Friday, November 14, 2014

Benefits of Poetry and other questions

Among the big reports making the rounds this season is the research from the University of Exeter that suggests there are distinct effects of poetry on the human brain. Among the interesting discoveries is that it affects the brain the same way as music, connected to reward and emotion. Poetry also boosts brain power through the use of unusual or complex words and concepts. Poetry stimulates memory, and also encourages self-reflection.

This is great news, however, I've been informed that poets are still not going to be paid like a Kardashian.

To me, the point of good research is to then push the science until it breaks, so now I'm wondering what else we might do to expand upon these findings and what other queries might be of interest. For example, what might happen if we connected role-playing games with poetry? Dungeons and Dactyls, Poetfinder or Call of Caesura.  "You see before you a hideous humanoid speaking in doggerel, dear Bard. What will you use to defeat it? A sonnet boom, or your fatal hexameter?"

I wish there was more research that could be done to examine how poetry works cross-culturally.

Were participants presented work that was written primarily from their cultural perspective and points of reference, or were the poems describing things outside of their normal experience? What happens if you give them something like T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland," for example. And is there a point where the benefits of exposure to unusual and challenging vocabulary in a poem drops off like an anguished titanium albatross. "We were doing great until that Datta Dayadhvam Damyata bit."

Did the textual presentation have any influence on the brain's response? "Oh. Well, when you put 'The Raven' in Comic Sans, you can't be too surprised at what happens."

Does the brain respond to poetry the way it does to fine wine, where you get a better reaction and improved results if you tell someone it's from a good poet, instead of some bargain basement treacle?

Does the setting and prior events matter for the person engaging with the poem. "Well, when you're bored in the barracks in Baghdad and only have a copy of Wilfred Owen and Rudyard Kipling, you'd be amazed where the brain goes compared to hearing Catzie Vilayphonh going on at the Mall of America on Black Friday."

What might happen if one is exposed to just poetry from people in the same general demographic, or from the opposite sex?

I think there are many interesting directions future studies could go.

There aren't many Lao American writers pursuing their MFAs or even just a degree in Creative Writing with a concentration in post-colonial poetics, but if they were looking for something challenging to take on, this might be it. The problem would be too many of us might get intimidated by the seeming lack of prior research, making the literature review portion of a dissertation problematic. And at the end of the day, I'd also always ask: You can study all of this, but did you become a kick-ass poet because of it? Because I can point to several who didn't, and whose output has slowed to a self-crippled crawl thanks to the doubts the programs instilled in them. That's a discussion for another time, though.

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