On this journey through the languages of learning, many of the examples we’ve looked at would often be considered to be ‘arts’, to be somehow informal, to be less rigorous than ‘formal’ communication. We can all see how video is used in learning, how text is used, but when we move to music, to dance, to poetry, it’s less clear. I wonder why that is?
Video, animation, text, spoken word, these formats are all used widely for very formal messaging as well as informal, so why are others segregated so far? The spoken language used by news anchors is the same as that used by Shakespeare or J K Rowling, for radically different purposes from the highly informal to the highly formal. But you never see the news read in poetry (although there is, of course, the Rap News…).
Whilst researching music in learning, i was fascinated to find that music and spoken language are processed differently, so that people who lose the ability to process spoken language can still sometimes process words in song. Similarly, people who lose the ability to speak may still be able to sing. The difference is in the lilting quality of song, so in the middle ground, the Torah, which is recited in a lilting tone, may still be retained whilst speech is lost. Similarly with poetry: so we may actually process poems differently from spoken word.
In my mind, poetry falls between spoken and sung language. It can be free from the formal structures of grammar and style, whilst being less about performance than pure song. I love writing poems, it feels liberating and flows more easily than text, although as i spend more time writing, i find that i carry some of the patterns of poetry through to my written work.
So is poetry a boiled down version of full text, or is it a reduced version of song? Or neither, is it a language of it’s own? And why don’t we use it for learning?
Well, of course that truth is that we do, but generally only when we are children. We are far more likely to use rhyming couplets used in children’s books than adults. And what about epic poems? Our ancestors used to use poetry to tell epic stories, to record their history: look at Beowulf. Where are our epic poems now? Have we devalued it through the Jabberwocky?
I realise that people would view me as cranky if i tried to include poems in formal learning, but the fact is that it can be easier to remember poems than straight words: think how many songs you know end to end. I think poetry is viewed as even less formal than song, somehow truly trivialised or confined to the arts.
As a language, poetry is beautiful, evocative, easily accessible, trivial, serious, raw and fun. It’s infinitely adaptable, but strangely confined. Maybe it’s time to liberate ourselves.