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.

NEXT: Trust, But Please Don't Verify

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  1. David Bowie rules.

    I used to have a profile/membership on that Teenage Wildlife fan site about two years ago…

    I prefer either the mullet-cowboy, or The Thin White Duke myself…

  2. What they’re really saying here is that it’s hard to fathom the depths of the poet’s soul. I, for one, can think of a few publications more worth my time (mostly scientific in nature) than trying to decipher the navel-staring language of a haunted wordsmith. (An’ I LOVES my readin’!)

  3. …subjects “read poems slowly, concentrating and re-reading individual lines more than they did with prose,”…

    Shit, that’s what happens to me with one of g. marius’ posts, and I’ve never gotten a bit smarter on that account. 🙂

  4. Good one, Issac.

    If anything, usually I feel only confusion after reading one of his posts. Me smarter now?(drool)

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

    To tie this to another Hit and Run post, what do people’s eye movements say about watching live nude strippers? Are they in a state of deep thought?

    Maybe we can scientifically prove that nude strip-dancing is not just art, but the highest, most intellectually challenging form ever created!

  6. Good one Blammo

    File this under no-fucking-shit. Of course poetry is more challenging to read then prose. But I’m highly skeptical poetry reading makes you any smarter. A better, faster reader maybe…ultimately I’d suspect based on these findings, prose makes you smarter, because you don’t have to engage as much attention on actually reading it, translating the symbols and all, and can put more attention on abstractly pondering it.

  7. To: Tim Cavanaugh
    Web Editor,

    Here I sit
    All broken-hearted
    The rhyme you writ
    Didn’t make me smart, ed.

  8. In order to do my small part to help boost the intellectual level of this group, I will begin making all my comments in poetic form.

    Um, does anybody know a word that rhymes with orifice?

  9. Chuck, does “score a piece” work?

    I’d like to score a piece,
    of her orifice
    etc, etc

  10. I can recall the heady halcyon days of my youth, when my impressionable young mind was first expanded by this ingratiating little quatrain:

    Who doth write on bath-room walles
    Rolleth their shitte in little balles
    Dost thou, who readst thine words of witte,
    Eat yon little balles of shitte?

    Sing, muse!

  11. Chuck
    How about “for a kiss”?

  12. I think “for a kiss” is the best suggestion so far.

    Better than anything I could think up, which was:

    – or a miss
    – more o’ this
    – an ora’s hiss

    “Ora” being the native name for the Komodo dragon lizard. That might be a bit too exotic to be useful.

  13. No Skywalker ~ And That’s Okay
    By: Echo Lamb

    And where do heroes go
    To hide away the days?
    As if there are any
    Like we should waste our time
    Looking to the skies
    For someone to watch over us
    So gone are the days of knights and armor
    And only in dreams
    Are flying men of steel
    So, when there’s nothing to fight but conflict
    Surrounding you yourself
    Look deep inside
    And you may see
    You can be your own safety belt.


    Wow. That makes me think. It makes me think how very, very bad poetry can be in college. *shudders*

    That’s actually from my college’s annual poetry magazine. A junior college, to be sure, but nonetheless . . .

  14. This looks like it might be a great place to plug the election of the world’s first Blogging Poet Laureate.

  15. Props Isaac, Blammo, and MTC.

    Of course people take more time to read poetry than prose. Consider the difference in the number of words. Poetry is usually compact and full of meaning whereas prose is lengthy and contains much, basic, factual information/writing. If I read Walt Whitman I will take more time reading and contemplating each sentence for instance than my software license agreement. Does this make you smarter though? Fuck if I know.
    I read tons of stuff, carefully, every day, mostly Reason, but also Lew Rockwell, Agonist, Drudge, and the local newspaper. But almost no peotry. I’m pretty smart.
    This is the kind of science that I like to read about though.

    p.s. My favorite poem that I can almost remember….

    There were once two cats from Killkenny,
    each of whom thought there was one cat too many,
    so thay sparred and the fought,
    and the clawed and they bate,
    until now instead of two cats there aren’t any.

    Is there a Southparkian root in there?

  16. Bowie’s Byron character was a nod to the late Screaming Lord Sutch, co-founder of the UK’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party.


  17. artifice
    for a fish

  18. There once was a man from Nantucket,
    but that was a long time ago
    and he’s probably dead by now.

  19. Thanks for all the rhymes, but I still seem to have poet’s block 🙁

    I have a new idea, though: group-written poetry!!
    I’ll start with the first line, and you all can add lines as you see fit.

    OK, here’s my first line:

    There once was a man named Santorum…

  20. Who thought he might join a blog forum.

  21. There once was a man named Santorum
    In the world’s most exclusivest forum.
    “In the land of E Pluribus,”
    he said, “no man’s orifice
    “Shall be breached, or I’ll roundly deplore ‘im.”

  22. but he was scared of the gays

  23. ok, tim wins [hangs head]

  24. Applause for Tim.

    Although I just now noticed Jennifer’s entry about the man from Nantucket, and that was pretty good also.

    But my all-time favorite poem is probably the haiku version of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”:

    I came for ideas
    Instead I’m going to die
    You rotten mountain

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