Too close for comfort: aphasia and mediocre poetry


Aphasia is a neurological disorder that affects speech comprehension and speech production. It has been suggested that aphasic speech and poetry bear some resemblance.

In a recent study, Albert-Jan. Roskam found that poems of mediocre quality and aphasic transcripts may be indistinguishable, especially for men. His findings raise questions on gender differences in the specialization of the left brain hemisphere in the context of poetry.

To test the hypothesis that poems of mediocre quality and aphasic transcripts cannot be distinguished, Roskam surveyed employees of a Dutch medical center and subscribers of a statistical newsgroup on the internet. Respondents were presented four pairs of poems and aphasic transcripts.

Poems were rated slightly higher than aphasic transcripts. Among men, there were no significant differences between ratings of poems and aphasic speech. Women rated poems slightly but significantly higher than aphasic transcripts.


9 thoughts on “Too close for comfort: aphasia and mediocre poetry

  1. This may be something to do with what people think poetry is these days. It’s a fascinating thought. In reverse it could be used as a test for quality in poetry.

  2. “ Words haunt me; I do not need to be in front of a blank page to get imprisoned. Words I hear, words I see out of the corner of my eye; a magnetic induction hurls them against me ”

    • Mariana, your blog is impressive. Given your interest in science and philosophy you might enjoy the work of Lyn Hejinian, Leslie Scalapino, and Joan Retallack.

  3. Thank you very much, Yours is pretty good too, I need some time to check it with more detail, I am saving those names right now and this weekend I am certainly going to check them

  4. I’m stumped on the term “mediocre quality.” Very interesting subject and study. I’m curious what would have happened if poems of poor or superb quality were used? I suppose “mediocre” here could refer to poems that don’t pose much of a challenge to comprehend, and, in that light, I understand. I am always intrigued by the interesting, sometimes awkward, but often beautiful dance between poetry and science. There’s a goldmine there for both “sides of the fence,” so to speak, and if you are one who straddles that fence, I stand in awe and am a little bit jealous. I’m admittedly lacking in science, despite a piece of paper that says I’ve got a degree in Psychology, but I’m more pseudo-stellar in the arts. Very cool site, by the way. I am moved by the unique approach to poetry here and the obvious dedication and hard work a site like this must require to maintain. Looking forward to lurking more.

    • Thanks for the comment. You’re right–the author of the study says he may well have gotten different results had he used poems of superb quality, as you suggest. I like your phrase, “the sometimes awkward, but often beautiful dance between poetry and science.” What a nice image! I am neither a poet nor a scientist, but I appreciate the spectrum of approaches to language, from linguistics to philology to poetry to literary criticism to discourse theory. Thanks for your compliments and I hope to hear more from you.

  5. Hi paul, I wanted to thank you a lot for the poets recomendation. It open my horizons, never knew that something like that excisted, I need to study more and read more about those poets, they invented a new field.
    I wanted to ask you if you have an email, or a blog, or if this is your blog, or how can I stay in touch with you.

    Thank you very much

  6. Pingback: Poetry News For April 14, 2009 | Poetry Hut Blog

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