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Young Adults Lead the Way as Poetry Readership Increases Across the Nation

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By Guest Blogger Sasha Jones

The share of 18-24-year-olds who read poetry has more than doubled between 2012 and 2017, rising from 8.2 percent in 2012 to 17.5 percent last year.

That increase, coupled with similar-size boost in poetry reading among 25-34-year-olds, places young adults above all other age groups when it comes to poetry-reading rates.

It's an interesting highlight in a study that shows that poetry reading is on a significant increase across the board: Poetry-reading is on the rise for all adults, with nearly 12 percent of adults having read poetry in the last year, according to the National Endowment for the Arts' survey of public participation in the arts. This overall increase makes poetry readership in 2017 the highest on record over a 15-year period, and a 76 percent increase since 2012.

What's not clear is exactly what drove this increase. (Since this is a snapshot of readership habits, it doesn't offer much in the way of clues on how to interpret the findings.)

One of the reasons it's interesting is because, in the K-12 world, the concern over the last few years has been about a lack of classic literature and poetry in the classroom. The Common Core's emphasis on engaging students using nonfiction texts, part of an attempt to build students' background knowledge and academic vocabulary, has been met with criticism from literature advocates, who argued students would lack skills developed by complex and classic literature.

Despite a 13 percent decrease in the use of fiction texts in classrooms between 2012 and 2017, 41 percent of teachers still said that they go to fiction over literary nonfiction or informational texts, a recent survey on English teaching in the Common Core era showed.

On the other hand, many schools continue to teach poetry and other fiction texts through programs such as Poetry Out Loud, which over 300,000 students from more than 2,300 high schools participated in last year. 

And here's another theory to help explain the rise: The phenomenon of social media poets, such as Rupi Kaur, who share their work on platforms, such as Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Photo: As they get ready to perform the poems they've memorized, students in English teacher Lance Fisher's classroom at Mount Vernon High School in Mount Vernon, Wash., make notes to remind them of places they will modulate their pace or volume, or use gestures to animate their delivery. (Ian C. Bates for Education Week-File)

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