought

(John Coletti)

Poetry Reading At The County Dump

Salvador studying English comes across
my poems filled with typos tossed to recyle.

“Lying On a Swing in August” transports Sal
to the sky and momentary respite.

“Bologna Station Caffé” returns him
to the Zocalo in Qaxaca Centro.

“The Wasteland by Edward Coletti
confuses him with its shape.

He can smell the familiar rotting carcasses
in “Much More Than Roadkill.”

“What” easily translates to “Que.” but
“¿Como se dice “Treatise” en Español?

“ ‘A Treatise on What,’ what does it matter
why the pigeon disturbs this Coletti?

“Why does this Edward worry that
no one will read him? There is an address,

a phone number, email, should I presume
to contact him? Would he be angry?”

(Ed Coletti)

Poetry Foundation's Findings

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.

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

  • Comment Here on any of the above or below and read the comments of others too. Log in
    under "Nickname" or "Anonymous" if you like, but please be sure to sign
    some facsimile of your name. Actual name is best, but use what you
    like. Or email me at


    davidr said...

    Another answer is that scholars and professors read poetry--often quite scrupulously but very differently from the way poets read poetry in some respects. This is particularly true of highly charged poetical periods such as British Romanticism or American Modernism--the profs are doing some reading and writing that is poetry in and of itself.

    The Spicer poem--which I have a very nice broadside of, printed by Graham Mackintosh, late of Black Sparrow Press--says no one listens to poetry but makes poetry a natural force like the ocean--no one listens to the ocean either but that's because it's awesome and hypnotic powers overwhelm us.

    Issa's Untidy Hut said...

    Recently, at the ripe old age of 56, I had the experience of teaching poetry for the first time. It was to a class of lifelong learners. Something drew them to sign up, caused an interest, from mild curiosity to some vague nostalgia or something else. It's the something else I'm particularly interested in.
    Folks who don't normally read poetry seem drawn to it particularly in times of crisis, in times when we turn to ritual. Births, weddings, funerals. Poetry resonates in a way in these situations for folks that it doesn't in their normal everyday lives: in times of remembrance, celebration, and grief. It is as if during these times people are in touch with something else in their lives they don't normally see but is there all the time, all the same. It is almost like another life.
    That is what most poetry readers are trying to do all the time: to get in and stay in touch with that "otherness." It is the constant remembrance that we are going to die, that there is sorrow and love and pain and beauty. Perhaps, in the average life, this is too hard to face all the time, which is why people don't generally read poetry, but nonetheless always say they wish they had time to read more, they respect those who read and write poetry, and they wish they understood poetry better (don't we all!).
    So for me the question is not "who reads poetry" but "why read poetry." To quote the Bard of our generation, "it's life and life only." Don Wentworth, Lilliput Review.
    P.S. The Spicer poem rocks.

    Poet Hound said...

    The people I encounter typically believe poetry is "too hard" and I am convinced that some children's schools ruin the chance to enjoy poetry by diving in too deep with translation of a poem's meaning or setting too many guidelines for students' creative writing. I went to those schools as a child. I love it because my father was smart enough to read me poems and leave it at that. Now I have a personal mission to get more and more people to enjoy poetry for its own sake. Sometimes the way words are put together are entertaining enough. Other times, the poems provide solace or bring forth poignant memories. Either way, every single person should be able to enjoy poetry. There is something for everyone.

    Ed Coletti said...

    Don, David, and Hound,

    Very nice answers indeed. I'll make certain to incorporate them into "Part II."

    jim spitzer said...

    Poets-Poetry and all the other "Tender Arts" expose an often negative part of our culture. They become the target of people who have never developed a sensitivity to the intimate expressions and dreams of others. These, sometimes mindless people, playing their IPODS and UZIS to dull their inner noise that Might give meaning and credibility to their existence are a wall between between small islands of green on a dying planet.
    To them---ALL OF THEM---I would say
    DON'T JUDGE THE MEANING OF MY ART by your inability to understand.

    Ed ice CA said...

    We are all poets Eddie.