The Frontal Cortex

Twins and Poetry

In the latest New Yorker, Rebecca Mead has a wonderful profile of two poets (Michael and Matthew Dickman) with starkly different poetic styles who happen to be identical twins.

Michael and Matthew share more than the same raw material; they share the same genetic material. Although there is a rich scientific literature on the subject of identical twins who have been separated at birth – their circumstances help to illuminate the competing influences of genetics and environment on the development of an individual’s health and sensibility – the Dickman twins, who were raised together and have been close their entire lives, seem to offer a parallel experiment. One way of looking at their work – Michael’s Dickinsonian severity, and Matthew’s Whitmanesque expansiveness – is as an illustration of the distinctiveness of imagination, even in two people who are as alike as two people can be.

I’m only familiar with Michael’s poetry – he’s a friend of a friend – and I think his latest collection is quite beautiful. I particularly like this lyric, which I think helps explain why genetics doesn’t determine writerly style:

I didn’t make my brain/
but I’m helping/
to finish it.

That’s neuroplasticity summarized in a couplet.