‘Let me live, love, and say it well...’

Pithy Plath: “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed” — The Bell Jar.

Is poetry more vital than ever? A survey has declared Sylvia Plath the most popular poet of all time among teenagers — ahead of William Shakespeare. Meanwhile, poetry readership is surging.

March 1961. Sylvia Plath is recovering in hospital (she has just had her appendix removed). Somebody has sent her a bouquet of flowers, tulips. It is a kind gesture — but the bright, odorous flowers only make her feel worse.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. / Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe / Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby. / Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.

Personal, candid and soaked with emotion: Plath’s Tulips is just one example of the confessional verse that won her reputation.

Yesterday, to mark National Poetry Day, she was voted the most-loved poet among people aged 11 to 17. Not only that, she is seen as a key inspiration for a new generation of poets.

In recent years, poetry readership has soared. In America, the number of readers has almost doubled since 2012. Why? Some point to the craze for “Instapoetry” — short confessional verses shared on social media.

Rupi Kaur is the most famous Instapoet. Dubbed “the Syliva Plath of Instagram”, her short verses have secured her three million followers and two bestselling books. “We need more love / not from men / but from ourselves / and each other”, reads a poem she recently posted titled Medicine.

Is poetry more important now than ever?

Epic

Of course, some argue. Money, fame, material goods: modern life revolves around shallow and fleeting things. Poetry is the antidote to all this. Emotion, sensation, morality, philosophy: this is the substance of poetry — from short scribbles to sprawling epics.

Not so, others respond. Other art forms can achieve this too, and often far more effectively. Think of the cathartic impact of theatre, or the ability of cinema to transport you to entirely different universes.

You Decide

  1. Is poetry the greatest form of literature?

Activities

  1. It is time to write your own Instapoem! Using no more than five lines and 50 words, write a short poem that could be shared on social media. Try to make the language as engaging and effective as possible. If you like, share your composition with the class.

Some People Say...

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am. I am. I am.”

Sylvia Plath

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Poetry Society survey consulted 348 people aged 11 to 17 from around the world. Of those surveyed, 95% also said it was important for time to be set aside for creative writing every day.
What do we not know?
If Instapoets will one day supplant traditional writers. The survey’s top 20 is still dominated by old favourites including Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe.

Word Watch

Voted
According to a survey by The Poetry Society.
Doubled
According to data released by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The percentage of Americans who said they had read poetry in the last 12 months was 11.7% in 2017, up from 6.7% in 2012.
Rupi Kaur
Her debut collection Milk and Honey has sold over 2.5 million copies. The book was on the New York Times Best Seller list for over 77 weeks.
Cathartic
Psychological relief caused by the expression of strong emotions.