Poetry has a long history of being associated with irrationality and mental illness, especially in the sciences. This paper begins by engaging with Max Nordau’s fin-de-siècle physiognomic study of ‘degenerate’ artists, in which the poetic utterances of the Symbolists are theorised in terms of atavistic emotionalism. This paper concurs that emotion is indeed central to poiesis, though it contests the pathologisation of both emotion and creativity still present in many scientific studies of the arts, mobilising contemporary theories of embodied cognition to redeem emotion as a central if neglected dimension of healthy cognition. In fact, further contesting the enduring myth of the mad poet, this paper ultimately argues that the emotions that inform poetry are often ‘professionally’ affected for their generative potential.
This paper engages with biopoetic paradigms for understanding creativity and, especially, poetry. While acknowledging the tensions that have long existed between the sciences and the humanities, this paper argues that the work of the US sociobiologist Ellen Dissanayake provides exciting opportunities for rethinking poetic praxis that extend Romantic paradigms. Dissanayake’s theory of poetry’s origins in ‘motherese’, the emotionally charged and dynamic language through which mothers or caregivers engage their children, is of particular interest. Dissanayake’s conception of poetry’s genesis provides us with a new way of theorising two key features of poetic creativity—emotionalism and inarticulacy—that resonate with a Romantic phenomenology of poetic praxis as well as with this author’s experience of writing poetry.