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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 April, 2004, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Poets 'die younger' than authors
Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath committed suicide at the age of 30
Poets die younger than novelists, playwrights or other writers, a new study in the US suggests.

It may be because poets are tortured or self-destructive, or achieve notoriety younger, James Kaufman of California State University, San Bernardino, said.

Dr Kaufman studied 1,987 dead writers from all over the world over the past centuries, and found poets died "significantly younger".

On average, a poet had a life-expectancy of only 62, he said.

It compared to playwrights' average age 63 years, novelists' 66 years and non-fiction writers' 68 years.

Dr Kaufman, who is part of the Learning Research Institute at the university, also studied mental illness and poets.

'Plath effect'

"What I found was pretty consistent with the death finding actually, female poets were much more likely to suffer from mental illness than any other kind of writer and more likely than other eminent women," he said.

"I've dubbed this the 'Sylvia Plath Effect'," Mr Kaufman said.

Dr Kaufman said there may also have been another explanation for poets' early deaths - their prodigious output usually made them more noticeable.

"Poets produce twice as much of their lifetime output in their twenties as novelists do," he said. "If an unpublished novelist was to die, fewer people would notice.

"A great novelist or non-fiction writer who dies at 28 may not have yet produced her or his magnum opus," Mr Kaufman said.

But he said that poetry is not a hazardous occupation.

"The fact that a Sylvia Plath ... 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."

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