Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A new project

Inspired by one of the students in my workshop last week who made himself write a poem without ever writing any of it down (the assignment was to create some difficulty for ourselves in writing the poem, some constraint -- suggestions included writing one word on each page, writing blindfolded, or writing with the non-dominant hand -- I made myself physically move to a new location to draft each line, which was vaguely interesting) and by a certain inebriated recitation-fest in the Stanley Kunitz Common Room in the wee hours of the morning, I have decided that I need to memorize some damn poems. I've got lines, stanzas even, in my head -- and about 2/3 of a few Shakespeare soliloquies -- but no whole poems that I can dredge up, inebriated or no.

To that end, my goal is to memorize one poem a month for the next year. I'll write them down in a notebook at the beginning of the month, carry them around with me all month, and hopefully have them by heart before month's end. I know a month is a long time, and maybe this doesn't sound all that ambitious, but it feels like a challenge to me -- I've never been good at memorization (which is the only reason I'm not a world-famous actress, right?).

First up (for July, since June is almost gone) will be Plath's "Ariel" because I already have bits of it and because I just love how her language feels in my mouth. "Stasis in darkness. / Then the substanceless blue / Pour of tor and distances..."

If any of y'all have suggestions for others I should consider memorizing, I'm all ears!

8 comments:

Carol Peters said...

Driven by a similar impulse, I memorized 4 or 5 Dickinson poems earlier this year. Although I find they are no longer accessible to me. For weeks I could chant them. Now they're lost in debris.

But yes. Great idea. My scheme for memorization was to analyze the poem six ways from Tuesday. By the time I was done, the poem was in my head. For a few weeks anyway.

Lyle Daggett said...

Over the years I've memorized a few poems -- Robert Bly, Tomas Transtromer, Yosano Akiko (not too hard when you're talking about a tanka), one by Yannis Ritsos, two or three by Lorca. (With the Ritsos and Lorca, I managed to memorize them both in translation and in the original languages.) Also have memorized two or three of my own poems at one time or another. Probably some others (especially shorter poems) that I'm not remembering offhand.

In general, I'd recommend memorizing poems with which you feel a particular affinity, poems that especially move you or speak to you in some way.

However, since (I take it) you're asking for suggestions of specific poems, here are a half dozen ideas:

James Wright, "Lying in a Hammock on William Duffy's Farm at Pine Island, Minnesota"

Adrienne Rich, "The Observer" (it was originally in her book Leaflets)

Joy Harjo, "She Had Some Horses"

Michael S. Harper, "Deathwatch" (from his book Dear John, Dear Coltrane)

Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ozymandias"

William Stafford, "At the Bomb Testing Site"

Laura said...

I once memorized Glyn Maxwell's poem "Hurry My Way" (though it has since slipped out of memory, alas). But I'd recommend it because a) it's a *great* poem full of wonderful sounds and achy mysterious love-stuff, and b)it rhymes! Which makes it oh so much easier to memorize. I think it's in his collection "The Breakage." Good luck with your project!

Suzanne said...

I didn't truly appreciate Frost's Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, until I was able to recite it from memory. I have always meant to memorize The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock--maybe I'll join you!

Anne said...

Mmm, some good suggestions there. Carol, Dickinson seems infinitely memorizable (and memorable) -- and she's someone I feel I don't know as well as I should to start with. Lyle, great ideas from you too -- I am particularly fond of that Harjo poem, and that also makes me think of her "Eagle Poem" which I am forever dragging out and giving to people. Laura, I'm not familiar with Maxwell, so I'll check that one out -- thanks! And Suzanne, hearing Doug Powell rip through the entirety of "Prufrock" in a late night bar was where this train of thought started for me. *grin*

theresa said...

hello anne, it's theresa from the provincetown workshop. funny, doug and sam also inspired me to begin building a library in my head. i memorized dickinson's "a bird came down the walk" yesterday and am working through prufrock for the next few days. if ever we are together in a room with a podium again, let's make sure it's not just males standing.

Anne said...

Hey Theresa! Yes, absolutely... it was getting to be a bit much of a boys' club for a while there. My "one poem a month" plan may not be very ambitious, but I figure I'll start off with a goal I'm pretty sure I can meet. We'll see if I ever make it as far as Prufrock. I think my first three will be "Ariel," Harjo's "Eagle Poem," and Rich's "Diving Into the Wreck" -- though I may slip some Dickinson in there too. Good to hear from you!

Ross White said...

This is a great idea. I have always meant to memorize William Matthews' "A Poetry Reading at West Point"-- perhaps I'll join you as well.