At the recent Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, poet and memoirist Mary Karr said that writers must do two things, and one of them was memorize poetry. (The other was rewrite.) Yes, that's right: memorize poetry. I'm not a poetry-memorizer (yet), but I'm putting it out there as a good idea for everybody, not just writers.
Why memorize poems, or put one in your pocket? The NYTimes published an editorial last year that attempted to answer this very question -- but Jim Holt's answer is "because it's deeply pleasurable." Interesting, but is it persuasive?
Two more reasons why it's good to read and occasionally memorize poetry:
1. Memorizing, in general, exercises the brain, and improves your brain's ability to remember other shit. That's good, right? I'm going to try to find some research that supports that statement.
2. Memorizing poetry, in particular, embeds vocabulary, syntax, and rhythmic language patterns into the brain so that you have them available for your own speaking and writing. The Well-Trained Mind elaborates on this theme quite well.
3. Maybe this goes back to the NYTimes editorial, but I'm convinced that poetry is worth the extra effort it takes to read, ponder, and digest. Even if we don't "get it" when we read a poem, if we spend time with it, read again more slowly, and possibly memorize it, that poem will likely gradually reveal itself to us, like the sculpture reveals itself to the sculptor, like a fingerprint shows up with the dust and the microscope.
Anyway, here's the little poem I'm putting in my pocket tomorrow:
Hope is the thing with feathers, by Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it on the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea,
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
I'd love to know what poem you're putting in your pocket tomorrow (or today, probably, since it's almost after midnight).