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Americans are reading poetry again because of Instagram

By Thu-Huong Ha
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Poems, it seems, are just another form of shareable content.

For the first time in more than 20 years, poetry reading is growing in the US, according to new survey data released by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The percentage of Americans who said they had read poetry in the prior 12 months was 11.7% in 2017, up from 6.7% in 2012. About 17,600 US adults participated, as part of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

The portion of the total population reading poetry had been in steady decline since 1992, the first year for which the NEA has comparable data.

Though the survey didn’t ask about individual poems or poets, it’s very likely that the massively popular epigrams of Instagram poetry, from people such as Rupi Kaur, r.h. Sin, and Yrsa Daley-Ward, are a major factor in the change. Kaur’s two books have spent a total of 145 weeks on the New York Times’ bestsellers list. Poetry reading grew the most among 18- to 24-year-olds, with 17.5% saying in 2017 they read poetry, compared to 8.2% in 2012.

Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets, said this is the most likely explanation: “I think it’s fair to conclude based on the large number of followers and book sales Rupi Kaur and other poets who are sharing their work on social media have experienced, that they have contributed to the upswing in young people now engaging with poetry.”

The popularity of spoken word poetry, and national programs like the recitation contest Poetry Out Loud, are also contributing to the growth, says Robert Casper, head of the poetry and literature center at the US Library of Congress.

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