Thanks to Amanda Gorman, who read her performance poems at a presidential inauguration and this year’s Super Bowl, poetry has made a resurgence in popular culture. Gorman has been been to as a “poet for the masses.”
Poetry, on the other hand, has long been hidden in plain sight in the mainstream. Gorman’s spoken-word performances, which have been compared to hip hop, brought poetry into music lyrics to the fore. However, poetry can also be seen in other music, films and television.
These media depictions are fascinating because they demonstrate how poetry is commonly associated with emotions. And results in cognitive neuroscience about how language and, by extension, poetry work corroborate popular wisdom.
Poetry appears in some of our most memorable films, where it expresses a range of emotions. This is alongside from films or TV programs about poets like Dickinson or Paterson. Love (Before Sunrise), mad ambition (Citizen Kane), nostalgic patriotism (Skyfall), pride (Invictus), nihilism (Apocalypse Now), and trauma (Apocalypse Now) are only a few examples (The Piano).
Poetry, which represents emotion, usually portrays humanity. This is especially noticeable in films involving clones.
When the clone Jack Harper recites a poem from Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome in the Tom Cruise film Oblivion, it establishes his legitimacy. Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer, misquotes William Blake in Blade Runner: Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rumbled about their beaches; burning with Orc fires.
As a result of poetry’s television appearances, a common conception of it as an expression of human emotion.
This intuitive knowledge of poetry corresponds to cognitive neuroscience studies. Many scientists now acknowledge the body and emotion as the underpinnings of both cognition and speech. They reject conceptions of the brain that imply it runs like a computer and theories of language that focus on mental grammar.
The role of mirror neurons is particularly intriguing. When an action is witnessed or performed, these brain cells activate. They reveal a lot about how we interpret other people’s behaviors. They propose that understanding is the result of brain-based mirroring or imitation.
A smile, for example, has a contagious impact.
When we see someone smile, we mimic the action in order to comprehend it.
When it comes to language comprehension, something similar happens. Words have an infectious effect on us. Hearing or reading the word “lick” activates the portion of your brain that moves your mouth. When you hear or read the word “kick,” the same thing happens. As a result, we have a physical reaction to the meaning of these words.
What about coming up with words? Speech is, at its core, a motor activity that emerged from gesture. When we talk we express ourselves by moving our lips, tongues, lungs, stomach muscles. And sometimes even our hands.
We learn language as newborns by imitating the contours of our caregivers’ mouths and moving our arms and legs in pleasure and irritation at the repetitious noises they make, until we can finally imitate their sounds. Those noises are accompanied with feelings, the strongest of which is a yearning to communicate outside our own borders.
Language, of course, evolves into a more abstract communication system. However, expressing sentiments that are strongly felt in the body, such as loneliness, loss, or trauma, can frequently be a difficulty.
“Unfortunately there I run out of words,”
John Hannah’s character says in Four Weddings and a Funeral when trying to express his sorrow for his deceased companion.
This is where poetry comes in, utilizing the rhymes and rhythms that have helped us learn to speak since childhood, bringing attention to the aural features of language in order to transmit meaning through feeling.
If we can’t do it ourselves, we quote someone else’s words, linking poetry with emotional outpouring automatically and ritualistically.
This connection to emotion, as well as childlike speech, surely contributes to another prevalent notion about poetry: that it denotes “madness.” Biopics of poets, for example, Sylvia and Pandaemonium, depictions of Sylvia Plath and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, respectively, fuel this image by primarily choosing poets with mental problems as their subjects.
Poetry, on the other hand, appears to exemplify a crucial truth about language and human nature, according to cognitive neuroscience and conventional wisdom.
While poetry is frequently chastised for “not making sense,” our brain and language are not formed only on the basis of rational ideas.
We are feeling-created bodies. In the film Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams’ character simplifies this truth: “We read and compose poetry because we are members of the human race.” And the human race is a passionate bunch.