It’s the middle of National Poetry Month, and, if you’re like me, that means you’ve been reading a whole lot of poetry. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a new thing for me. I’m usually reading a whole lot of poetry; however, I had a thought a while I was in the middle of this poetry cram: perhaps instead of trying to get as much poetry into my day as I possibly could, it might be a good idea to take a deeper dive into a single poem. To that end, starting this second half of National Poetry Month, I’ve decided to try to actually memorize an entire piece. While I’m doing this, I also thought I would make a bit of a case for memorization as opposed to cramming when it comes to poetry.
First, poetry is not the same genre as prose, and because of this, it requires a different reading tactic. If you sit down with a good book, you could easily keep reading forward for hours and get the gist of the story. Poetry doesn’t work that way. A lot of the time, reading a poem requires more than one read in order to really understand what the piece is going for, and even after two readings, there are still going to be things that get missed along the way. Basically, a poem invites the reader to take things a little slower and really appreciate what the words and the language are doing. The best way to see what a writer was going for with the language (especially if you can’t hear them actually reading the piece) is to memorize it. This doesn’t put the poem in your own words, but it does put it in your own voice and allows you to get at that deep appreciation of how the words are being used.
Another thing to consider is ownership. No, you won’t ever completely own a poem unless you’ve written one yourself and never show it to anyone else; however, with memorization, there’s a way that you let a piece become a part of you: a piece of the way that your mind works. If you have some poetry memorized, lines will come into your head, sometimes when they aren’t appropriate, but more often than not when they are completely applicable to whatever your situation happens to be. Further, a memorized poem can’t be taken away from you. Your book might get lost, stolen, left on a bus, etc., but if you have something committed to memory, the book doesn’t matter as much. The piece that you know will always be with you.
There are some other benefits as well: memorization is also good for your cognitive functioning, and the more you do it the easier it gets to do. While those are good to know, I think they’re mostly just gravy. All the good stuff is the experience of the poem that you can really only get through memorization.
Memorization is a long and difficult process, and it can be fairly hard to do. That being said, I’d still suggest giving it a try. It’s, arguably, the best way to enjoy a poem, and the best way to really understand a piece. If you’re thinking of committing something to memory for National Poetry Month, I have two pieces of advice: start with something small, and start with something that rhymes. Sonnets are great for this. Fourteen lines and a really regular rhyme scheme make memorization really easy, so if this is something you want to try, that’s where I would suggest starting.
Happy National Poetry Month!