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Memorizing Poetry; An Update

I began memorizing poems last spring and have, to date, memorized eight poems, most of them short, one quite long (“Daffodils” by William Wordsworth), all of them chosen for their linguistic beauty. I find it easiest to tackle two lines at a time though sometimes I work on the entire verse if that makes more sense to me. I let my brain decide. I carry a hard copy of the poem around with me while I am working on it and, when I think I’ve got it down, I paste the poem into my Common Book ( a book of quotations).

It’s a very pleasurable exercise for several reasons: 1./ Like meditation, it keeps me firmly in the moment. If I let my mind drift ahead, I forget the line I’m reciting. 2./ I feel close to the poet’s process. I’ve memorized two of Emily Dickinson’s poems, for example. I remember well being asked in junior high school to read some of her poems. I didn’t understand a word of them and, in college, thought them trite and simple. Not true. I now understand her genius. I’ve traced the lines she encoded with my mind and it’s as though I am encoding them with her. I suppose this is similar to an art student re-creating a masterpiece as an exercise. And 3./ Poems slow me down and insist on attention to detail in a small space. This is good discipline for a prose writer. (For the record, I do write poetry myself , and have even had some published but, for some reason, do not consider myself a poet.)

Which leads me to visual vs. auditory streams. In my experience, most poets “think” in images and hold words and lines in their heads with ease as they declaim them. I have memorized poems by writing them out numerous times, and then trying to recite them. Though I assume I have learned the poem, I stumble. That’s because I need the visual cue to continue. If I write the line and then say it, I’m okay. But if I have no paper and pen to hand, I don’t do as well.

I asked a neuroscientist friend about this and she said that my auditory stream is weak and that, if I want to strengthen it, I have to memorize the poem by ear, not by sight.

I thought about this for a while and wondered if it makes any difference to me. It doesn’t. Any way I commit the poems to memory is fine with me. Very fine indeed.
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