Poems and why you should memorize them. I’m not the only one.

Before we discuss September’s Poem, here are some excerpts from a delightful article about memorizing poetry.  These observations of Jim Holt are things I’ve found to be true in my short time memorizing.


Got Poetry?
Published: April 2, 2009

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. (Part of the genius of Yeats or Pope is the way they intensify meaning by bucking against the meter.) 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 act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano.

Nor, as I have found, will memorizing poetry make you more popular. Rather the reverse. No one wants to hear you declaim it. Almost no one, anyway. I do have one friend, a Wall Street bond-trader, who can’t get enough of my recitations. He takes me to the Grand Havana Cigar Club, high above Midtown Manhattan, and sits rapt as I intone, “The unpurged images of day recede. . . .” He calls to one of the stunningly pretty waitresses. “Come over here and listen to my friend recite this Yeats poem.” Oh dear.

I hope that I have at least dispelled three myths.

Myth No. 1: Poetry is painful to memorize. It is not at all painful. Just do a line or two a day.

Myth No. 2: There isn’t enough room in your memory to store a lot of poetry. Bad analogy. Memory is a muscle, not a quart jar.

Myth No. 3: Everyone needs an iPod. You do not need an iPod. Memorize poetry instead.

Jim Holt

Three sentence movie reviews–Julie & Julia

My guess is that the critics who gave mediocre reviews to this movie are either 1) people who have never had any doubt about what they would “do” with their lives or 2) people who hate food or 3)men. As a person who has read not only both books the movie was based on, but also–while working a dreary secretary job–the entire Julie/Julia Project blog, I thought this movie was a spot on depiction of not only the casting about for some sort of meaning in daily life and also the transformative power of coulpledom. That this movie also had great sets, clothing and a host of actresses who were normal looking was an even bigger bonus–Enjoy!

Bechdel score. Two women: yes! Who talk to each other: yes! About something besides a man: Yes! Amazing!

poster from: http://www.impawards.com/2009/julie_and_julia_ver2.html

Three sentence movie reviews–Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

I’m not interested in football or the plight of 1960s all-male ivy league school sports programs. I am a fan of a well told story. This movie was one and you should watch it.

Bechdel score. Two women: ha ha ha ha ha ha.

poster from:  http://www.amazon.com/Harvard-Beats-Yale-29-29-Poster/dp/B001XVAB0O

Books Read in August

I’m having the hardest time coming up with the summary for this month’s reading.  So you can just read for yourself.
Skeletons at the Feast
Chris Bohjalian
I enjoy Bohjalian’s books because every time he manages to come though with a good, solid story that I have trouble putting down. His descriptions are vivid enough that I remember scenes years later and he also is quite prolific.

Take a Prussian aristocratic sugar beet farming family, a Scottish POW, a Jewish man hiding undercover as a German soldier and female concentration camp prisoner. Follow all of them as they flee west to escape the invading Russian army.

This book doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war, so at times it can be graphic. Overall, probably one of the better books I’ve read this year.

Dating Big Bird
Laura Zigman
I have no desire to have children and thus, was at a disadvantage with this book. The main character is obsessed with having a child. The fact that she is in a relationship with a man who wants no children, and shows no signs of changing that view, is one of the conundrums of the plot.

I couldn’t relate to the main character. I found the story annoying. I found the writing style in which the author repeatedly uses:
Many very short.
Sentences like this.
Over and over.
to be very distracting. The plot point at the end of the book, which is the catalyst for change in the protagonist’s life, I found to be entirely unbelievable. Why not just have her win the lottery? And the last chapter? Total cop-out.

There was nothing redeeming about this book and only an incredibly lazy day got me to finish this book. I was too lazy to start a new one. Not recommended.

The Permaculture Way: practical steps to creating a self-sustaining world
Graham Bell
The author does start with the world view of permaculture, spending the first third of the book discussing people and capital and discovering your own skills. Part two begins with your home and moves outwards. There is also discussion about gardening, orchards, agriculture and aquaculture as well as good lists of plants and their uses in the back.

Three Girls and Their Brother
Theresa Rebeck
When this arrived at the library for me I had a moment of puzzlement as to why I would have requested this particular novel. The cover is a bit off-putting. But two paragraphs in, I was hooked. Goodreads tells me I heard about this book from Deborah. Thank goodness she is my friend on Goodreads. Now I’m curious as to what she had to say about it, but I’m going to write my review before I read hers.

The voices in this story make this book. Particularly, the voice of the brother, Phillip, aged fifteen, who begins our adventure. Listen to this quote, where Phillip is meeting a famous middle-aged movie star for the first time. Polly is his 17 year-old sister.

“…looking like Henry the Eighth with one arm stretched out along the back of the banquette and the other arm around Polly, his hand discreetly stuck down the back of her pants. It was spooky, really; he looked just like he looks in the movies, where he’s always waving a giant weapon, and he looked really short. That’s something I never considered, when I thought about meeting movie stars. Usually, when you see them? They’re like four stories tall, on some giant movie screen somewhere. But when you meet them in person? They’re actually just sort of people-sized. Which makes the whole experience kind of surreal, if you haven’t thought about things like that ahead of time. Plus, if the guy has his hand down your sister’s pants, he looks significantly less like a movie star, and more like your average asshole.”

I could read an entire book with just Phillip talking, but we leave him soon after his three sisters become “it” girls–just three more girls famous at first for their red hair and their beauty, then later famous for being famous. After we hear Phillip’s view, then each of the sisters tells us a little more of the story, from their point of view. What happens to the four of them is fascinating, funny and shocking. I couldn’t help thinking of real-life “it” girls and wondering how many of them had similar experiences.

I would love to live in a society where sensible adults never let young people be pimped out to the the media like this, but in this book, it is the adults who do the dealing of flesh–and reap the rewards each time the girls are sold.

ps. A book with La Aura as a main character? Also something I would read. Please Ms. Rebeck, please?

Abraham Lincoln: a novel life
Tony Wolk
I enjoyed the premise of this book: What if Abraham Lincoln was suddenly transported from February 1865 to Easter Sunday 1955? Written by a Portland State University professor, it wasn’t a book I had to finish, but it kept me reading. I especially enjoyed reading the notes on historical figures at the end of the book.

Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education
Michael Pollan
I love Michael Pollan’s writing, but one of the things I love about it was the very thing that made this book so hard to finish. Pollan’s writing style is dense and thoughtful. This can be a good thing when one is in the mood to read a dense and thoughtful text, but sometimes his observations can go on. I would have been better off owning this book, so I could pick it up and put it down intermittently over a large amount of time. However, I requested it from the library which meant my time with it was quite short. I had to set reading goals to get through it, which I hated, because as far as I’m concerned prose this well written should be savored. So, a rare call to all to purchase this book, not to get it from the library.

Everyone Worth Knowing
Lauren Weisberger
One wonders, (at least I do) upon reading this book if Lauren Weisberger is the secret consumer of romance novels that her main character is. This book is, despite the striking cover, hip New York setting and rampant name dropping, essentially just that: a romance novel. Someone should explore when books cross over the “romance novel line.” This doesn’t have the bodice ripper cover, but all the elements were there. Entirely predictable, this was not a bad way to spend a summer afternoon, but not much more than that.

The People of Sparks
Jeanne DuPrau
I enjoyed this book even more than The City of Ember, mostly due to the fact that there isn’t a movie version to have seen first, as there was with Ember. Once again, DuPrau tackles tough issues in an entirely readable way. As I read further into the book, I wondered what her views on illegal immigration might be; this story would be a good springboard for discussing that contemporary issue with teenagers. Recommended.

Started but did not finish
Painting Ruby Tuesday
Jane Yardley
This book had promise, set both in the 60s in England and present day New York/London, but the amount of characters and the density of the text was a bit overwhelming for my summer reading, vacation mind.

Must Love Dogs: a Novel
Claire Cook.
I gave up on this. If I had to finish it, I could, but it suffered from the movie being such a true adaptation of the book. Had I not seen the film version, I would read to the end to find out what happened. Since I saw the movie, I have a good idea how this book ends and thus, am not really interested in it.

Edible Estates: attack on the front lawn
Fritz Haeg, Diana Balmori & others
This book had some good ideas in it and the essays I read were interesting. Not interesting enough to read them all, but still. The pictures are good.

The Best Apples to Buy and Grow
Beth Hanson, ed.
I checked this out as part of the “build a Belgian fence” project that is still in the planning stage. But I have decided to narrow my apple choices down a bit before diving into this book.

Apples for the 21st Century
Warren Manhart
This book has several contributors. Once I realized that one of them was Glen Andresen, who taught a “Growing Fruit” class I attended last winter, I just read his entries. This book was also part of the “build a Belgian fence” project that is still in the planning stages.

Little House on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Darn it, the library has over ten copies of this book that is half a century old. And people keep requesting it. So back it goes.

Did not even start

Watering Systems for Lawn and Garden: a do it yourself guide
R. Dodge Woodson

Permaculture Plants: a selection
Nugent & Boniface

Grafting and Budding: a practical guide for fruit and nut plants and ornamental
W. J. Lewis & D. McE. Alexander
I’ll look into this book later.

75 remarkable fruits for your garden
Jack Staub

Handbook of Edible Weeds
James A. Duke

Poem for August: not Casey at the Bat.

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer was the original choice for the month. I enjoyed the story, and thought it appropriate for August. I had more than two weeks off from work which would give me ample time to memorize. We were “go” on this plan.

Then I started to actually attempt to memorize it. The problems began. This month, I learned that if I am going to spend a month committing a poem to memory, it better be one I like. The more time I spent with this poem, the less I liked it.

First of all, it has way too many names.

From the first stanza:
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

From the third stanza:
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,

I knew ahead of time that those names would cause me trouble in the far future. “Was it Barrows who died at first? Cooney? Who died first?” I could hear my future self wondering.

Secondly, the more time I spent with this poem the less enchanted I grew with the writing. Last month, memorizing The New Colossus gave me a greater love of the poem. By committing the words to memory, the jerky motion of the poem on paper smoothed right out. Not so for this poem. Four stanzas in, I realized this poem’s choices of words were not something I loved. The rhyme scheme really reaches in places too:

The second stanza
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

I was initially confused about who exactly the straggling few were. Because the first stanza discusses the lineup, I thought that the straggling few were players coming to bat. But eventually it became clear to me that it was the fans who were getting up and wandering off.

AND. I found Thayer’s use of the word “and” a bit too much:

Fourth stanza:
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

And appears four times in this stanza. It was too much for me. Ernest, could you have rewritten this a bit?

After slogging through those four stanzas we get to one I really like, as I feel it nicely captures a turning point in the game:

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

That is as far as I got with this poem. The other problem was the more than two weeks off. I had not realized it, but I do most of my memorizing on the commute to or from work. On days I take the Max I work on a few lines while walking to the Max stop, on days I ride my bike I’ve got 25 good minutes of memorizing time. With all the time off from work, there was no built in time to commit poetry to memory.

Mid-month I gave up on Casey. Instead, I substituted an Emily Dickinson poem that I had recently encountered:

This quiet dust was gentlemen and ladies
And lads and girls;
Was laughter and ability and sighing,
And frocks and curls;

This passive place a summer’s nimble mansion,
Where bloom and bees
Fulfilled their oriental circuit,
Then ceased like these.

This poem was committed to memory happily.