5 Keys to Memorizing Poetry

I eat my peas with honey.
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny.
But, it keeps them on the knife.

This is the one of the first poems I remember memorizing. My mom used to recite it us at dinner when she served peas with our meatloaf.

(We did not paste our peas to our knife with honey. Actually, my brothers secreted their peas to our salivating Schnauzers under the table.)

Most of us grew up reciting ingrained nursery rhymes to music:

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Memorizing little ditties came easy to us in those days. Especially if they came with a tune, or hand movements, or a jump rope.

But what good is memorizing anything after we graduate high school?

After the time’s tables are fixed in our brains, and we can recite the Preamble to the Constitution, and maybe some of the Gettysburg Address, we think we’re done jamming information into our cerebellum or hippocampus or wherever we stuff our memories. Or if we get advanced degrees, we study for the tests and (some of us) promptly release that info into the atmosphere and wave goodbye as it meanders on the windwaves and then temporarily leeches onto someone else’s brain for another test at another school.

Heck, we don’t even have to memorize phone numbers anymore. We live in an I world with information at our fingertips. Who needs to memorize?

Not so fast.

This week Barbara O’Neal at Writer Unboxed wrote about The Powerful Nutrition of Poetry acknowledging that memorizing poetry is healthy. As healthy as taking your daily Robert Frost Gummy Vitamins.

Hallelujah! Memorizing poetry can make us smarter by enriching our gray matter. Which translates into making us better problem solvers, increasing our creativity, elevating our-thinking-on-our-feet ability, and frankly, making us more interesting.

But, honestly . . .

I don’t know anyone who likes to memorize. I don’t remember the last time I memorized a poem. Memorizing is fatiguing. Boring. And seemingly without reward.

But, on the flip side, if it will nourish my brain then I’m all in. (Four aunts and mom with Alzheimer’s. I’m looking for the cure and if poetry is it . . . I’m not that naïve.)

But, I will try.

I like tools. I like step-by-step game plans. I like easy. I like learning from the pros.

So I asked myself, who would know more about memorizing than actors?

In this article about the secret to actor’s memories, Michael Pennington insists that “Repetition, repetition, repetition.” works best.

Lesson: write out the poem on an index card. Read the poem. OUTLOUD.

He recommends acrostics and mnemonics that associate troublesome passages with a memorable story. Try to correspond lines of poetry with the story of the poem instead of learning word by word.

Lesson: Don’t focus on learning it word by word.

We memorize best “through chunks, phrases and patterns, often hammered into place by metre or by rhyme.”

Lesson: Learn chunks, phrases, and patterns.

Actor Lenny Henry advises to write down your lines, at least 10 times. Moving around also helps to fix the words.

I can attest to this. I once tried memorizing a large chunk of Greek literature. I wrote it on index cards and paced the basement, recalling a tidbit of something from a Kinesiology class. Some of us learn better when we fiddle or jitter and move around and fire up the neurons in our brain.

Lesson: Get Kinetic.

If you can, set the poem to music. Remember how we learned nursery rhymes? Make up actions, hand movements, get out your jump rope or hula hoop. If you know sign language, utilize your skills. If the poem doesn’t rhyme, try to find the patterns and connect them visually, orally, and audibly.

Here are the 5 Keys:

5 keys to memorizing poety

Encouragingly, Pennington notes that the actor Dame Gwen Ffrangeon-Davies, who lived to the age of 101, never ceased to commit fresh lines to memory.” She would learn a new piece of poetry every day until she died. It has to be good for the brain.”

If memorizing a poem a day has been helpful for a dame . . .  that’s good enough for me.

I’ll start Monday.

After my diet.

What about you? Do you memorize poetry? Have any other tips? How has it helped you?

***

Additional Reading: Poetry by Heart competition

When Poetry Converts to Prayer

One thing we can all agree with . . . poets are observers. Of people, patterns, and paradox. Of emotion,  enigmas, and ethos. In silence, sleep, and seclusion we ruminate and reflect. We roll around in the spring pansies and willow boughs and write their joy. In winter, we examine snowflake designs and compose similes. On the street, we trade sighs with strangers, mirroring life’s struggles, and we sculpt  slant rhymes to save for a sonnet or cinquain.

Our hearts are often saturated with emotion. Our minds are like Spirographs. This sometimes makes it difficult to honor our craft. We feel what belongs to others. It’s impossible not to. Is this intuition? Or instinct? Empathy? Insight?

William Wordsworth said,

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”

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For me, digging into this avalanche of emotion can make it difficult to unearth the tranquility necessary to whittle a poem with artistry and skill. Even in seclusion my mind often races. I struggle to burrow through my mind’s Spirographed agitation (inspiration?) to expose versed thoughts.

When this happens, I turn my rough-hewn poetic thoughts  into prayers.

My mother is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s.  Sometimes she doesn’t know me. One thing she does know, however, is that something is not right. She just  doesn’t know what.

Yesterday she asked me to pray for her.

Today she prayed to die.

I need to do something with the overflow of emotion in my heart. I cannot write a poem to express the powerful sorrow and pain I feel for her.  I cannot write of my grief. I am unable to dig through the sands of sentiment to even find a poem inside me.

So, I turned to prayer and other poets to do what I cannot.

C.S. Lewis writes of death after prayers. I find it comforting. Even in his despair and after his death, he has connected with me through his poetry and prayers. Isn’t that what poetry is supposed to do?  Isn’t this why we write it? This season of my life,  I’ll hold onto my faith and the poetry of others to express what’s hidden in my heart.

“After Prayers, Lie Cold” by C. S. Lewis

Arise my body, my small body, we have striven
Enough, and He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Arise small body, puppet-like and pale, and go,
White as the bed-clothes into bed, and cold as snow,
Undress with small, cold fingers and put out the light,
And be alone, hush’d mortal, in the sacred night,
-A meadow whipt flat with the rain, a cup
Emptied and clean, a garment washed and folded up,
Faded in colour, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
Be not too quickly warm again. Lie cold; consent
To weariness’ and pardon’s watery element.
Drink up the bitter water, breathe the chilly death;
Soon enough comes the riot of our blood and breath.

~~~

Maybe tomorrow, after my prayers,  I’ll feel inspired to write my mom a poem.

Revision

Now that April is over and we can all sigh and try to form coherent sentences, it’s time to move on.

Poetry never rests.

The Phoenix Rising Poetry Guild has challenged us to take one of the poems we wrote for PAD and revise it by exchanging some of our words with synonyms. I chose a poem I wrote for the Shakespeare prompt for PAD. That prompt was to use words created by Shakespeare and write a poem. I ended up deleting many of those words. (Sorry, William) It is striking how changing a few words can heighten (or lessen) the impact of a poem. Revision is the best friend of a poet. Although I know some poets who never need to revise.

I have learned I am not one of them.

Photo credit: Shena Pamella / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

The original:

“A Noiseless Grovel”

I think of you Only of you
Standing long the boulevard
Lightly in a sprinkle of lattes
and lemonades In and out
of flattery and smiles.

I think of you Only of you
Not as a misfit or the thief
of my lips Not to win or woo
like all our yesterdays, but
to read the color of your
moods I could live without
them Shake a fist at them.
But I can’t disbelieve them.

I think of you Only of you
noiselessly dwindling in
the shallows of my blue
apologies like a bandit
before dawn But, I’m a
flawed critic My aim is
for falling strong together
in the weeds of our love.

The revised version

“A muted plea”

I think of you
Only of you
Lingering along the avenue
Lightly in a shower of lattes
and lemonade greedy for
sweet talk and flattery

I think of you
Only of you
Not as rebel or the swindler
of my lips Not to shame or attain
our yesterdays, but to interpret
the shade of your moods There
are so many that slowly burn
a hole in my soul But I don’t
have faith in your moods. I
have faith in you.

I think of you
Only of you
Fading behind the shallows
of my sad little defenses like
a bandit in the night. My
judgment may be naive
but my intent is that we fall
strong together into the
yesterdays of our young love.

~~~

Better?

I think so.

Try it with one of your poems.

Revision is worth the wait. And effort.

A Wordsmith Studio Homecoming

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Three years ago this month, with a touch of amusement and curiosity, I committed to participating in a Writers Platform Challenge hosted by Robert Lee Brewer (Writer’s Digest/Poetic Asides) on his My Name is Not Bob blog. I remember the month as a whirlwind of online activity. Truly, at the time, all I knew how to do online was search, email, and Facebook. Daily, Robert walked us through how to set up a blog, how to join Linked In, how to participate in a Twitter chat, how to think like a writer, and  . . . basically anything and everything else we needed to know about branding and connecting as writers.

(I like to kid that it’s Not Bob’s fault that I’m addicted to social media.)

Out of that challenge arose Wordsmith Studio, an online writer’s group. We share information, host weekly Twitter chats, challenge each other, critique each other’s manuscripts, cheer each other’s victories, and lament the defeats. Many of us have forged friendships and met in person. I love our bantering about pantsers and liners. I love the easy-going sass and wit. I love that there is always someone to kiss our boo boos then tell us to get back on the horse.

For me personally, in the past three years I have had dozens of poems published, finished one novel, began a chapbook, began taking copyediting classes, and created a handful of websites and blogs for myself and others including my church and a few businesses.

This is something I never thought I’d be able to do. Nobody else knows more than me how technically inept I am. (I had to get today’s PAD prompt in there!)

But, without Not Bob’s challenge, I’d would have never known what I could do. So, I want to take this moment to personally thank him.

And to thank all my Wordsmith Studio partners and friends.

Three years down.

Here’s to thirty more!

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April: National Poetry Month

APRILA whole month dedicated to poetry!

We should be giddy, right? Is there an entire month dedicated to screenwriting or copy writing or journalism? Do carpenters get a month? Do the cable guys get a month? Do roofers or hockey players or principals or printers?

NO! Poets get an entire month.

I have a secret.

Every month is poetry month. Poets never stop. We think in verse. We connect the unusual, distort the familiar, silently applaud the explosions of weird  word fusions and pairings,  then shake ’em and bake ’em ’til they roll over and offer us their underbellies.

Then we wake and do it all over again. It’s not possible to turn off the faucet. We are wired this way. When the well runs dry, we seek out beauty in art, music, nature, other writers. Even a trickle of inspiration, gives us the shivers. We court rhymes and rhythms and metaphors. Sometimes we woo them ’til the cows come home. It’s delightfully fulfilling. Maybe even a little too analogous of one of the seven deadly sins-poetry gluttony.

Spouses and sweethearts beware.

While the crocus’ sneaks through the early Spring soil, our jaws are locked shut. We savor the silence as we ponder new poems and forms.  Don’t take it personally, but we do not want to talk to you. At least not about the trivial. Someone should create a bumper sticker: “Please be patient with your poet during the month of April.”

Our minds are on overdrive.

If your partner is having trouble accepting your indulgence, try some reverse psychology. Make them think it’s for them. I suggest implore each of you poets to read this line out loud to your LO:

“April is a great month for you to find a hobby.”

Suggest that they take up whittling or grilling or quilting or star-gazing. Buy them a really long book if they like reading. (It took me three months to read War and Peace. But, that’s when I had a newborn.)

As I write this, my husband is making squeaking noises into his palm to get my attention. Never fear. I did not turn my head. Not once. He aughta know better by now.

After all, this isn’t my first poetic rodeo.

But, this year I’m participating in two challenges. PoMoSco and PAD.

I’m busy.

All poets are busy this month. If your significant other doesn’t get it, give them some hand-made coupons as a gift. (Psychology tricks, remember?)

Here are a few suggestions:

Hand write a coupon giving them permission to learn something new. Maybe they just need some motivation or permission, depending on their personality.

Give them a coupon allowing them to take an entire week to watch every episode of The Americans.

Grant them one whole nag-free week to go on a fishing trip or a hunting trip or a shopping trip.

Give them the power to take two weeks to clean out the garage and basement without your intervention.

Tell them if they behave, you’ll take them to Dairy Queen. (It always worked when my kids were little.)

Get creative. Write them a poem. Make it rhyme. (really rhymy-rhymy.) And make it personal by adding their name to it and rhyming it. If you have good handwriting, make them a card. Seal it with a kiss. Or flower stickers or chewing gum.

If you play an instrument, sing your poem to them. They’ll tear up.

I promise.

Now my husband is banging his hand on the arm of the couch. (Not looking.)

Happy Poeming!

 

 

Reading to strangers in public: part one of four

J.lynn Sheridan:

Kris Swanguarin at Milk of Moonlight responds to my year-ending post which asked if poets did anything positive with their poetry in the past year. Kris did. He participated in a public poetry reading. This is the first of four parts of his story.

Originally posted on Milk of Moonlight::

A while back, poet J.lynn Sheridan asked on her blog, Writing On The Sun, if poets did anything positive with our poetry in the past year. One of the things I did was participate in a public poetry reading. This is the first of four parts of that story.

 ~~~~~~

This is the beginning of the telling of how I came to read poetry to strangers. It is a telling of how I came one day to sit and another day to stand in front of strangers and for the first time read my own poetry. It was a long journey. This is the short version of that journey.

child painter

I suppose and can only guess that it began when I was a child. Children are naturally show boats. They create a drawing or write a poem and they want to share it. To this day whenever my daughter writes…

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