(Found this in my files. I wrote it several years back. My grandson recently questioned the value of poetry related to a school assignment. Thought, he and other might enjoy this nonsense.)
People study the strangest things. They obviously have someone with more grant money than sense to back them, and they also have too much free time on their hands.
A fellow named James Kaufman with the Learning Research Institute at California State University at San Bernadino has studied the age of dying writers, and found poets die younger than other writers.
Guess I should have figured a study like this would come out of California.
Anyway, Kaufman studies nearly 2,000 dead writers (some would say the best kind) from various centuries. They were from the United States, Turkey, China and Eastern Europe. In his study, he classified the writers as poets, playwrights, fiction writers, and non-fiction writers.
He didn’t study how they died, just what age they were when they expired. Poets in the U.S., Turkey and China died significantly sooner than either fiction or non-fiction writers. Some of these poets lived several hundred years ago and others were more recent, but because of the difference in the times they lived, there is no good way to compare them to the age when the general public expired at the time.
However the average poet studied lived to be 62, playwrights made it to 63, writers of novels passed on at 66, and non-fiction folks like newspaper reporters lived longest at an average of 68.
Kaufman also found that poets had more mental illness than other writers, but I’d guess most people who take up the pen or keyboard today have to be a bit wacky. The study even revealed that lady poets have even more mental problems than men. Honest, it’s true.
You have to wonder about the value of this great research project. Guess maybe it might help life insurance companies add a few bucks to the premiums of those who rhyme. But then, not all poems rhyme.
Kaufman didn’t have any good reason why poets live fewer years than other scribes. One theory is that poets write most of their works in their younger years, and other writers produce more in later years. (Wonder who did that study?)
My theory is that it has something to do with poets worrying about iambic pentameter. If you had to worry about iambic pentameter every day, it would be bound to shorten your life.
I vaguely remember a professor bringing up iambic pentameter in one of my class and I suddenly was overcome with stress. I never did figure it out, but thought it might be the death of me in that class.
One of the great things about journalism classes was the prof always emphazized kept it simple. Keep paragraphs to about 35 words and write to the fourth grade level. That works for me because that’s a level I’m comfortable with.
Since I figure iambic pentameter is a likely cause of early poetic demise, I figured after all these year I better learn a bit more about it, so of course I went to the sometimes trusty Internet.
According to one website, iambic pentameter consists of one short syllable followed by one long syllable: one unstressed syllable, by one stressed. It obviously is stressful to write unstressed syllables followed by stressed ones.
However, that is just the half of it. Pentameter is “a measure of verse having five metrical feet.” No, I’m not going to get into metrical feet. I figure I’ll live longer not trying to understand that stressful form of writing.
A few noteworthypoets were required reading in school, but beyond that I have never really grown to appreciate poetry. It may be like Scotch. You have to learn to appreciate it. I’ve never been able to fully appreciate it.
I’ve never progressed much further than enjoying a good verse inside a Christmas or birthday card.