And he who understands it would be able To add a story to the Tower of Babel


Next time you're working that open-mic poetry slam or doing the Antiamericansk Dans, you may be doing more than just testifying about the rage and oppression here in Amerikkka. You may be making yourself smarter through poetry.

According to The Scotsman (which would be my favorite newspaper title if there weren't a paper called The Hindu), researchers at Dundee and St Andrews Universities have used advanced scientific techniques to establish that poetry makes you think more deeply than prose: "[T]he work of poets such as Lord Byron exercise the mind more than a novel by Jane Austen."

That's welcome news for the few remaining fans of George Gordon, Lord Byron (tellingly self-described in The Bride of Frankenstein as "England's grrreatest sinner!"), who have seen our womanizin', club-footin', Turk-fightin', boy-enjoyin' hero sink to almost zero cultural relevance in recent decades. The details of the experiment inspire somewhat less confidence:

To study readers' reactions, the research group focused an infrared beam on the pupils of their eyes to detect minute movements as they read.

They found poetry produced all the standard psychological indications associated with intellectual difficulty, such as slow deliberate movement, re-reading sections and long pauses.

Even when they used identical content but displayed it in both a poem format and a prose format, they discovered readers found the poem form the more difficult to understand.

Literature prof "Dr" Jane Stabler notes that subjects "read poems slowly, concentrating and re-reading individual lines more than they did with prose," and that this reading manner "is the same sort of reading produced by a dyslexic reader who finds reading difficult."

No offense to dyslexics, but that doesn't sound to me like it's making anybody smarter. Stabler, however, says this is a way of reading associated with deeper thought. So send that pill Mr. Darcy back to Pemberly, think deeply as you chortle at the cross-dressing antics in the fifth and sixth cantos of Don Juan, and remember: it ain't worth a dime if it ain't got a rhyme. Here's hoping Dundee and St Andrews researchers will devote next semester to finding out whatever became of "Screaming Lord Byron," the going-nowhere persona David Bowie adopted for about five minutes in the Eighties.