Do people in Ireland still care about poetry?
May 24, 2020 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Somehow, I've gotten the impression that Ireland is the last place in the English-speaking world where normal people still read poetry. Is this accurate?

It seems pretty clear to me that poetry has somewhat more cultural prestige in Ireland than in most places, is a bigger source of national pride, etc.

But does this extend to significant numbers of people outside of academia actually reading poetry, especially newly-written poems?

I'm not even necessarily talking about large numbers of people, or poets being rich and famous and going on television shows. Just significant enough numbers that, say, it wouldn't be rare or unusual to know one person who is interested in poetry.

I've gotten the impression that this is the case, but I wonder whether it might not be outdated or wrong.
posted by vogon_poet to Writing & Language (12 answers total)
 
It's part of the National Curriculum, so most people are familiar with a wide range of poets writing in English, I don't think anyone doesn't know who Sylvia Plath or Seamus Heaney are even if they never think about them again after their exams. You also have to pass Irish to get into many universities here, and Irish includes poetry. My local is called An Spailpín Fánach and it's a 100% commonly understood reference.

Having said that, English literature is similarly required in the UK for GCSEs so people will have studied poetry there and nobody is romanticising the English love of poetry the way the Irish love of poetry is romanticised. It's really a stereotype.

Having said that, our President is a poet; he's beloved and people generally like his work and it's well regarded; it isn't seen as being weird or anything. Likewise, isn't weird to know someone interested in poetry at all, but I also don't think it's weird to know somebody interested in poetry in Kansas either. (What's universally weird is to know that guy who says he's "a poet.")

Have you looked around Poetry Ireland?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:24 AM on May 24 [4 favorites]


Maybe you got this impression because the president of Ireland is a poet?
posted by zadcat at 10:24 AM on May 24


My impression has been that generally speaking Irish people don't outwardly care about poetry any more than other germanic language country does, but it's more in the people's subconscious than it is for other countries. What I mean by this is that considering how small the population is, it's pretty easy to come across people who have lyrical and storytelling talent compared to other populations. So in that sense, I'd say they care more about poetry without really knowing that they do. That's just my opinion though.
posted by fantasticness at 10:52 AM on May 24


I also don't think it's weird to know somebody interested in poetry in Kansas either.

Yeah, I really think it's mostly a matter of who you hang out with? I'm not a huge fan of poetry in general but I have three friends who used to jointly publish a poetry journal, one of them is a published poet with four books, and I have several other friends who have had their poetry published in journals. FWIW, I live in Ohio.
posted by cooker girl at 1:13 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]


When poet Eavan Boland died last month it was reported on the evening news. At the time I saw some people remaking on Twitter particularly Irish for the death of a poet to be such a big news story.
posted by roolya_boolya at 1:21 PM on May 24


And on Irish Poetry Day my facebook feed is full of poems both old and new.
posted by roolya_boolya at 1:23 PM on May 24


Surprisingly, it looks like there ends up being hard data on this!

The US National Endowment for the Arts publishes the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which reports that 12% of surveyed US adults read at least one poem in the year 2017.

The Irish Arts Council performed a similar survey, which states that 12% of surveyed Irish adults also read at least one poem, with 73% doing reading of any kind. Of those who read any poetry, 48% report reading poetry once a week or more.

It's ambiguous in both surveys whether or not people included poems they were required to read for school.

Hard to draw firm conclusions from any of this, but it does suggest that poetry is probably not hugely more popular in Ireland than it is in the US.

It would still be interesting to know whether or not poetry readers are more concentrated in the US and other English speaking countries -- I have the perception that it tends to be people in specific social groups (academia, local arts scenes, slam poetry) who tend to read poetry, compared to the larger group of people who just read for pleasure. Also what percentage of people are reading newly-written poetry in different places. But I do not think there is a huge budget anywhere for poetry-related market research, so we'll probably never know.
posted by vogon_poet at 2:28 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]


The Irish Statute Book has an exemption on taxes for income earned through original work in writing and art. This means that many a successful writer has moved to Ireland for the tax savings.

I was told long ago that this is because of the bardic tradition in Ireland, that bards were traditionally considered so valuable that they were supported comfortably by either a king or by their community. I was also told that Bards in ancient times were often blind, whether because being a bard was something that a blind person could do, and that a promising bard might be deliberately blinded, as being blind was thought to improve the memory so they could recall the sagas and genealogies he was supposed to recite.

This sounds apocryphal to me, but legends of this nature would encourage Irish people to think of themselves as A Nation of Poets. I don't know if people read more poetry in Ireland, but they haven't yet refused to stop supporting them.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:55 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


The Irish Arts Council performed a similar survey, which states that 12% of surveyed Irish adults also read at least one poem

I'd say it's more common in Ireland to listen to poetry read than it is to read it so I'm not sure that's a meaningful comparison.
posted by fshgrl at 6:35 PM on May 24


I was in Ireland a year or two ago, and it certainly struck me that not only was there a bookshop in almost every small town, each one had at least a shelf full of local poetry.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 4:16 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]


I work in a library in Ireland and we've run a few poetry workshops in smaller community library (pre-Covid of course) and they always got a good turnout. But then again, not too many poetry books get checked out in comparison to fiction.

Maybe that is a reading vs listening/writing though
posted by Fence at 1:33 PM on May 25


Somehow, I've gotten the impression that Ireland is the last place in the English-speaking world where normal people still read poetry. Is this accurate?
...
I'm not even necessarily talking about large numbers of people, or poets being rich and famous and going on television shows. Just significant enough numbers that, say, it wouldn't be rare or unusual to know one person who is interested in poetry.


My city has a poet laureate, and I went to a city event last year where the mayor and other officials spoke that featured a number of poetry readings (by the poets, not by the mayor). There are slam poetry competitions all the time. I know a number of people into poetry including someone who prints and sells small books of poetry, new one every year or so. I can name another well known local poet besides this person. It's not uncommon to have a poet on stage between different bands playing.

I would not personally say I am a poetry fan, though I enjoyed the poet's performances (or whatever it's called when a poet recites stuff). I seem to end up with a decent exposure to poetry despite not seeking it out at all.

My city is in the United States, and English is by far the most common language I hear spoken here although there is a lot of variety, so I think it's safe to say that Ireland is NOT the last place in the English speaking world where normal people still read poetry.
posted by yohko at 1:58 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]


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