Daily Archives: 19 December 2011

Memorising poetry with Dan Beachy-Quick

The Poetry Off the Shelf podcast for 13 December is a lovely interview with US poet Dan Beachy-Quick about memorising poetry, ‘Inscribe the poem on yourself’. I listened to it when I had just finished my first stab at memorising Stevie Smith’s ‘The Lads of the Village’ (of which more in a later post), and a lot of what was said on the podcast rang very true for me. Here are a couple of hastily transcribed highlights:

Something about the act of memorisation puts the poem inside me in such a way that I feel like when I do need to know what exactly it is in the poem that draws me so much it will be there as a kind of constant resource that I can call upon whenever I want to or when I need to.

And this on memorising poems using traditional forms:

When you go through the work of memorising a poem the metre of it or the rhyme of it or the formal pattern that it’s in ceases to just be a technology of the poem and you begin to see the real necessity that might underlie the choice of writing in a sonnet or the power of taking as a genuine concern the need to find a perfect rhyme or a slant rhyme, because those things too, metre and rhyme, are so absolutely bodily and part of the meaning. One feels a rhythm. Rhyme is felt as much as heard. It’s almost as if the ear is learning to feel when it hears a great rhyme. So I think in a way memorising such poems helps one learn to read and take seriously traditional poetic values that in a postmodernist framework might be easily dismissed.

If you have 12 minutes and 19 seconds to spare, you could do better with that small slab of time than listen to the whole thing.

Incidentally, as I was fiddling around trying to get you that link, I found that the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day has featured a swathe of Australians, including most recently Michael Sharkey reading his ‘Eating Sin‘.