Poetry's Decline and Horrible Math

Poets love discussing poetry's extinction.  Maybe we're masochists, revelling in our art's destruction.  Perhaps we're survivalists, trying in vain to figure out how to weather the blows of attention spans shortened by shiny technology and uploads of LOL Cats.

Facts don't lie.  In 2012, only 6.7% of Americans reported reading a work of poetry.  And the percentage appears to steadily decline as the years tick by.  It's pretty easy to see a bleak future.  Facts don't lie but, do they always tell the whole story?

The survey asks respondents if they've read a work of poetry in the last year.  Does the survey clarify what a "work" is?  If it asks people about poetry next to novels, might some people believe it to mean a book-length collection of poems?  Do people remember that the song lyrics they research online are poems?  Or that birthday cards they bought family members may have verse inside?  Or that certain graphics on  Facebook can have small poems on them?

People may not consider all the ways they run into poetry throughout their week.  But it doesn't mean they aren't reading it.  They just might not associate it with the draconian, heavy-handed stuff from their youth... and that's a good thing.

Was every literate person surveyed?  I don't remember a survey with a question about poetry, and I would.  Maybe there are other people who didn't have the opportunity to answer.

But, just in case everyone is aware of every single instance of poetry in their lives, I did some horribly inaccurate math.  Using current population figures, I calculated (much of it heavy guesswork) that over thirteen million adults read poetry.  I know it isn't a lot compared to the 47% of people who admit to reading anything period, but it's something.  Even if we deduct poets, adult students, editors, and anyone else whose life requires reading poetry, we still have over twelve million people reading poetry because they love it.  Could be worse, right?


  1. That is some horrible math. For me, it's been a while since I read a book-length collection of poetry, but I read and reread and remember individual poems all the time. I recognize the poetic in prose when it goes by, too.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    1. Exactly. Do they clarify in the survey?

      Maybe people feel as though it needs to be archaic, difficult poetry to count. Many readers of other types of writing hold an unfavorable view of what poetry is, too.