Influencing the Subconscious: Part Two

During a spoken conversation the listener can receive verbal and non verbal cues from the speaker; such as word choice, inflection, and body gestures.  These cues play an important part in communicating the observable and implicit messages of the speaker.  Written communication can compensate for the lack of verbalization and body gestures; however, the shorter the written piece, the more difficult this becomes.  With narrative the writer can convey mood and feeling with descriptive word choice.  For example, “The somber faces of the guest reflected their unwillingness to forget that Edward had twice deceived them.  While Edward plead his case, Jim idly looked out the window and shrugged.  The gray sky and intermittent rain did not help Edward’s position.”   Now think about a short friendly email or card you had written and was, unfortunately, taken out of context, or misunderstood, by the recipient.  Of course we could always include shorthand or symbols, such as LOL, or 🙂 or 😦 , to differentiate a funny comment from biting criticism.

 

In poetry, like narrative, the writer can influence the reader’s perception of the message by the use of syntax, word choice, and visual (i.e., line spacing, indentation, bold, underline, or Italic) as cues.  However, with poetry the writer can employ a more aggressive visual cueing.  A simple form of  ‘aggressive’ visual cueing in poetry is arranging the words on the page to form an actual picture associated with the subject.  Write a poem about a tree and place the words on the page in the shape of a tree.  The visual image of the tree will reinforce the observable message.  Or, you can change the shape to something other than a tree, such as a logging saw, to draw attention to an implicit message.

 

(For a good discourse on visual poetry, see Web Exhibits)

 

How the reader perceives the ‘complete’ massage is more than seeing a tree, it is a combination of factors.  Reader perception is a compilation of the four levels of message comprehension: observable (obvious), implicit (implied, an allegory), linear relationship (linking the observable and implicit to other events), and egocentric (prejudices the reader brings to the table).  While the reader is free to leave with satisfaction that he/she has understood the observable message, I have yet to meet a poet who does not use a poem to convey an implicit message as well.  The wild card is the egocentric, because it is the reader who establishes the self-centered relationships, or personal cueing.

 

Take the line: Joan walked to the store to buy herself some candy.  An observable message is, ‘Joan went to a store to buy candy.’  Two implicit messages are, ‘Joan did not intend to give the candy to someone else,’ and ‘Joan intended to buy, not steal the candy.’  A linear relationship could be, ‘The store was within walking distance for Joan.’  While the egocentric message may be, ‘Joan is going to waste money on candy.’

 

It is well established that the linear paradigm dominates the English language, as with other languages; regardless if the language is read from left to right, right to left, or top to bottom.  To comprehend what is being read, the reader uses preceding words as cues; a cognizant relational understanding.  In the example above, the reader comprehends the whole by the sum of its parts in a left to right progression: Joan (what?) – walked (where?)- to the store (why?)- to buy (what?) herself some candy.  Break the linear paradigm and: Herself a some walked buy store the Joan to candy.

 

How can the writer use visual to influence the reader in a less obvious way than drawing a tree, while still maintaining the linear paradigm?   One way is to use the reader’s cognizant relational understanding.

 

To illustrate, read the following poem:

 

purple and yellow flowers dance
sway to the music of the wind

bright spots in a green field
grass their skirts
the clouds a backdrop
the world their stage
bright little faces
greeting the day

 

 

Did you notice the poem could be read from top-to-bottom and from bottom-to-top?  I purposely laid out poem to make it visually unbalanced from top-to-bottom to cue the reader’s subconscious.  I believe that readers tend to want a single stanza poem to be “on level ground.”  Think of a pyramid, which denotes concentrated power emanating from a solid foundation.  Now think of a nonet (a nine line poem, with the first line containing nine syllables, the next eight, so on until the last line has one syllable).  A nonet is akin to an inverted pyramid, an object in a tenuous, delicate balance.

 

For some reason you can write a multi-stanza poem where the final line in each stanza is shorter than the lines above, and it is visually accepted.  Possibly, because the reader can see the first line of the next stanza.  However, in a single stanza poem, if the layout is unbalanced the reader has a problem with visual acceptance.

 

As in the example poem, the unbalanced single stanza can be beneficial to influencing the subconscious.  Upon reaching the last word in an unbalanced single stanza poem, the reader will subconsciously look back to the preceding word(s), or line(s); almost as a measure of reassurance.  That subconscious look, regardless of the depth, has an affect on the reader.  If the lines are relational, it can encourage the reader to re-read the entire poem from bottom-to-top.  With that said, I believe the effect is lost when the structure becomes too exaggerated, as in the case of a nonet.

 

purple and yellow flowers dance
sway to the music of the wind

bright spots in a green field
grass their skirts
the clouds a backdrop
the world their stage
bright little faces
greeting the day

 

So what, the reader reads it both ways?  The reason is quite simple, through word choice I have attempted from top-to-bottom to describe the flowers (observable).  Read it from bottom-to-top and I want a human allegory (implicit).  Thus, leading to a linear relationship message; i.e., flowers like humans are part of the living world around us.  The egocentric message?  That would depend on what you ‘bring to the table.’  The poem came to me while I was waiting for a traffic light to change.  There were these flowers in front of a low brick wall and I had this strange thought that these living organisms were waiting for something as I was – maybe not the light to change – but something. 

 

And yes, I could have simplified the entire process by adding an asterisk after the poem’s title to call out a foot note on how to read the poem.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s