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By Heart: The Art of Memorization

Ann Kroeker has a new podcast episode out called Energize Your Writing by Memorizing Poems and it’s got me all kinds of excited!

At our place we are working on O Captain, My Captain by Walt Whitman.  It’s the perfect capstone to our American history studies.  It’s also one of the poems that my very stern 8th grade teacher, Mrs. DeGraw, made us memorize.  And I’ve still got it more or less.

I’ve written it all out in my best formal handwriting, and my ten year old is copying a line out each day for copywork practice. But before I had it off to her each morning, I say the current stanza–with much feeling and drama!  There’s enough blood to keep even the raucous 4 year old interested.  And he can now answer with the second half of the line if I start him out.

But word-perfect memorization isn’t really my goal.  Even though I’ve got Mrs. DeGraw’s high standards to thank for almost all the poems I’ve learned by heart, that’s not what we aim for in our day to day encounters with poems.  I hadn’t really considered that there was another choice–that we could actively, skillfully, thoughtfully enjoy poems together without memorization drills.  The poems slowly work their way into our conversations and gently color our stories.  It’s slow and steady, and I feel like we’re winning the race.

A few other favorites on memorization…

Ann quotes from an article called A Year of Living Poetically–what a title!  The end of the article includes links to 10 or so poems to memorize.  They’re all great choices.  Each selection walks you through the structure and meaning of the poem and gives you hints for memorizing.  I think I might try the Yeats poem they include.

Sally Thomas has created a poetry course based around copywork.  It’s one of the things that I have on my own clipboard to work on while children are doing long division or some other laborious task where I need to be close by, but minding my own business.

Mystie’s article called On Not Being Word-Perfect: Taking the Long View of Memorization.  This is what turned on lights for me and revitalized our Morning Time.

George Plimpton interviewing Billy Collins.  So long.  And so good.  Collins talks about his mom reciting poems that she learned as a child, and how he makes all his students memorize 14 lines.

How do poems color your world?


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