Tuesday, July 01, 2014


As a kid I memorized “Land of Counterpane” because I thought the poem was beautiful. I also thought I was cool, because it impressed my grandma. I don’t think my friends were as impressed. Then again, my friends memorized music lyrics and commercial jingles.

I don’t want to talk politics at parties. Sports can be just as polarizing and volatile. The weather is boring. But there’s something special about pulling a good poetry quote out of your pocket at a timely point in a conversation. That’s roughly what I was told by an instructor when I was an undergrad. I’ve tried it. I felt mysterious and poet cool. But I find there is a more valuable reason to memorize poems. The act of memorizing a poem helps me gain a deeper understanding of the poet’s word choice. It helps me unlock poems that have been challenging. It helps me to establish a connection with a poem and develop an intimacy we couldn’t have had otherwise. That’s pretty relationship heavy language, but a poem and reader grow together like people. Both can instantly turn each other on or off. They can evolve as time goes by, and they can be right or wrong for each other at various stages.

I recently read a NYT article that points out how our brains work better when we write things out by hand, than when we type at a computer. “Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.” Here I am typing a blog on a Microsoft Surface. I was too lazy to pull out my notepad. This post had potential to be more creative. I apologize. I am being a little facetious, but I realize how difficult it is today to find balance. I do agree with the article.

When I write poems, I write them by hand. They seem more interesting and less sterile. When I’ve memorized poems, I’ve written them out. I often think on how in the past children would learn poetry by writing it out. Shakespeare had to copy the classics by hand. Those stories infiltrated his work, but he made them his own. It makes me wonder about the accessibility of poems. Of course many of you may have a biased perspective, as you are reading a blog right now, but would you rather read a poem in print or electronically on a web page, a pdf, or an e-reader device? Personally, I’ve got literary journals and magazines, bookshelves full of both poetry and novels, but I haven’t had time to read them lately. Instead I’ve been getting all of my information via my cell phone.

This is an electronic world, and I am an electronic persona. What can I say? It’s spring. It hasn’t felt spring-like. I’ve been watering my lawn daily. I can’t remember the last time I wore pants and shoes (as oppose to shorts and sandals). I’ve worn sandals sans socks. I have slathered myself in sunscreen more times than I can count. It’s spring, and I think I’ll go read some William Carlos Williams. I’d like to find my imagination again.


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