How to Memorize Poems
I saw this piece earlier today, but I got so caught up in Garrison Keillor (here, on Twitter, and at The Rumpus) along with my class prep for this evening that I haven’t had the chance. Anyway, the article is on memorizing poetry, and the author wants to know how she should do it more effectively.
I’m no great shakes at memorizing poems–even when I was required to do so in high school, I always waited until the last minute, and I often did poorly at it. But I have picked up a handful of them over the last ten years or so which, not coincidentally, is the amount of time I’ve been teaching. In short, I’ve memorized most of these poems by accident.
Most of them are formal poems–metrically regular, often rhymed. Thomas Hardy’s “Channel Firing,” Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” for example. The longest one of the bunch is the first at 36 lines, nothing like the example in the article of John Basinger, who’s memorized “Paradise Lost.” The lone exception in my very limited repertoire is E. E. Cummings’s “since feeling is first,” which was also the first poem I ever memorized because I wanted to know it by heart. I memorized that one in high school simply by writing it on the front of my English folder and looking at it every day for a couple of months.
So I guess that for me, memorization comes only with repeated and lengthy exposure. I didn’t realize I knew Frost’s poem by heart until the middle of last semester when I found myself not referring back to my anthology while we discussed it in class. It was an accidental memorization.