Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Apropos of the ongoing discussion about the lack of popular support for contemporary poetry, this article, City Journal Autumn 2004 The Classics in the Slums by Jonathan Rose, is a revelation. Here is a key comparison between pre-war (WWII) literacy among blue collar folk in England versus contemporary Americans taken as a whole: Even more impressive is a 1940 survey of reading among pupils at nonacademic high schools, where education terminated at age 14. This sample represented something less than the working-class norm: the best students had already been skimmed off and sent to academic secondary schools on scholarship. Those who remained behind were asked which books they had read over the past month, excluding required texts. Even in this below-average group, 62 percent of boys and 84 percent of girls had read some poetry: their favorites included Kipling, Longfellow, Masefield, Blake, Browning, Tennyson, and Wordsworth. Sixty-seven percent of girls and 31 percent of boys had read plays, often something by Shakespeare. All told, these students averaged six or seven books per month. Compare that with the recent NEA study Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, which found that in 2002, 43.4 percent of American adults had not read any books at all, other than those required for work or school. Only 12.1 percent had read any poetry, and only 3.6 percent any plays.

Is the problem in our poets or in ourselves?

(via Gideon Strauss and Arts and Letters Daily )

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