April is National Poetry Month, but few Americans name any contemporary poets when asked what poets they can think of and who their favorite poet is. In fact, it’s a Dead Poets Society for the Top 35 poets, all of whom are deceased.

Four out of ten Americans name Edgar Allan Poe, making him the most famous poet by far. In fact, 29% of respondents named him first, and 18% said he was their favorite poet.

A distant second is the Bard. William Shakespeare was named by two out of ten Americans, being named first by 11% and the favorite of 7%.

Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Maya Angelou are the next tier of famous poets, named by 14%, 12%, and 11% of respondents respectively.

Rounding out the Top 10 are Walt Whitman, John Keats, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Langston Hughes, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

RankPoetFirst to MindSubsequently NamedNamed at AllFavorite
1Edgar Allan Poe29%11%40%18%
2William Shakespeare11%9%20%7%
3Robert Frost6%8%14%5%
4Emily Dickinson4%8%12%3%
5Maya Angelou5%6%11%5%
6Walt Whitman3%6%9%2%
7John Keats2%4%5%1%
8Henry Wadsworth Longfellow3%2%5%1%
9Langston Hughes1%2%3%<1%
10Ralph Waldo Emerson1%2%3%<1%
11Shel Silverstein1%1%2%1%
12Sylvia Plath1%2%2%1%
13John Butler Yeats1%2%2%<1%
14Percy Bysshe Shelley1%1%2%<1%
15e e cummings1%1%2%<1%
16Lord Byron<1%1%2%<1%
17Elizabeth Barrett Browning1%1%1%<1%
18Tupac Shakur 1%1%1%1%
19Mark Twain1%<1%1%<1%
20Alfred, Lord Tennyson1%1%1%<1%
21William Blake<1%1%1%<1%
22T.S. Elliot1%<1%1%<1%
23Henry David Thoreau<1%1%1%0%
24Robert Burns<1%1%1%<1%
25Ernest Hemingway1%<1%1%<1%
26Oscar Wilde<1%<1%1%<1%
27Carl Sandberg <1%1%1%<1%
28Dr. Seuss1%<1%1%1%
29Allen Ginsberg<1%<1%1%<1%
30Robert Browning<1%1%1%<1%
32Rudyard Kipling<1%<1%1%<1%
33Pablo Neruda<1%<1%1%<1%
34Dylan Thomas<1%<1%1%<1%
35Charles Dickens<1%<1%1%<1%
This is sorted by the number of mentions. The initial tiebreaker is the number who mentioned a poet first, and the second tie breaker is the number who mentioned the poet as their favorite. (Nearly one out of five respondents, 18%, didn’t name any poets.)

Proving that poetry doesn’t have to be serious, Shel Silverstein just misses the top 10, coming in at #11, and named by 2% of respondents.

A shoutout goes to the respondent who named Enheduanna and no other poets. I’m going to guess they Googled “first poet” (the question wording was “What is the name of the first poet who comes to mind? What other poets can you think of?”).

I had a hypothesis that because of the release of her new album, The Tortured Poets Society, Taylor Swift would make the Top 10. In fact, only three respondents named her at all. Bob Dylan—despite winning a Nobel Prize for Literature for his lyrics—edged her out by just one respondent.

The lyricist who did make the Top 35 was Tupac Shakur, coming in at #18, thanks to his book of poems, The Rose That Grew From Concrete.

Other songwriters named, though outside the Top 35, included Jimmy Buffet, Kurt Cobain, Paul Simon, Patty Smith, and Tim McGraw.

Favorite Poems

“The Raven” (11%), “The Road Not Taken” (3%), “And Still I Rise” (2%) were the most often named favorite poems.

Apparently “Romeo & Juliet” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are poems now.

1The Raven12211%
2The Road Not Taken333%
3And Still I Rise202%
4Romeo and Juliet151%
5The Tell-Tale Heart131%
6Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening131%
7Roses are red, violets are blue131%
8Sympathy (I know why the caged bird sings)111%
10Annabel Lee81%
12Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (Sonnet 18)61%
13Footprints in the Sand61%
14How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)5<1%
15Leaves of Grass5<1%
16The Rose That Grew from Concrete4<1%
17The Waste Land4<1%
18Green Eggs and Ham4<1%
The Cat in the Hat3<1%
The Charge of the Light Brigade3<1%
Do not go gentle into that good night3<1%
Hickory Dickory Dock3<1%
The Hill We Climb3<1%
“Hope” is the thing with feathers3<1%
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish3<1%
Where the Sidewalk Ends3<1%
39% didn’t have a favorite poem, and 31% named a poem not listed here.

Almost all of the eleven respondents who mentioned “Sympathy (I know why the caged bird sings)” attributed it to Maya Angelou. She named a book from that line in the poem, but the poem itself is by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

“The Hill We Climb” is the only favorite poem to get at least three mentions and be written by a living poet (i.e., Amanda Gorman).

Frequency of Reading Poetry

One in twenty Americans read poetry at least once a day, and 8% read poetry a few times a week. Nearly 70% read it less often than once a month (35%) or never read poetry (34%).

The younger the respondent, the more frequently they read poetry: 11% of Gen Z read poetry every day, vs. 6% of Millennials, and 2% of Gen X. Only one in five Gen Z never read poems.

Chart comparing frequency of reading poetry by gender, generation, and household income

The frequency didn’t vary significantly by gender or household income.

The results are from an online newsmaker survey of 1,145 participants fielded from April 26 to 28, 2024. The frequency question was weighted to be representative of the overall population by ten demographic variables. The open-ended questions were not weighted.

Photo credit: licccka, iStockPhoto.