I read an interesting article about memorizing poetry in The New York Times this morning. I like that the author, Jim Holt, admits to committing verses to memory mostly for pleasure and not really as an attempt to exercise his synapses and improve his memory, poetic stretching so to speak.
When I was waiting for someone this past summer, the only thing I had with me was a small book of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry, so I started memorizing “Supermarket in California,” partly because I was bored out of my mind and also because I love that poem. I did it aloud, stanza by stanza and by the time my friend arrived, I had all but the last one shakily memorized. Later that week, when I was waiting in line at the supermarket or stopped at a red light, I found myself running through the poem in my mind, mentally piecing together the words into something whole again; it was both soothing and stimulating at the same time. “I should do this whole memorizing thing,” I thought to myself. Of course, I haven’t. Yet.
To be honest, I’ve always enjoyed the process of memorization, even though I think that understanding a concept needs to happen somewhere in the process of committing it to memory (cramming facts into your head before a test, for example, is not preferable, nor is rote memorization of foreign language words without actual application). Of all the things I’ve worked to memorize, though, poetry is certainly the most enjoyable. I rarely find myself mentally scrolling through the stages of mitosis that I memorized 5 years ago in AP Bio, although I’m glad I have that information up there, hazy as it might now be.
I could comment more the good and the bad about the waning tradition of memorization, but I’ll just sign off with this link for now: Got Poetry?