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.
By JIM HOLT
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.