Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Memory and Poetry

Galway Kinnell's wonderful poem, Pulling a Nail originally in American Poetry Review
Kinnell says, "There's not a specific something I'm aiming for, but there is something that's almost unspeakable and poems are efforts to speak it bit by bit, like a burden than has to be laid down piece by piece, that can't be just thrown off."
Galway Kinnell Poetry Archive site
From Lincoln, Nebraska comes an article about my friend Ann Cognard's high school English class and how her student Shuquiao Song fell in love with T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" and entered a national poetry recitation contest. She worked with Ann for three months preparing for the contest.

I require my Advanced Poetry Workshop students to memorize and recite 2 poems, each at least 14 lines, one pre-20th century, one more recent. I'd like to begin making this requirement more of a careful recitation than a fumbling memory exercise. Too often, the memory work is a fight to the finish, a halting plod through the poem. Instead, I'd like it to be a performance that others can appreciate and applaud. I tell them that once they've memorized a poem well, they carry it around with them always, and no one can take it away from them.

I like being able to call to mind Richard Wilbur's "Merlin Enthralled" or John Donne's "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" or Shakespeare's "That time of year thou mayest in me behold" whenever I want.

I admire poets who can recite their own work at length. I have committed only a couple of my poems to memory but should work on others.

Slate magazine slide show on Joseph Cornell's boxes

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