Dead Poets: Poetry Hazardous to LifespanS

Being a poet might mean you die young. In fact, writing in general is not good for your lifespan, James Kaufman writes in his study of 1,987 authors from different cultures. Published in 2003, it's titled, "The Cost of the Muse: Poets Die Young." It isn't the first study to make such claims! The Education Guardian reports, "a 1975 study found that poets tended to die younger than fiction writers."

A 1995 study found that 'poets died younger than fiction writers, non-fiction writers, and people in the theatre'. A 1997 study "found that Japanese writers were more likely to die young than other eminent Japanese".

Kaufman used a statistical tool called Tukey's Honestly Significant Difference test "to determine which differences were significant in each culture, by gender, and overall".

The numbers tell the story. A poet's life, on average, is about a year shorter than that of a playwright, four years shorter than a novelist's life, and five-and-six-tenths years less than that of a non-fiction specialist.

Kaufman's study ends, as do the lives of many poets, on a sad note. He writes: "The fact that a Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton may die young does not necessarily mean an introduction to poetry class should carry a warning that poems may be hazardous to one's health. Yet this study may reinforce the idea of poets being surrounded by an aura of doom, even compared with others who may pick up a pen and paper for other purposes. It is hoped that the data presented here will help poets and mental-health professionals find ways to lessen what appears to be a sometimes negative impact of writing poetry on mortality and mental health."
[Education Guardian]