Friday, April 3, 2009

Poems in your brain

There's an interesting essay by Jim Holt in The New York Times Sunday Book Review about memorizing poetry. Holt makes a case for memorization, preferring to recite from memory than read from a page ("It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano").

I wish I had a head full of poems. Laura Kasischke made us all memorize and recite a poem for her poetry workshop when I was getting my MFA. I am glad she did that, even if I did flub a bit of mine (Anne Sexton's "I Remember").

Dorianne Laux, one of my favorite poets, has lots of poems memorized, including her own. She's one of the best readers I've ever heard, and by read I guess I mean "recite" since I don't remember her reading anything. If you ever get the chance to see her read/recite work, do it.
I Remember

By the first of August
the invisible beetles began
to snore and the grass was
as tough as hemp and was
no color--no more than
the sand was a color and
we had worn our bare feet
bare since the twentieth
of June and there were times
we forgot to wind up your
alarm clock and some nights
we took our gin warm and neat
from old jelly glasses while
the sun blew out of sight
like a red picture hat and
one day I tied my hair back
with a ribbon and you said
that I looked almost like
a puritan lady and what
I remember best is that
the door to your room was
the door to mine.

(Anne Sexton, from The Selected Poems of Anne Sexton, edited by Diane Wood Middlebrook, 2000 Mariner Books)

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