The Prompter Room

For Saturday, January 30, 2016:


“I think that the job of poetry, its political job, is to refresh the idea of justice, which is going dead in us all the time.”

Robert Hass, Academy of American Poets

“Poetry remains necessary, intrinsic to more than one kind of understanding.”

Marilyn Hacker, Academy of American Poets

One of the things I learned way back when I first started journalism studies was that most people have to see or read something at least three times, preferably in three different ways, before they can take in the information completely.

This was reiterated when I was in training as a consultant.  That’s why it helps to have, for instance, graphs to go along with narrative (spoken backed up with written) to go along with bullet points to go along with diagrams or illustrations.

I have a theory that poetry – and, by extension, song lyrics – serves a similar purpose.  I first started thinking about this when I wrote a particular poem almost ten years ago that my sister actually liked and, more importantly, understood.  She has never liked poetry – though she wrote one in school that was incredible – so for her to 1) read my poem, 2) like it enough to exclaim how much she did, and 3) that she understood it made me sit up and take notice.

The poem was a sonnet.  Rather, it ended up as a sonnet.  When I first wrote it, the format was freeform.  I still had that draft so I asked her to compare the two and she picked the sonnet.  Seeing the two together, she said, helped her to understand the more narrative poem, but she still preferred the sonnet form.

Carrying that forward, then, I believe poetry helps us ‘get’ what other forms of writing and discourse don’t provide because it reaches a part of our brains that pure narrative doesn’t.  Especially nowadays, in this political cycle, bombarded as we are with so much verbiage before our eyes, ears, and heads that just slides across our consciousness without much impact.  I believe that poetry invites us to a different facet of understanding because of the ‘white space’ of what it doesn’t say.

My theory is that poetry helps our brain rest, in a sense, from our usual ways of taking in information.  In that uncluttered – or at least less cluttered – place we are led to more intuitive thinking.  We may not realize we’re absorbing thoughts as we read a poem, but our brain does in a more creative, productive way.

That’s my theory, anyway (and I’m sticking to it!).  I have no way to prove it, but that’s all right.  It works for me.  And, apparently, my sister – at least once.


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