Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why Memorize Poetry?

April is Poetry month, and in an essay at the NYT Book Review, Jim Holt makes a good case for memorizing poetry:
The process of memorizing a poem is fairly mechanical at first. You cling to the meter and rhyme scheme (if there is one), declaiming the lines in a sort of sing-songy way without worrying too much about what they mean. But then something organic starts to happen. Mere memorization gives way to performance. You begin to feel the tension between the abstract meter of the poem — the “duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA” of iambic pentameter, say — and the rhythms arising from the actual sense of the words. ... It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within.

The entire essay is well worth reading and will likely send you looking for your favorite poetry anthology.


Jena said...
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Jena said...

I was downtown last week, and a guy mentioned a poet whose name I didn't recognize (turned out, the poet was the guy who'd written "The Cremation of Sam McGee"), and the guy proceeded to recite another poem by the poet. It was long, and we were all very impressed. And then we sat around and talking about the pros of memorizing poetry. I had to confess that the most difficult poem I'd been compelled to memorize was the first 16 lines of The Canterbury Tales--in Middle English. My favorites are short ones, though--I have a lot of them memorized. Emily Dickinson, Stephen Crane...

If I were still teaching, I think my students would be memorizing poetry now. Even if it's not on their standardized tests.

(Sorry about the re-comment--there was some messed up wording in the first one.)