Travis Nichols, the Editor at the Poetry Foundation has a really intriguing piece in the Huffington Post this week about poetry and the brain. Pictured on the left is Henry Molaison who affectionately was known to many involved in his life as just H.M.
Late last year Molaison passed away. Molaison’s claim to fame relates to his memory capacity, or lack thereof. I won’t go into the entire history, but he underwent brain surgery in the 1950’s and as a result had the inability to form new memories. During his post surgery years, he was studied profusely in search for clues to our memory process. Even in death, medical science has turned to his brain for more answers to the mystery of how and where memories are created as well as retrieved. Scientists hope to be able to map the memory process by observing slices of M.H.’s brain.
Nichols claims that what Dr. Jacopo Annese, who is doing the slicing is exploring the greatest poetic mystery of all time. Nichols talks about some poetry that is less about telling stories and more about using poetry that engages a readers brain while he/she is reading, that utilizes sound patterns or other techniques to create Cognitive Poetics.
Nichols uses the example of an poet not just saying, “When I made out with so-and-so, I did the happy dance!” Instead, that poet would use language that would allow a particularly attentive reader go beyond by just reading, but come to experience their mind doing the happy dance, thus creating a memory associated with it.
Nichols sees this kind of writing as experimental, which he notes is not unlike the path Dr. Annese is pursuing.