Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The failed poets society

It is sometimes said that people who could not make decent poets become critics instead. It seems brain science offers some corroboration to this old hunch. On his “Psychology Today” blog, Norman Holland recounts an improvised “experiment” he once witnessed. Someone brought together poets and critics to read poetry, and it turned out they had very different takes on it. While the poets paid attention to the sounding of words and to rhythm, “the critics concerned themselves with things like repetitions and contrasts of themes and meanings.” Now a neuroscientist has done a clever study of the “information-processing approach” of poets and critics. It turns out, exposure to poetry activates different neural networks in the brains of individuals belonging to the two groups. While poets tend to experience poetry more immediately (I would add, maybe more emotionally), critics apply a more top-down semantic-conceptual analysis. Holland makes it seem like this is a matter mostly of choosing the reading strategies appropriate for the occupations poets and critics have taken up. It’s probably more a matter of some individuals having the inclination (and underlying brain wiring) to approach the written word in one manner, and others – very differently.