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and there are poems that fly over my head – extremely long ones tend to lose me, especially if full of mythological or historical references.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.