Carnival of Children's Lit, March '09
2009 Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award

A Case for Memorizing Poetry

I don't even remember the last time I learned a poem by heart, but this piece in the New York Times Book Review caught my attention. Jim Holt has memorized a lot of poetry. "It’s all about pleasure. And it’s a cheap pleasure," he writes.

One should be skeptical, though, of some of the alleged advantages cited by champions of poetry memorization. “I wonder if anyone who has memorized a lot of poetry . . . can fail to write coherent sentences and paragraphs,” Robert Pinsky once said. Well, responded David Bromwich, just take a look at the autobiography of Marlon Brando, who memorized heaps of Shakespeare.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Susan: Thanks so much for linking to that article - I loved it (and I'll be quoteskimming from it next Sunday).

You're welcome, Kelly. I liked it, too, and enjoyed Holt's humor.

Thanks for the link. I set up a similar challenge for myself a number of years ago. I was going to memorize 100 poems. I think I got to about four, but this makes me want to go back to it. I would love to declaim at the drop of a hat. ;)

Sounds like a fun challenge.... I think I'll give it a try, but I may start with children's poetry to impress my students (Shel Silverstein comes to mind).

Very funny about Brando! My grandmother memorized poems--there was one that started out, "Little daughter doing dishes, think of water, think of fishes..." And hey--I just gave you a Proximidade Award over at my site. Thanks for all your posts!

Hello Chicken Spaghetti,
I enjoyed reading the NYTimes article. I have been memorizing poetry for about ten years now. It all started when I began teaching English to primary school students at the French lycée in DC. Memorizing poetry (in French) is part of what they do (!), so I was able to easily carry that discipline over to the English class. As they memorized their monthly poem, I too memorized the same poems, and was surprised at how utterly empowered it made me feel. From that point on, I began to learn poems on my own on a regular basis. There is something absolutely wonderful about being able to declaim beautifully put-together words.

Thanks for the link. You may have inspired my next blogpost!

Bonny, you're four ahead of me! I like the idea, too.

Kate, I want to try, too. I think my son knows some of those beloved Shel S. poems by heart--without even trying.

Kate C., that is too kind of you! Thank you. I am honored.

Jane, I like that idea of memorizing being empowering. You're quite welcome for the link.

What an interesting article. I haven't thought about memorizing poetry since, um high school when I had to memorize a bit of Shakespeare.

Reading this article though reminded me, when I was learning Spanish I met a woman from Puerto Rico who spoke beautiful Spanish. She wasn't the first Puerto Rican I had spoken with, nor the last. At the time I was just learning to speak Spanish, but I told how much I liked her accent and the way she spoke. She replied by saying her father had been a professor of literature and made them memorize poems and/or read plays out loud at the dinner table every night. All her siblings spoke like that. Gives you something to think about.

Definitely, Cari. I have a friend whose family used to read Shakespeare at dinner, too. I was intrigued to hear about it.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)