Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Poetry, Take Two

In a survey sponsored by the Poetry Foundation a few years back, researchers discovered the following:
  • 94% of Americans have read poetry at some point in their life, but only 15% read it consistently throughout their life.
  • Almost 85% say poetry is hard to understand.
  • Almost 81% say poetry is boring.
  • Yet more than 70% say poetry helps you appreciate the world around you.

I'm going to connect the dots here and suggest that, based on these statistics, if people understand a poem, chances are they'll enjoy it. That's the premise upon which I based the launch of Your Daily Poem, a website that went live June 1st with the sole purpose of presenting uplifting, easy to understand poetry to people who were not predisposed to like it. And to paraphrase and repurpose Sally Field's worn but fitting cliche, "They like it! They really like it!"

I am tickled pink...or fuschia, if we want to be more poetic....to report that, four months after its birth, the number of subscribers to Your Daily Poem has septupled (is that a word?), poets published and un are submitting wonderful work on an almost daily basis, and people are passing around featured poems like juicy gossip. It's enough to make a poetry lover giddy.

Why bother, you may ask, or who cares? It comes down to this: life's hard most days--especially these days. Whether you're a young mother struggling to make ends meet, a working stiff trying to hang onto your job, a retiree worried about health and Social Security, or a corporate tycoon just having a bad day, we all need something to lift our spirits, make us laugh, stretch our imagination, take us away, or resurrect a fond memory. Poetry can do all that. But for too many of us, poetry got a bad name because someone made us study something awful in a classroom, or we opened a Revered Poetry Journal and were befuddled, repulsed, or bored by what we found inside, or we went to a reading and were embarrassed, offended, or bored by what we heard.

So this is my plea: give poetry a second chance. If you think you hate it, go to Your Daily Poem and click around in the archives. Read Ellen Bass's account of a mid-life couple smooching at an airport. Read the condemnation of little girl's beauty pageants on July 21st ("the stench of pink:" what a great line!). Read about an Elvis sighting in the peanut butter aisle at Shoprite, or the bliss of a perfectly ripe avocado, or the smell of oregano in a grandmother's kitchen, or the feel of your beloved's curls against your pillow.

Believe me, poetry is alive and well at YDP and it's not boring. It's heartrending, and hilarious, and touching, and titillating and--big bonus!--not even remotely connected to health insurance! Come discover poets from around the world whose work will definitely help you appreciate the world around you--one wonderful word at a time.


Susan said...

On my way over there!! What a great post...I love poetry, but I admit that there have been times in my life where I haven't stayed regular with my reading of it.

:-) Susan

Joan Ellen Gage said...

You tell 'em! If poetry isn't mainstream enough, we'll have to make it so!
Let them eat words!

Brenda Kay Ledford said...

What an interesting study. Your website is great and I do enjoy very much the poetry. Keep up the great work!

LisaLisa said...

Great work! I must say I too love poetry!

JSottile said...

Yes, YDP is a wonderful site, and it certainly deserves to spread by giant steps each day. I frequently share the poems that I read there with my friends everywhere.

As for why people don't read poetry and why they should, especially nowadays, those words were right on target! Bravo! Bravo!

I have a site that offers monthly new ideas for kids to create poetry, and it also features a winning student poem each month. Some of the winning kid poems (written by kids) are simply fanstastic. But my submissions aren't increasing by leaps and bounds. The site seems to be the best kept seceret on the Internet at www.joe-sottile.com.

I wish that I knew how to change that reality.

Jayne Jaudon Ferrer said...

Thanks for all your input, everyone. I guess so many people have had negative experiences with poetry that there's a lot to overcome before we can convince them it can be a source of much pleasure. Joe, by focusing on children, you're helping to have a direct impact on making poetry more appreciated by the next generation.

JSottile said...

Jayne, thank you for the encouragement. Yes, it's all about the kids. I am a strong kid advocate, especially in the area of poetry. About an hour after writing my comment a friend e-mailed me saying that he and I were invited to speak to some college classes about the joy of writing. He said that elementary teachers are being forced to comply with instructional mandates to conduct reading in a very “close procedure” manner to prepare students for the state tests. No reading of fiction, no reading for fun, no poetry, just reading short passages, naming main points of the story and a quiz. They lack the time and training to encourage reading for pleasure. They have not acquired a personal library of children’s literature and fear losing their jobs if they do not comply... How awful is that! This trend of not letting young poets bloom is a national disgrace. Just last last Saturday I was sprinkling some Rapid Grow on some young poets at the 2009 Rochester Children's Book Festival. You can see some photos of that on my JacketFlag blog. An appreciation of poetry makes all of us better people, young or old.