Burns Night’s coming – this Monday,
Which makes me want to shout, “Hooray!”
I love a bit of poetry,
But would you all agree with me?
Poetry lessons can be boring,
They sometimes leave the children snoring,
So maybe we should make a change,
And introduce them to a wider range.
As you might have guessed from that (shamefully bad) introduction, I quite like poetry. I’m even visiting Edinburgh for Burns Night this year, and can’t wait to recite ‘Address to a Haggis’ in my best Scottish accent.
However, OnePoll conducted two nationally representative surveys, which found that 22% of Brits don’t even know who Robert Burns is, and less than half know that the great Bard of Ayrshire wrote Auld Lang Syne.
14% said they didn’t know a single word of the song – apparently not even realising that the title features in the lyrics – and a further 32% couldn’t deliver the first verse.
But it’s not just their knowledge of Robbie Burns that’s lacking – amazingly, 75% said they’d never even heard of Carol Ann Duffy, the current UK poet laureate.
A significant 30% couldn’t finish the first line of William Wordsworth’s most famous poem, “I wandered lonely as a…(cloud).” 12% hazarded a guess at “I wandered lonely as a star.” Similarly, 29% didn’t know how to end John McCrae’s “In Flanders fields the…(poppies blow),” and 18% of people weren’t able to complete Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a…(summer’s day),” with 1 in 20 guessing ‘red rose.’
Only 27% knew Coleridge penned, “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” and a mere 17% were aware that Tennyson coined the phrase, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Less than 1 in 4 correctly identified Shakespeare as the author of, “Hell is empty / And all the devils are here”– oddly, 1 in 20 actually thought Dr Dre had written this famous line from the Tempest. Another 1 in 20 thought the Backstreet Boys had written lines from Sylvia Plath’s Daddy – “I was ten when they buried you. / At twenty I tried to die, and get back, back, back to you.” Just 20% knew the correct answer. 18% of those surveyed even thought Robert Burns came up with some of the lyrics in Eminem’s song, Lose Yourself – “The soul’s escaping through this hole that is gaping / This world is mine for the taking, Make me king.”
Despite being unfamiliar with some of the world’s most famous poets and their work, 40% of respondents said they like poetry. Those that do were most likely to appreciate the medium because it can be thought-provoking (75%), emotional (74%) or inspiring (62%). Around half like poems because they can be funny, and 3 in 10 enjoy trying to analyse the meaning. One respondent said (rather poetically!) that “the words dance.”
Research has previously shown that reading and writing poetry can have several benefits, including increasing your levels of empathy, helping with depression, and broadening your vocabulary. While more than half (54%) of people knew of the potential boost poetry can give to your vocabulary, just 23% were aware of the impact it can have on empathy and 25% that it can alleviate depression.
Sadly, despite all of the wonderful things about poetry, the majority of those surveyed (57%) think the art form is dying out. Over one third can’t remember the last time they read a poem, and another 22% say they haven’t done so in the last 5 years.
The 37% who dislike poetry were most likely to think it’s generally boring (43%), pretentious (28%), or say so because they don’t understand it (35%). A quarter (25%) stated: “It’s all in old-fashioned language,” but there’s a huge amount of contemporary poetry that disproves this notion.
24% of those polled for this survey went so far as to say poetry is for old people, and 35% feel like it’s written for upper and middle class people. However, a great number of people would argue that rap is a form of poetry, and not many would suggest that old, upper class people form the majority of Jay-Z’s fan base. If people can confuse the work of Shakespeare with that of Dr Dre, then surely there must be some overlap between the two.
I, for one, would say that poetry is far from ‘dying out’– perhaps the art is just evolving. There’s been a surge in the popularity of spoken word in recent years, with artists like Kate Tempest and Scroobius Pip gaining widespread acclaim. Spoken word has never been so popular, and writers are using it to tackle a variety of topics that many young people heavily relate to, regardless of their cultural background.
Two fifths of people surveyed said they didn’t enjoy learning about poetry in school, and a further 24% couldn’t even recall their lessons. Of those that did remember, 70% felt at least half the individual poems they studied were boring.
38% said the way they were taught about poetry in school wasn’t interesting, and 30% went as far as to say it had put them off reading poems. Those that don’t like poetry were even more likely to agree with these statements – 57% and 42% respectively – potentially as a result of focusing on complex works that children simply don’t find engaging.
42% of those polled believe schoolchildren should do creative, modern, fun poetry workshops rather than analysing old-fashioned, serious poetry; and the same percentage of respondents think the range of poetry taught in schools should be more culturally diverse to reflect the diversity of modern Britain. 18-24 year olds were the group most likely to feel this way, and since they’re the respondents that most recently left the education system, perhaps we should listen to them.
While many would agree (myself included) it’s important for children to study classic works, it could well be time for the curriculum to incorporate a much broader range within the genre, to ignite an interest in the next generation of poets. Hopefully they’ll be more talented than I am…