Beloved recluse Emily Dickinson is said to have written to a friend, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” We could say, then, that Dickinson had experience with poetry on the brain. (Or, perhaps not, since there are, in fact, no reports of the top of her head being taken off. Surely in spite of her solitude, someone, at some time, would have noticed.)
The top of my own head is so far intact. Nevertheless, I can often be found in such a state—with poetry on the brain. Sometimes, with certain poems, I have to reach up and hold the top of my head (I figure this is how Dickinson made it through without that sort of calamity).
In truth, Dickinson was onto something. Poetry really does have a particular effect on the brain. New York Magazine recently reported on a study of poetry readers conducted by German and Norwegian researchers that measured heart rate, monitored facial expressions, and even used a funny little contraption called a “goosecam” that registers movement of skin and arm hairs. While the study participants experienced chills and goose bumps in about the same ways as people would when watching films or listening to music, the neurological results showed that reading poetry activated a different part of the brain than that involved in film or music.
I’ll be at work today, holed up in a conference room at a law firm in downtown Minneapolis trying to get a big case settled before trial. There will probably be a poet sticking out of my jacket pocket (I’m not sure which, yet) because, after all, it’s Take Your Poet to Work Day, which includes taking your poet to a mediation. And to keep my brain from giving in to the throes of boredom between rounds, I’ll likely have poetry on the brain, maybe working on memorizing something from Neruda.
I hope you’ll be celebrating too, whether you are at work, or at the beach. Check out our full page of Take Your Poet to Work Day resources, including a poster, a free coloring book, and a fun collection of cut-out poets you can affix to a Popsicle stick or pencil and brighten up your (and your coworkers’) day. Tweet us a photo of your poet to @tspoetry with the hashtag #poettowork, and we might feature you.
Just, please, hold on to the top of your head.
Download the Take Your Poet to Work Day Poster
Check out our complete Take Your Poet to Work Day resource page