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Jolting our memory into poetic action

Posted in Life & Love

For the last 15 years, on and off, I have stuck to a habit that gives me immense pleasure. In a pedagogic effort not to be pedantic and, at the same time, introduce poetry in the lives of my step-children, I took to tacking a poem to the fridge every week or so. This habit went to join the long list of “weird things our step-mother does” but, children long gone, it makes me happy to this day.

Those of you who have hung around this blog for a while know about my poetry penchant: I do actually believe poetry enriches life in a very practical manner. But poems can be hard work, which is probably why most people don’t bother. A few lines of prose have an immediacy that a few lines of poetry don’t. Poems need to be read and re-read. I am hardly an expert and there are poems that fly over my head – extremely long ones tend to lose me, especially if full of mythological or historical references.

But the cadence of poetry has a music all of its own, one that stirs feelings and conjures images.

Just yesterday, I woke up to an email by sofagirl with a link to a NY Times op-ed about the value of memorizing poetry. Stop the eye rolling for a sec…stay with me. If you are of the same generation as me, you probably remember with great dread those poems teachers inflicted on you and forced you to memorize. Chances are you could still recite them.
In the article, the writer talks about a college professor who, stuck in a crowded subway car, in the dark, asks his fellow passengers if they would mind listening to some Shakespeare, and then proceeds to offer them the “To be or not to be” monologue, learnt decades before. Walking on the High Line in New York, a few years ago, I stopped by a fellow who was willing to declaim any Shakespeare monologue of my choosing for a few bucks: it was an impromptu performance that still brings a smile to my face as I think about it.

And then there are the practical aspects of such a practice: memorizing does help our aging brains. In the class I am taking, I am studying an ancient language that makes little sense at times. I force myself to memorize sentences week in and week out, forcing my brain to remember patterns. Somehow, it works.

Will I be memorizing poetry from now on, to help my brain and for the sheer pleasure? Doubtful. My life is stretched to capacity. But I will never allow poetry to exit my daily routine. Whether I fully grasp a poet’s intention, or I simply filter words through my personal emotions, every time I open the fridge I like to be reminded of something beautiful, something stirring, something sad.
While most poetry acts as a mirror, in some cases it can help us get into emotions or situations unfathomable to us. Consider what is on my fridge at the moment:

& even the black guy’s profile reads, sorry no black guys
By Danez Smith

imagine a tulip, upon seeing a garden full of tulips, sheds its petals in disgust, prays
some bee will bring its pollen to a rose bush. imagine shadows longing for a room
with light in every direction, you look in the mirror & see a man you refuse to love.
small child sleeping near Clorox, dreaming of soap suds & milk, if no one has told
you, you are beautiful & lovable & black & enough & so – you pretty you – am i.

A whole different experience of fetching an onion.

 

A few of you wondered what happened to the blog in the last few days. There was a weird post that went out with no way to open it. That was me testing. The site stopped working properly for a few days and I was unable to post. Between Jetpack and myself, we seem to be back on track.

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16 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing Danez Smith’s poem with us. “A whole different experience of fetching an onion.” Indeed! As a writer I believe poetry should be a part of each of our lives and the way you do it — posted on the fridge to skim, to contemplate, to smile over — is a perfect immersion into the poet’s world. Poems are distilled ideas into their very essence and say so much more than they reveal. How long do you keep a single poem pinned to your refrigerator?

    August 29, 2017
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    • It depends. Usually one comes down when I stumble upon the next gem or think of an old staple I want to enjoy again. But at least a week.

      August 30, 2017
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  2. Sono tra quelli che faticano a seguire la poesia ma, come dici tu, quando si rompe il muro del suono, o meglio del ritmo, si viene trascinati. Penso alla Divina Commedia ben declamata …

    August 29, 2017
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    • Dopo anni di sudate sui banchi di scuola a cercare di decifrare i significati nascosti di Dante, sono contenta che i miei professori abbiano insistito.

      August 29, 2017
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  3. Love the idea of a different poem on the fridge every so often. I have a shelf of poetry in my living room, and love looking at the covers. I can’t claim I’ve read all the poems of all the books, but to me they are little treasures to be loved here and there. My most valuable possession is a book of English poetry written by Fernando Pessoa, one of the most important (and amazing) Portuguese writers of all times. Very few actually know he’s written in English…

    And being bilingual, isn’t it great that we get to enjoy poetry in at least two languages?

    August 29, 2017
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    • Absolutely. I keep a volume of Eugenio Montale’s Cuttlefish Bones handy at all times and read the Italian text when the mood strikes. When I occasionally glance at the English translation, I find it hard to recapture the same rhythm. Must delve into Pessoa more.

      August 29, 2017
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      • Yes, rhythm does change with translation… Pessoa was responsible for translating Poe’s Nevermore and he went for metric over accuracy, so Lenore isn’t a featured name! Oh my.

        August 29, 2017
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  4. My instinctive response is that I probably don’t have the time or capacity for memorising poetry, but then I think of the things I had to memorise at school, and I suppose I could manage it if I applied myself… I’ll browse the poetry section of my library the next time I’m there.

    I was rather perplexed by the test posts, but had just assumed you were doing site renovations/maintenance. Good to see everything is ok again

    August 29, 2017
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    • Just open a book at random and read a poem. That is what I do, that is how poetry books are meant to be used I think. Not possible to read through a whole volume at once. Poetry needs to sit to take root.

      August 29, 2017
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  5. silvia
    silvia

    With a reputation of a very very very pragmatic person, I tend to forget how meaningful and soft is your eye on the world.
    Umberto Eco used to invite people to memorize a poem a day. I always promised to myself I would. An entire poem is very hard work, maybe a paragraph would work too both for memory and soul. You’re giving me a good reason to keep that promise.

    August 29, 2017
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    • Just read some now and then. Good enough I think, and uplifting.

      August 29, 2017
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  6. Sofagirl
    Sofagirl

    That poem. Oh wow. Added to my repertoire.

    August 29, 2017
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  7. winstonmoreton
    winstonmoreton

    Think I already posted that I am reading and enjoying all of the the SONNETS, one a day like a box of chocolates, and am now at number 73! Could not abide Shakespeare at school and have the inability to learn anything by rote. In one ear and out the other as the teacher would say

    August 29, 2017
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  8. I don’t enjoy all poetry, but I definitely have my favourites.

    More than 20 years ago I worked on a show which celebrated 1960s Britain, using songs by the Beatles and others, together with the poetry of Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Pattern – also known as the Mersey poets. I loved their work, especially that of McGough. His poem “Ex Art Student” later jolted me out of my mundane backstage existence and urged me to pursue my own creative dreams rather than continue to live in the shadow of the dreams of others.

    I later saw McGough present some of his work at a poetry festival, and afterwards plucked up the courage to ask him for his autograph. He was very sweet to this nervous, fledgling wannabe-writer who held him in such awe…

    About ten years ago, when I started writing seriously, I sometimes wrote poetry as a writing exercise to help with my normal writing. It was useful to find another way to express myself by using different words and word patterns that I wouldn’t otherwise have used.

    August 29, 2017
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    • Susan, you had me run to my shelves and take down my “Mersey sound revised edition” I hadn’t touched in years, maybe decades. I don’t even remember why I bought it in the first place. It was when I lived in England and maybe it had something to do with a certain Liverpudlian boyfriend. Here is McGough – opened at random – “i remember your hands/white and strangely cold/asif exposed too often to the moon/i remember your eyes/brown and strangely old/asif exposed too often and too soon/i remember your body/young and strangely bold/asif exposed too often (…)i remember/iremember how/when we lay together for the first time/the room smiled,/said: “excuse me”/and tiptoed away (from A lot of water has flown under your bridge). Thank you for the story and the reminder.

      August 29, 2017
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