Memorization followup

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 by Rachel

So I memorized Kim Addonizio’s “First Poem for You” and recited it last week in class. I gave a copy of the poem to my classmate (the only other incoming poet) Stephan to be my spotter, just in case, and I think that made me more comfortable. I recited it, and I think I did a pretty decent job.


I had to memorize a poem in middle school…something by Langston Hughes I think? I had to memorize a poem in my first college Intro to Poetry class—this one I recited in my professor’s office, just the two of us. I had to memorize a little eight line poem for class during my MA, and I remember becoming so infuriated. I was one of two students who actually bothered to do the memorizing, so the professor said, “eh, we’ll do it next week”. We never did.


I have always had trouble memorizing. Not only does it take me weeks to memorize and be able to say outloud a couple lines, but I have absolutely NO retention. I can’t even tell you the names or a line of those two poems from freshman year or a year and a half ago. I don’t know what they were. I don’t think I could recite Kim Addonizio’s poem right now without having to stop and really really think about it.


As a requirement for this class, I have to recite not one, but TWO poems. So with five weeks left, I need to get started. I think I’m going to choose another sonnet—Leda and the Swan maybe. But my question to you is, why should I memorize these poems? It’s a very old-school sort of traditional requirement. I appreciate it for what it is, but it seems like an awful lot of work to go into a one minute recitation and eventual forgetting of the poem. Do any of the rest of you have to memorize poems? And what do you feel about its purpose? Does it help you KNOW the poem any better than you did before?


  1. I think memorizing is good. I think it helps you to internalize the rhythm of the line. I often find myself imitating the rhythm of a line to get me started on a new piece. I used to memorize one poem per week of someone else’s. I’m used to memorizing though because I started off doing slam poetry and it was always best to memorize then.

  2. I think it’s interesting you had a recitation assignment too. I just had my first assignment like this last week, and I actually had to recite twice. I am a TA of sorts for an undergrad class, so to demonstrate that the assignment wasn’t completely horrifying, I had to recite, too. Then, we had to recite in the poetry workshop. At the end of it all, I realize I appreciated the exercise, although it caused a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

  3. t I discuss almost weekly.

    Where a poet differs from any other writer, is that they are required to share (or perform) the poem.

    I discuss this topic just about every week.

    How the poem sounds is what drives the rhythm, meter, even melody.

    I also think it’s important to shine on the page.

    So I’m glad to know that MFA programs require poets to memorize and recite poems.

    We are using not just our voices, but our whole body as a vehicle to connect language and emotion. This builds an authentic connection with an audeince. Being able to look in the eyes of listeners at a reading, is our reward. (Not to mention all the book sales that will result from it).

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