Thursday, November 29, 2007

Viral Poetry Particles

Poetry is viral. It is highly infective, invisible to the naked eye or common microscope, and self-replicating. Deep inside the poetry envelope, an ordered and immensely intricate informational architecture directs the maintenance and operation of the poetry organism.

Recently, researchers at the Yale Literary Research Laboratory (YLRL), in New Haven, have successfully isolated and sequenced the first authentic poetry viral genome. The poetry particles were originally isolated from the blood of an undergraduate student who became infected with a rare disorder after reading too much Shakespeare in a survey level poetry class. Iva Hedachia, a 22 year-old English major, became ill during an exam and was later found by a friend in the bathroom reciting the Preamble to the Constitution in iambic pentameter. She was rushed to the ER and was initially screened by an EMT specialist, who, fortuitously, happened to be the wife of a scientist at the YLRL. The technician phoned her husband, Dr. Seymour Smalley, who rushed over and was able to take a sample of the blood back with him to his lab.

Smalley and his colleagues were successful in isolating the first genes in the so-called “poetry allele.” Using a PCR amplification process, the researchers produced enough viral-encoded message to map out the mysteries of the poetry genome. What they found was as startling as it was beautiful.

In a paper in this month’s Nature Genetics Journal, Smalley et. al. report that certain informational quanta can spontaneously arise in the brains of especially astute and passionate literary majors. These high-energy bundles of genetic material, dubbed “Poetry Virome Catalysts (PVC’s),” can lie dormant for months and suddenly become activated by a single extrinsic event or emotional stimulus.

Smalley, in his groundbreaking paper entitled, “Poetry Viromes and Shakespeare,” suggests that these hotspots of genetic coding are formed somewhere in the amygdala, a center deep within the brain which communicates with the hypothalamus and is responsible for controlling levels of the emotional response. Smalley and his coworkers discovered that Ms. Hedachia had gone far overboard with her reading of Shakespeare. In fact, she stayed up for three straight days (an 82 hour period without sleep) reading through most of the Tragedies and all the Shakespearean Sonnets, memorizing most of the latter to perfection. Her boyfriend caught her on the roof of her eight-story dormitory, with a lavish table set with fine bone china, polished silver, and a complete gourmet meal for two. It wasn’t until the researchers completely explained the syndrome in detail to the boyfriend that he realized the full import of the nametag set for William S.

Smalley has been literally inundated by the media. However, as a caveat to the research conducted at the YLRL, it should be stressed that these PVC’s have not, as yet, shown themselves to be long-lived. Fortunately, the pathological effects of PVC infection and propagation are quite innocuous. It turns out, most people have high levels of “poetry blockers” that quickly attach to the PVC molecules and inactivate them before too much cognitive damage can occur. Moreover, and quite interestingly, complete amnesia seems to accompany most PVC infections observed by the researchers.

Smalley and his team of molecular biologists are currently working on a unified theory of pathogenesis that they say will revolutionize our understanding of how we process the emotional input from reading poetry. The work, in his words, “will ultimately explain why so many of us cannot understand or appreciate anything about poetry, be it modern or classical.” In fact, both Roche and Bayer Pharmaceuticals are interested in developing small molecule “unblockers” that can be taken, for example, just prior to a reading of, say, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, or even T.S. Elliot’s, The Wasteland. Moreover, an executive for Roche commented, with exhilaration, that the market alone for English majors could be in the hundreds of millions (US dollars).


  1. very imaginative Ed, reminds me somewhat of some of the ideas in
    "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"
    and "Red Dwarf".

    And congratulations on getting your poem published in Atlanta Review.


  2. a poetic frenzy of mind, indeed! hilarious piece, Ed. brilliantly written.

    now for some of those poetry pills...



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