Formal Verse Frees One From the Fetters of One's Ego - Blog

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Formal Verse Frees One From the Fetters of One's Ego

The title of this blog is a statement written by the poet W.H. Auden in 1972.  Auden wrote: “I can’t understand – strictly from a hedonistic point of view – how one can enjoy writing with no form at all. If one plays a game one needs rules, otherwise there is no fun. The wildest poem has to have a firm basis in common sense, and this, I think, is the advantage of formal verse. Aside from the obvious corrective advantages, formal verse frees one from the fetters of one’s ego.” Writers – photographs by Nancy Compton, p. 28 (WW Norton & Company Ltd. 2005).

In my second blog above, I state:   "The poetic process frees the poet from the fetters of his or her ego and the defensiveness of the conscious mind so that the poet can explore his or her subconscious, the contents of which are revealed even to the poet as surprises as the poem develops and ends.  Thus, in poetry, meaning arrives impromptu - what was unconscious in the text gathers itself at the end of the poem and becomes the poem's meaning.  Balzac wrote:  'A man does not recognize as his own what he has written as a poet.'"

The above statements were based on empirical experience of poets who write lyrical poetry and, in my case, the teachings of Jose Garcia Villa.  However, in doing some research on an observation that "poetry . . . [is] the perfect union of the right and left brain," I happened upon some scientific evidence that may support the above statements.  An article in The Scientist Magazine by Beth Marie Mole, dated November 21, 2012 and titled "Freestyle fMRI," reports on conclusions of researchers at the National Institutes of Health who used functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI) to scan the brains of freestyle rappers as they performed.  The images, which track blood through the brain, are thought to indicate the areas of the brain which are active during the rappers' performances.

When the rappers began their freestyle performance, the fMRI indicated that the medial prefrontal cortex, the middle part of the frontal lobe - which corresponds to self-motivation and initiation - along with the motor and emotional regions of the brain were all more active during freestyle rap compared to rehearsed rap.  Lead researcher Siyuan Lui reported that:  "We think this freestyle improvisation could be linked to a big network, linking self motivation, inititiation, language, motor and emotion together."  The researchers also noted that the left hemisphere of the brain was relatively more active than the right at the beginning of creative flow.

However, when the rappers neared the end of phrases and musical measures, the researchers saw the right hemisphere become more active.  While disclaiming having a clear answer as to why this switch in brain activity takes place, the researchers opined that their data suggest that during bursts of artistic expression, the creativity network they identified becomes unfettered by self-consciousness and awareness, which will later staunch the flow as the performance comes to an end or pauses.

Prior studies had indicated that speech and language are more left hemisphere activities and that music is more right hemisphere.  In writing poems, the lyric poet is simultaneously engaged in selecting language and making music (in fact, selecting language to make music). One could, from this research, conclude that, when the creative network is freed from the fetters of self-conciousness, artistic expression is enhanced.      


Vocation: Wall Street Trial Lawyer (Retired)
Avocation: Poetry and Poetics
Studied poetry with Jose Garcia Villa 1970-1997
Writer and Publisher of Poetry


  • Guest
    Paul Oratofsky Monday, 05 August 2013

    Yes, the form is the structure - without which its language has nowhere to live. And I agree that following the form frees your deeper selves to come out into the work. This may be hard to make someone realize who hasn't worked in that process - and seen the fruits of it firsthand. And structure is usually seen as a limitation, a restricting - when it's actually the opposite. But it's counterintuitive.

  • Guest
    909 Thursday, 10 October 2013

    It's interesting to hear composing process of poem in the brain, although it's well balanced by two hemispheres of brain, yet the most important is what is there actually in the right hemisphere that can be said as reason or the like, for somebody has virtually one reason at all, or their right hemisphere is much smaller than it should be.

  • Guest
    Ruth Bolton Monday, 11 November 2013

    As I read this article, I immediately liken Poetic work as an art form, just as if an artist stands before a blank canvas. Adherence to the rules of form may actually hold the conscious mind, allowing the unconscious to flow freely. It is the synchronicity of brain structure and function that play magically in the ultimate Poetic masterpiece.

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Guest Tuesday, 23 January 2018