The Poetics of Memory

Posted In: Events and Programs, State Library Resource Center, Poetry
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By Brian Manning

No picture of mere memory ever looked/so fair
—Wordsworth, The Prelude
Poems by Heart
Wed, Aug 28, 6:30pm
Central Library

How is your memory? When it comes to certain things, my memory is like a steel trap; but otherwise, it’s more like a soggy noodle. I’ve always been impressed by my friends who can quote things verbatim, especially long works of poems. My one friend can recite Poe’s The Raven from heart, and I had another friend who recited Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner while we were sailing on the Chesapeake one day (a perfect setting).

But memory and poetry have a long, interlinked history—and some may even argue genesis—together, going back to the first poets, who most likely sang the epics from memory accompanied by a lyre. And during Shakespeare’s time, it was pub game to begin reciting a line of poetry from memory, and your partner had to finish the poem, or so I remember one of my English teachers telling me.

Moonwalking with EinsteinEven up through the Romantic age, we hear of Wordsworth composing the The Prelude while on a walk, and having to hold it in the vault of his mind before being able to write it down after reaching home.

As for me, I’ve always let myself off the hook of memorization by using the excuse that I have a faulty memory pod.

But last year, I read Joshua Foer’s great book Moonwalking with Einstein, which dispelled this erroneous excuse, and made me believe that I, too, can have a great memory, and so can you. In this book, he talks about how the Ancients trained their minds to achieve uncanny feats of memorization through the Method of Loci. However, Mr. Foer does concede that memorizing words, such as poetry, can be one of the more difficult challenges of memorization, but there are benefits to putting yourself through such a mental workout.

So what about you, dear reader? If you want to improve your memory, or are simply a lover of poetry, you should plan on attending the upcoming Poems by Heart here at the Pratt Library, on August 28, where you can flex those memory muscles. So mark your calendars, or—better yet—simply remember the date, and come ready to recite from heart.

Another great piece by Mr. Manning we can't help by share!
Posted by: Johnny( Visit ) at 8/26/2013 8:25 p.m.

Great post! Thanks for sharing. I read Moonwalking with Einstein last year. Fantastic story, especially traveling back in time with the author to the days when all knowledge had to be remembered and then fast forwarding to his own chronicled immersion into the competitive world of recall. I have used the techniques reported in the book and they have helped my business and my personal life.
Posted by: Sean Mulvihill at 8/26/2013 9:15 p.m.

Thanks for the kind words, Johnny & Sean! To guys that I know have poems stored in their memory!
Posted by: Brian Manning at 8/27/2013 1:28 p.m.

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