Is poetry making a comeback?

Francesca McKernon

Opinion Contributor

It is no secret that poetry’s popularity has decreased among Americans over the past few decades. Data tells us that fewer than seven percent “of Americans polled in 2012 had read a work of poetry at least once in the past year — down from 17% in 1992,” based on a national survey from the U.S. Census Bureau on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts. But what does this mean? Do people not like poetry as much as they did in the 19th or 20th century?

A variable we have to keep in mind is that American poetry is relatively new, since Europe was the dominating force of literature for centuries before our founding in 1776. While many of the great American poets including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Edgar Allan Poe, Marianne Moore, and Emily Dickinson were introduced into mainstream during the Romantic movement, the 20th century of poetry was also a force to be reckoned with. The 20th century poets absolutely killed it with legends like T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou. They produced poems born out of the movements of Modernism from the late 19th century to 1939, and the PostModernism movement after.

The question is, what exactly happened to America’s perception and reading of poetry? The introduction of the internet and media is certainly a common scapegoat in many lost pastimes today, but is also closely related to our attention spans and how we analyze information. It’s hard to admit that I, an English major, would rather watch a funny YouTube video or look at memes on Instagram because of the instant gratification I receive from the funny content.

I remember from high school the kids that would complain poetry was ‘too hard to understand’ and ‘made no sense.” I’m not denying that poetry can definitely be difficult to decipher, but we should still appreciate it despite its complexities. I believe that kids are turned off to reading poetry because of the poetry they were introduced to in high school, and therefore think that all poetry is like that. I would rather read Edgar Allan Poe’s poems over John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” but that is based on preference and subjectivity. For a student to read a Shakespeare sonnet and not be able to connect with it is okay, but condemning poetry as a whole because Bill didn’t write the way you wanted him to is to reject an entire form of writing based on one author’s writing.

Today, poetry is making a comeback with breakout poets Rupi Kaur, Atticus, Samantha King, R. h. Sin, and others. Social media, while breaking down poetry previously, has served to introduce new poets and writers with short poems that must be written with a certain amount of characters to fill the page, and cannot be long. Phrases have become popular, especially with Rupi Kaur’s collection of poems called Milk and Honey, with some poems consisting of only a few words.

Tumblr has also dedicated entire accounts and pages to poetry created by the user to share with thousands. Poetry books are more popular than previous years, being sold in thin volumes with doodles, as seen in Milk and Honey as well. The colloquial language used in contemporary poems could also be a reason why more and more Americans are taking a liking to reading poetry; they are easier to understand than Shakespeare sonnets.

A new form of poetry that has taken rise thanks to platforms like YouTube and Facebook is spoken word poetry. The ability to not only write well and express feelings through beautiful metaphors, but to be able to deliver your work passionately in person is something that cannot be recreated just by reading the words on a page. There is something to be said for experiencing the words in person.

During times of crisis and devastation, humans turn to poetry to express the human condition and to touch others’ hearts with words without even knowing who they are. Poetry is important and making a big comeback. Reincarnated from the ashes of Moore, Plath, Poe, Angelou, Frost, and William Carlos Williams, we contemporary poets are ready to make history.



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