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In our second hour today we're talking with writer Jim Holt about learning poems by heart — and reciting them from memory. Who needs an iPod, he says, when you've got great verse running through your head! We're hoping our listeners, on the air and online, will bring their own favorites to the party.
If you have a great poem you want to recite, from memory (no cheating!), then let's hear it — call in this morning between 11am and noon Eastern, at 1-800-423-8255, and we'll try to get you on.
And if you have audio and/or video of yourself reciting poetry (again, from memory, not reading off the page!), then post the URL(s) in the comments section for today's show.
Jim's recent essay for The New York Times Book Review, "Got Poetry?," is a good, fun read. He describes the surprising ease, and unique pleasures, of committing poems to memory:
The process of memorizing a poem is fairly mechanical at first. You cling to the meter and rhyme scheme (if there is one), declaiming the lines in a sort of sing-songy way without worrying too much about what they mean. But then something organic starts to happen. Mere memorization gives way to performance. You begin to feel the tension between the abstract meter of the poem — the “duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA” of iambic pentameter, say — and the rhythms arising from the actual sense of the words. (Part of the genius of Yeats or Pope is the way they intensify meaning by bucking against the meter.) It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) 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.
He says he hopes to dispel three myths:
Myth No. 1: Poetry is painful to memorize. It is not at all painful. Just do a line or two a day.
Myth No. 2: There isn’t enough room in your memory to store a lot of poetry. Bad analogy. Memory is a muscle, not a quart jar.
Myth No. 3: Everyone needs an iPod. You do not need an iPod. Memorize poetry instead.
Read the full essay here.
This program aired on April 13, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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