How Poetry Makes You Smarter
I’ve been writing poetry for over 25 years. I’ve published some of it via 8 books. I’m not sure where it comes from, only that it keeps coming. What fascinates me is how audiences react when I read poems to them. For instance, at one of my book signings in Berkeley, California, I was reading a poem about what a cow experiences in a factory farm. One listener visibly shuddered and said, “If you read that one more time, I might have to give up meat.”
I was surprised. It made me want to learn more about how poetry impacts the brain. Let’s explore the research.
One study measured heart rate, facial expression, and goosebumps, showing that there are neurological differences compared to listening to music or watching films. Interestingly, listeners, even those who had never heard a poem before, could anticipate the emotional arousal, and would slowly build up to their goosebumps. This suggests that poetry:
…valorizes the unconscious, opening us up to new perspectives; it implies the possibility of unlimited pleasure.
Being aware of and open to new perspectives is a wonderful right-brain benefit of reading poetry.
I believe that our results argue for a profoundly intuitive origin of poetry. Poetry appears to be ‘built in,’ it is like a profound intuition, every human being is an unconscious poet.
Intuitively navigating complex meaning in poetry can assist us with general mental wellbeing, as well as with dealing with uncertain conditions in daily life.
Poetry also stimulates memory, more so than other kinds of reading, and may have implications for more self-reflection.
I’m excited to know that poetry benefits the brain so much. Poetry also helps me appreciate life, nature, truth, beauty, and mystery.
The next time you’re devoting time to reading, choose a little poetry to exercise your memory, complex problem-solving, empathy, and reflection skills. Let me know what’s working for you!