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‘.

3 responses to “Memorising poetry with Dan Beachy-Quick

  1. Having a poem committed to memory also allows you to surprise and delight your friends in ways that can be moving and memorable. In the very early spring of my first year in North Carolina, a group of us rented a beach cottage for a week. We arrived late at night; the weather was blustery and cold but our mostly land-locked crew raced down to the beach in the darkness and stood gazing at the moonlight refracted by the breakers rolling into shore and my friend John provided me with a moment that has lived in my memory for thirty-five years now as, facing the darkness, he spoke Lord Byron’s words:

    Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean-roll!
    Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
    Man marks the earth with ruin-his control
    Stops with the shore;-upon the watery plain
    The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
    A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
    When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
    He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
    Without a grave, unknell’d, uncoffin’d, and unknown.

    Like

  2. Will: Wow! Just wow!

    Like

  3. Pingback: Malouf Adamson Aitken Harrison: Rare Objects | Me fail? I fly!

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