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Friday, November 08, 2013

Poetry Is Good For Your Brain (and Maybe Your Heart Too)

I love the new neurological research. It's turning up all sorts of things that make the yellow journalists look like media whore sleazebags with their terrible-terrible news. Here's a new one that caught my fancy -- reading poetry may activate your brain more than reading prose. A study at The University of Exeter showed through MRI monitoring that brains are differently activated when reading poetry than when reading prose: specifically, brains are more lively reading poetry. Different areas of the brain light up when reading "more emotionally charged" writing. And emotion is the heart of poetry, so the poems read -- regardless of comprehension -- stimulated the brain more than prose.

Over at Brainpickings, Alain de Botton, one of my favorite authors, is quoted from his new book, written with John Armstrong, called Art As Therapy. I don't like the title, but I do love a few things he says about the value of art and how it changes us. I like what he has to say about the dancers in Matisse's paintings:

"The dancers in Matisse’s painting are not in denial of the troubles of this planet, but from the standpoint of our imperfect and conflicted — but ordinary — relationship with reality, we can look to their attitude for encouragement. They put us in touch with a blithe, carefree part of ourselves that can help us cope with inevitable rejections and humiliations. The picture does not suggest that all is well, any more than it suggests that women always delight in each other’s existence and bond together in mutually supportive networks."

Putting us in touch with the joy we all carry within is no small part of the way art changes us. Joy as the goal of life -- not a bad idea, and art, especially certain kinds of poetry, inclines us to believe it's so.

P.S. My new book, Gods of Water and Air was discounted at Amazon -- for the time being, you can get it for $12.88 + shipping! Of course, if you order by emailing me or sending a Paypal, you get it for $14.95 WITHOUT shipping! Which is a better deal, because you also get an inscription. If you'd like.