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Neurobiology and Behavior

jrlewis's picture

Neurobiology and Behavior

(Thank you for this conversation Paul Grobstein)


“Maybe, it isn't

That there is something

To behavior other than the brain; but,

That there is something

To the brain other than behavior.”


“But aren’t neurons black boxes?”


“I suspect so,

Still neurons are not the storyteller.”


“This is the story of science as a story?”


“Our undertaking is subject

To the VAGARIES of the currents, winds, and tides

And our own will or lack thereof.


We must return time

And again, not only to find

But to create, and again to find and create.”


“Neurons are stories.” 


“The nervous self system…”


“Now I see

How science is living by the sea. 

Where, washed upon the shore are stories;

There to be captured

And dropped down again. 



Littering the terrain, so

The terrain is never the same, so

Know that truth and time are interwoven,”

I wrote. 



Rich powerful writing

Part of you

You have been keeping under wraps,”

Wrote the neurobiologist.

“Stories are black boxes.”



When I am storytelling my life,

People often ask what happened, and I reply,

“the neurobiologist happened.”

(I am a black box.)



interloper's picture

To me poetry is the art of

(This comment is in repsonse to the comment beginning with "What is freedom?  What is poetry?" below. I was responding to that comment, or so I thought, I don't know how it appeared at the top of the thread.)

To me poetry is the art of writing with the complete freedom to use words, grammar and punctuation in any way desired, pushing the boundaries of standard speaking and writing and the "rules" that go with them. Creating these unconventional and creative combinations of words and elements can express things in a way and with a certain beauty that following the rules of standard prose or speaking cannot.

That is poetry to me, and to me that is freedom. But it doesn't mean the poet can be successful in this expression without taking care to find and choose a combination of these elements that has the desired outcome. The loosening of the boundaries opens up the possibility of muddying the message just as much as clarifying it.

In my opinion poetry diverges from philology and linguistics in that it is a true art form, while these other disciplines are the analysis, categorization, and definitions of language. I don't see poetry as a study of language, I see it as a form of expression with language as the medium.

Kim Gaal's picture

Dangling modifier?

I prefer "When storytelling my life"... stronger and more accurate languaging. Although it is important, don't let grammatical correctness impede the power of your poetic voice. Wonderfully thought-provoking poem!

interloper's picture

more accurate?

I don't understand how "When storytelling my life" would be more accurate. Technically this would mean "people" are doing the storytelling, this is not the same as the original meaning.

Kim Gaal's picture

The author says "my life" and

The author says "my life" and "I reply" is in the next line guiding the reader's understanding.

jrlewis's picture

It is a pleasure to have you

It is a pleasure to have you join in the conversation, Kim.  I appreciate your close reading of my poem.  Neurobiology and Behavior grew out of an earlier poem of mine, Black Islands.  That poem grew out of a poem by Martin Espada of the same name. While workshopping my poem, Black Islands, it was pointed out that a transformation in the narrator occurs between the third and fourth stanzas.  Someone in the workshop asked what had happened.  I replied, "the neurobiologist happened," sat back, and folded my arms across my chest.  It took me a minute to understand that my response raised as many questions as it answered.  So I set out to answer those questions in a new poem, Neurobiology and Behavior.

You might enjoy reading some of Paul Grobstein's writing.  He is THE neurobiologist.  Here is a link to Paul's blog on Serendip. 

Hope to see you around Serendip!

jrlewis's picture

dangling modifier?

When storytelling my life,

People often ask what happened, and I reply,

"the neurobiologist happened."

(I am a black box.)

I like the sounds of the first line of the stanza better this way.  However, this version contains a dangling modifier.  Does it bother anyone?  Confuse anyone?  How important is it to the poem to be grammatically correct? 

interloper's picture


I really like the freedom poetry gives a writer to be creative with words, punctuation, and grammar, but I think In this case your revised stanza sounds as though it means "people" are the ones storytelling your life, as opposed to you being the storyteller. So maybe this isn't the best solution if you want to change the sound of this line, unless creating ambiguity is your intent.

jrlewis's picture

This Poem Specifically

I'm thinking about the last stanza and it's distance from the rest of the poem.  It is outside of the conversation.  Only the student, not the neurobiologist is present.  So, which meaning fits better with the plot of the poem, the narrator speaking or strangers (unspecified others)?  The narrator is trying to enter into conversations with new people, but the ghost of the neurobiologist lingers.  The narrator of the last stanza is supposed to take great pleasure from this ghost.  So, maybe it is other people who should  be doing the storytelling?  Other people who don't see the ghost of the neurobiologist?  That is why they can't tell the narrator's story? 

interloper's picture

back to intent, again

I can tell you that the new phrasing causes ambiguity about who is doing the storytelling. But I can't tell you if it is correct or proper to use that ambiguity as a device in the poem. That depends entirely on the intent of the writer, and in my opinion, only you can and should say what that intent is.

jrlewis's picture

Intent vs. Interpretation

For me, one of the most valuable aspects of workshopping my writing is to find out how other people interpret my writing.  I want to know how my intentions compare and contrast with my readers' interpretations.  This is as much a part of my revision process as more direct comments about what is good and bad in the piece. 

jrlewis's picture

Commentary on Our Conversation

Narrative is determined not by a desire to narrate but by a desire to exchange. (Roland Barthes, S/Z)

jrlewis's picture

What is freedom? What is poetry?

What is freedom?  What is poetry?  Doesn't poetry, as a middle discipline, have some special freedoms?  I've understood poetry a play between the part and the whole.  I think poetry is about the relationship between words, phrases, and sentences.  Fiction is about the whole, as in sentences.  Philology and linguistics are about the little parts, as in words and syllables.  So, poetry is the central study of language, like chemistry is the central science. 

What do you think of that?

interloper's picture


My response to this appeared at the top of the thread.