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For Immediate Release


Poetry Foundation releases first scientific study of poetry in
America, finds people who read poetry lead more satisfying social lives than those who don't
April 11th, 2006
Chicago — 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 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.

Download the full Poetry in America report as a PDF


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 PoetryFoundation.org.

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