Copywork + Memorization
I just recently wrote about our approach to poetry study and memorization in our homeschool. But I use similar tactics as a part of my own poetry practice. Wide exposure and deep dives.
Copywork slows reading way down. While you might be tempted to flip through a collection and read with scattered attention, writing by hand creates the conditions for paying attention. Formal matters, like line breaks and punctuation, are foregrounded.
This month I began a new copywork project. I am copying by hand all of Ursula K. LeGuin’s most recent book of poems called So Far So Good.
Each morning I begin this work while the sky is dark, the house is quiet, and the coffee is hot. It’s an easy way to approach the page and begin to turn my attention to writing. Her poems are fine companions and teachers.
If you’d like to hear more about how copywork might inform your own process, Ann Kroeker produced an excellent podcast on the topic.
To see all the posts in the series Listening to My Life :: Homeschooling an MFA in Poetry, click here.
I have believed in and practiced this for a long time. It came to me a number of years back that if visual artists refine and elevate their chops by copying the work of masters, aspiring poets ought maybe to profit from a similar kind of exercise. I have most often copied selections from Shakespeare once inscribing his entire corpus of Sonnets but there have been others as well, Whitman, Roethke, Robert Penn Warren, Anne Michaels (all of “Miner’s Pond”) Yeats, Eliot, Leonard Cohen…
I love your quiet hour scenario, especially the hot coffee part!
Coffee’s hot right now! Though you have to move fast because I can drink my way through a french press. I’m excited to learn more about Roethke–I think he’s going to make an appearance later this month.
Kortney, I love to hear about other homechoolers doing this sort of thing. As a second-generation homeschooler, I believe that children raised deep within the literature of the past end up with a thoroughly different consciousness than their peers – even than their own parents! And that’s a good thing.
Looking out at my own peers from that place, I see more clearly than most the degeneracy of contemporary thought to which they became victims almost from birth. I believe that homeschooled poets – well, homeschooled poets who abstain from the froth of contemporaneity – have almost exclusive possession of the possibility for poetic renewal in our culture. It seems that only we can distinguish clearly enough between timeless and trendy to pick up the cobalt blue threads of the true, neglected tradition in poetry.
Even our fellow Christians and conservatives/traditionalists don’t seem to understand, if their minds weren’t cultivated by the fathers and mothers of literature. They absorb and accept all sorts of dingy, enervated, apathetic, powder-blue attempts at poetry, and exert themselves needlessly to find virtue in the adored mediocrity or downright vileness of our times. They do so with thoughtful, dignified poses that mean, “I am worthy of my peers’ respect,” rather than, “I have been true to the best things.”
Probably the best imaginative representation of the attitude that seeks to be in with the cultural in-crowd, rather than to attain the highest and best, is found in C. S. Lewis’ novel “That Hideous Strength.” I’m about to re-read it.
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