I have been teaching a workshop called Writing as a “Righting” Journey for parents of children with chronic illness. It is my belief that writing helps us find ways to negotiate the roller coaster of emotions when our children are ill. Somehow, writing mediates our feelings and we may in fact be able to think more clearly after writing about something that is upsetting to us. While I have been convinced of this for myself, and there are legions of others who feel this way, I have become curious if anyone is actually studying this phenomenon scientifically.
OK, emotions are seated in the amygdala, that information is fairly well known. Rational thinking or the ability to modulate one’s feelings seems to lie in the prefrontal cortex (and this takes well into our 20’s to really develop, so we need to give teens a break), yup, that is well studied too. But the thing that made me sit up and take note was that “scientists suggest that the less vivid and descriptive the piece, the better.” Hence, bad poetry?
Apparently, if you write about something in a “detached” sort of way, rather than really going into detail, the amygdala calms down and the prefrontal cortex lights up. But if you write in more detail, it seems to make one relive the painful or negative experience.
Hmm, now that is not what I expected to hear, but it does make some sense. I have written my worst poetry in the middle of crisis times. But I have felt better getting it out my body and onto paper.
Yet as a poet, I also know enough to let those words sit for awhile, maybe even a year before I go back to them and revise. So maybe bad poetry and lyrics are being published “right out of the box” as it were. The heart/brain box that is. And maybe when we go back to revise our work, whether we were detached or overwrought to begin with, we add more detail and metaphor or hone and strip the narrative, the descriptions or style, so the flood of emotions we felt initially becomes modulated too. The poem takes on a life of its own, it takes a journey that may have a different ending from its origin.
The reader is then able to sense or respond to the piece without being swamped by the load of emotion that prompted the piece in the first place.
And I may now have to encourage my students to be more “dull” in their approaches to writing, so they will feel better. Even if no one reads their work..