52 Ways to Shift Your Focus: Memorize a Poem

Shift #46: Memorize a Poem

Yes, today’s blog post is partly inspired by the fact that April is National Poetry Month where I live. It’s also inspired by the sense that I sometimes have of a poem which feels so connected to my own experience that I wonder if its author has been watching me. It’s an eerie and yet comforting thing to read something that so resonates that it feels likes it’s a part of me.

But I seldom memorize poetry, even though I love the feeling of reading something that amazes me. I did mostly commit Raymond Carver’s Late Fragment to memory when my father died, because that was one of those poems that got to me and it was short. That’s right – even though I read poetry, I’m not inclined to memorize long stanzas of anything. First of all, I have a memory like a sieve. Second, there’s so much out there that clamors for my reading time that I’m hesitant to stop long enough to memorize any one thing. Unless it’s short. And I’m in need of seeing those words in my mind again and again. Late Fragment fit those requirements perfectly.

So, I’ve been thinking about that tendency to not memorize poetry and, perhaps, it’s time to make an exception. As an editor, it’s easy to get caught up in reading poem after poem in rapid-fire fashion because there’s work to be done. That spills over into rapid-fire reading for relaxation, which is kind of an odd concept. I don’t allow myself to really sink into anything long enough to go beyond that first flush of, “Oooh! This is good.” And that’s a shame.

Memorization forces a slowing down. It offers a way of absorbing the writer’s words into the reader’s life so that they can be called up whenever and wherever they fit. Memorization offers a breath of life to a poem and a shift in the experience of that poem.

A poem memorized solely for the sake of enjoyment rather than some course instructor’s requirements is a beautiful thing. Try it. See how you can make those words feel like they belong partly to you.

And what am I going to memorize today? Jim Moore’s Today’s Meditation: Happiness, from his book, The Freedom of History. It’s short, of course.

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6 comments

  1. Fragments of poems I learned as a child and teen often come to me and I love that.
    Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the sky on laughter silvered wings

    Nowadays it takes a greater effort to memorize anything but it is a shame that so much learning is instantly disgarded and lost to memory these days. It trained one's thought. It gave the mind something to chew on.

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  2. One poem, “In Flanders Fields,” remains imprinted in my memory years after I read it on the stage of the Vesta Community Hall for the annual Memorial Day program. Two years I read “In Flanders Fields the poppies grow, between the crosses row on row…”

    I cannot think of Memorial Day without that poem popping into my mind.

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  3. There are snippets of lots of poems in my head. The challenge is to remember more than a snippet and also to remember who wrote them. Perhaps it is time to insert a whole poem on top of the pieces.

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