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richardleis
richardleis

I’m reading four of my poems at an event on October 18th, so I’m trying something new: memorizing my own poems. Singers memorize their songs, so I’m thinking of this as my “set.” Any tips for memorized poems?

rnv
rnv

@richardleis There are lots of different ways to memorize things, but if you haven’t done much memorizing before and you want to quickly get “off-book” as the actors say, I’d recommend a variation of the following:

First, copy out each poem as prose and break it into smallish chunks that will sit in your mind as discrete phrases. If you already compose in something resembling stanzas or verses, you could go with that, I suppose — but longer phrases sometimes span shorter stanzas, and sometimes a single stanza may be several phrases long. So I suggest ignoring whatever line- and stanza-breaks you originally composed in, and instead look for phrases that don’t require more than one or two lungfuls of air to say aloud.

Second, copy out each poem by hand several times, reciting it aloud as you write. You’ll start to see it and hear it in your mind. Third, look and listen for a few prominent words in each phrase. There should probably be no more than two or three, and they’ll start to jump out at you on each reread/rewrite. These are the beats you’ll move between as you walk through the poem. So you’ll really be memorizing the progression from keyword to keyword, beat to beat.

Fourth, there’s no shame in having cards with you — especially if you’re hoping to memorize a lot of material in a short time. So copy the keywords down onto index cards. Keep each card sparse, only a few phrases — say, ten or fifteen words — per card at most. Otherwise your brain will expect to see the whole poem there, and might choke when it can’t fill in the missing bits. You want to rely on the cards, but not depend on them.

Think of it this way. Instead of a page filled with text, you’ll have a little index card with only a handful of words — so when you glance down, your eyes won’t be swimming around looking for your place on a crowded page of poetry, but simply spotting the next keyword, and you’ll be on your way. You’ll be able to keep your eyes up and out at the audience longer, and your page-glances will be quicker and more economical. The audience may not even notice, and may even forget you’re not reciting completely from memory.

Okay, so let’s say I wrote a sonnet. I think it’s pretty good, and I want to recite it from memory. I’ve copied it out a bunch, I’ve recited it a dozen or so times, and I’ve got it mostly down. But just in case of mental vapor-lock in front of the vast throng of my adoring fans, I might have two index cards with me that I can glance at — you know, to kick-start my brain if I’m distracted by all the screaming, helpless weeping, and errant under-garments being flung onstage.

So, my index cards might look something like this:

Card 1:
summer’s day … lovely … temperate
Rough winds … summer's lease
too short … too hot … fair from fair

Card 2:
chance … changing course
eternal summer … possession … fair
Death brag … shade
men breathe … eyes see

Hope this helps — break a leg!

richnewman
richnewman

@richardleis @rnv This has always been an interesting question for me. I have been tempted to memorize some of my poems, following the same logic, but I've never actually done it because I know I would not put the time into rehearsing them--the way singers rehearse songs--so that the recitation would become an actual performance (if that distinction makes sense). Over time, I've found that I actually prefer not memorizing them because it means I come to them more or less fresh each time I read them. I do read them aloud several times, and sometimes more than several times, before a reading to re-familiarize myself with how they move and so I don’t stumble, etc. while I’m reading, and I have found that this allows me to find new things in them each time I read.

That said, I think Robert's advice for how to memorize the poems is spot on. Break a leg!

richardleis
richardleis

@rnv @richnewman Thank you so much! Good reasons not to memorize, good tips if I want to try memorizing them anyway.

In reply to
smokey
smokey

@rnv That feels like it should be(come) its own blog post so that it doesn’t just live hidden off in the Micro.blog comments.

rnv
rnv

@smokey I agree! I was already thinking of spinning it off as a long post of its own, since my posted reply was barely half of what I originally wrote…

smokey
smokey

@rnv Wow 👍

rnv
rnv

@smokey Here it is. // @richardleis

richardleis
richardleis

@rnv Fantastic! Bookmarked.