Prose on the Brain, Poetry on the Tongue

By chance, I was reading Francisco Aragón’s post at Letras Latinas, the blog for the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. In passing to more important matters, Junot Diaz’ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Aragón makes this confession:

I don’t read many novels. If anything, I’m more drawn to short fiction (I’m currently working, relishing through William Trevor at clip of a story a week). Or I read nonfiction of all types. And of course poems.

A confession which, apart from reading William Trevor and apart from the genial tone, I might have written for myself. But why? What do poets read?

In my own case, I am a tortuously slow reader – I want to read poetry and so, with what little time I have and with what uninspiring skills, I have consciously decided to read the poetry first and the fiction later. A decision that has resulted in not reading too many novels over the years. At the same time, I think I have lost my taste for flaccid, descriptive prose and the endless mouthfuls of mash potatoes that one must mull through to finish what was hoping to be a movie. Excuses, no doubt, for neglect.

But I’ve always wondered if prose readers are better at reading in the brain (an eye to cortex pathway – a fairly speedy highway) while the poets are left to trudge along, passing each word over the eyes and (if silently) across the vocal chords to the ear. If only I could land an NIH/NEA combo-grant for such a study … finding, however, a bunch of poetry readers willing to submit to the medical research, might be a problem. (April 9, 2008)


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