Is poetry food for the brain?

Is poetry food for the brain?

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Well, if the art of keeping young is to remain fit and healthy and to have an open mind, poetry certainly has a part to play. If the last time you read or wrote a poem was in secondary school, you could be missing a trick.

What is poetry?

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.

Robert Frost

Poetry is officially good for us

Creating some form of art is commonly believed to help us stay mentally healthy, but there’s more to it when it comes to writing and reciting poetry. 

Broadcaster and novelist Gyles Brandreth in his book Dancing By The Light Of The Moon, encourages us to go back to learning poetry as we did at school. He interviewed neuroscience expert Usha Goswami, a professor at Cambridge University, who found children develop linguistic skills through poetry and rhyme and as we age memorising poetry can help keep some forms of dementia at bay.

Brain power boost

Not only does poetry enhance literacy in the young, but learning poems by heart can improve memory, boost brain power, extend your vocabulary and beat cognitive decline as time goes by.

Here’s the thing, poetry can make us smarter. That’s because it isn’t just about reading words, but about understanding the sounds, meanings, and emotions of them.

When the brain processes these together at once, its function peaks, awakening multiple areas of the brain and strengthening overall cognitive health. It forces our brains to think laterally, to connect different sensory impressions and links.

Studies using live MRI tests show the part of the brain that activates during daydreaming also lights up when reading or listening to poetry. Regions in the brain’s right hemisphere that are linked to reward and emotion are triggered.

Poetry and music

The playfulness of poetic language makes it easier to recall, in the same way that a song can stick in your head.

Research from the University of Exeter in 2013 revealed poetry generated a similar emotional response in the brain to music. After all, you could argue that songs are no more than poems set to music.

Muscle memory

If you can remember the words to your favorite songs you can use verse to remember your own written words too.

Poetry has been used to  treat patients with dementia, since the rhymes we learn early in life are often retained even when other memories are hard to access. We soak up poetry from our childhood and it can whisk us back there in an instant.

Muscle memory has been used to describe the observation that various muscle-related tasks seem to be easier to perform after previous practice and it’s no different when it comes to the brain. 

By writing, reading and memorising poetry you’re exercising your mind. It’s a creative way to both keep a record of your history and train your brain to remember things. 

Learning a new poem every week, even just a funny limerick, won’t only exercise the relevant neurological muscles, it will also help lift your mood.

A wonderful bird is the pelican,

His bill holds more than his belican.

He can take in his beak,

Enough food for a week,

But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879–1972)

For every moment in your life there’s a poem

Poetry not only boosts memory, it encourages self-reflection and conveys emotion succinctly and powerfully.

Think about it for a second,  it’s one of the reasons that sharing poetry is so popular at weddings and funerals. It moves us to ponder the world from a new angle and from a neuroscientific point of view, that’s no accident.

A mental gulp of healthy fresh air

Poems can encapsulate feelings we might find difficult to express, for example if we can’t find the words to comfort the bereaved.  Helping us shape our loss, heartache, and even our depression, poetry packs a punch.

Short on words, big on emotion

In our short-form world poetry is experiencing something of a comeback.

That’s thanks to poets like Rupi Kaur, an Indian-born Canadian poet, illustrator, and author who climbed to fame on Instagram through sharing her short visual poetry.

If you want to cut to the chase and say a lot in as few characters as possible, then turn to poetry.

For better brain health and more emotional connection to your memories, it seems, poetry might be the way to go. Why not give it a try?

Parsley Box customers regularly send us their poetry to share on social media.

Click here to take a look.

Do you write poetry? What’s your favourite poem? 

We’d love to hear from you