does anyone memorize poetry anymore?

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?


3 thoughts on “does anyone memorize poetry anymore?

  1. Anton Chekhov once said “Art prepares the soul
    for tenderness.”

    For some strange reason –
    I feel the tongue in my cheek distend
    whenever Natalie tends
    to her blog, which keeps me warm at night.

    For this I tender
    a sincere apology.

    I love juicy, succulent chicken

  2. All you have to lose
    is one connection
    and the mind uncouples all the way back.
    It seems to have been a train.
    There seems to have been a track.
    The things that you unpack
    from the abandoned cars
    cannot preserve life:
    a crate of tractor axles,
    for example,
    a dozen dozen clasp knives,
    a hundred bolts of satin.
    Perhaps you specialized
    more than you imagined.
    –Kay Ryan

    That’s the first and only poem I’ve memorized (in high school, for Poetry Out Loud), and I still remember it — except now when I look at the written poem, my line breaks are all messed up and I recalled “preserve” instead of “sustain”. Also, that’s when I discovered m’lady Kay, which I’m pretty happy about.

    In summation, I’m with you; I’m all for memorizing poetry.

  3. Chen, stop being ridiculous. I appreciate the fact that you are reading my blog so religiously and posting thoughtful comments, but if you use the word tenderly again, I might just vomit.

    John, thanks for posting that poem (and for bringing Kay Ryan to us at FloMo before she became Poet Laureate!). Memorize on.

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