The Impact of Poetry

October 3, 2018

“A thing that makes me happy”

Young people turn to poetry in new ways

A fresh report from the National Literary Trust, commissioned by Forward Arts Foundation, shows how – and to what extent – young people are turning to poetry in their free time.

Almost half of those 8-18 year olds surveyed engage with poetry in their free time either as listeners, viewers, performers readers and writers – or in any combination of the above.

Furthermore kids on free school meals are still more engaged by poetry than their better-off schoolmates, indicating that poetry might be just the “silver bullet” needed to tackle social/economic barriers to full participation in culture and education.

Jonathan Douglas of the National Literacy Trust said: “Poetry has the power to unlock children and young people’s imaginations, unleash their aspirations and boost their attainment. It also enables children to express themselves in a multitude of ways, from raps and lyrics to free verse and traditional poems. What’s more, our research shows that poetry might offer particular benefits to children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, who are traditionally more likely to struggle with literacy. We hope that children and adults alike can discover the joys of writing, performing or listening to poetry this National Poetry Day.”

Susannah Herbert of the Forward Arts Foundation, the charity that organises National Poetry Day, said: “We’ve all long known that the benefits of education and culture aren’t evenly spread: this makes poetry’s appeal to disadvantaged young people, or its ‘silver bullet’ potential, all the more important. Children on free school meals, with limited English, attention disorders or no one to hear them read at home may not thrive in tests or sit still in class, but when offered the chance to perform, listen or watch poetry, they respond.”

In Spring 2018, just under 3,000 young people between the ages of 8 and 18 answered questions on poetry – what it means to them, how they engage with it, and where they find it.

Over the last five years, poetry’s popularity – as measured in book sales, event attendance and National Poetry Day participation – has grown, and the results of the research are even more encouraging.  Headline figures show that:

Almost half (46.1%) of children and young people said they turn to poetry in their spare time (25.4% read, listen to or watch; 10.4% write or perform; 10.3% do both)

Half (47.9%) of these young “poetry consumers” – those who read, listen to or watch poetry in their spare time – do so frequently, ie at least once a week.

The report underlines poetry’s special appeal for the disadvantaged: children and young people who receive free school meals (FSMs) are more likely to engage with poetry – as readers, writers, listeners, viewers and performers – in their free time than their better off classmates. (55.7% vs. 43.0%)

There are three main reasons for engaging with poetry which are more important to the FSM cohort than to the non-FSM young.

–       it’s playful: a more playful way of using words than the usual

–      it gives you freedom: they can choose the subjects they want to raise

–      it’s competitive: they like taking part in poetry competitions/slams

Read the full report here, to find out why “poetry is a thing that makes me happy.”