The Joys (and Curious Political Implications) of Reciting Poetry – Barry Spector
Memorize That Poem! – Molly Worthen
In Praise of Memorizing Poetry, Badly — Robert Pinsky
By Heart – Maya Spector
Maya Angelou on Reciting Poetry:
At the age of eight, while living with her mother, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She told her brother, who told the rest of their family. The man was found guilty but was jailed for only one day. Four days later, he was murdered. Angelou became mute for almost five years, believing that “I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone…” During this period of silence she developed her extraordinary memory, her love for books and literature, and her ability to listen and observe the world around her. Angelou and her brother were sent back to their grandmother. She credits a teacher, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, with helping her speak again:
You Do Not Love Poetry
When I was about 11 and a half, she said to me one day
— I used to carry a tablet around on which I wrote answers — and she asked me, “Do you love poetry?” I wrote yes…She told me, “You do not love poetry. You will never love it until you speak it. Until it comes across your tongue, through your teeth, over your lips, you will never love poetry.”…Finally, I did take a book of poetry, and I went under the house and tried to speak, and could.
Robert Bly on reciting poetry:
Reciting political poems at Vietnam gatherings, I experienced for the first time in my life the power of spoken or oral poetry. A briefly lasting community springs to life in front of the voice, like a flower opening — it can be a community either of excitement or of feeling. The community flowers when the poem is spoken in the ancient way—that is, with full sound, with conviction, and with the knowledge that the emotions are not private to the person speaking them.
Think it’s hard to memorize poetry? Look here.
Got Poetry? — Jim Holt
The Way that You Recite — Barry Vesser
(For Kay Crista)
The way that you recite Ellen Bass,
Allison Luterman, Hafiz, Jewel Mathieson
It is as if the poem possessed you,
Seduced you, leaving the page behind
Softly luxuriating in three dimensions
Like a symphony played for the first time.
It is like, you have slept with it
Taken it inside, asked it every question
and listened to its moans
As you held each other
and let go into the pillows together.
Like you had been married to a famous person
For 30 years, knew all their quirks and hang ups,
How they held a phrase, made a point,
set down their coffee cup,
and what they thought of themselves,
Even the things that only
their therapist is supposed know,
And now for the first time you are going to tell us
in the hushed tones of spiritual revelation,
No, show us, their full being,
forcing us to inhabitat ours.
Leaving us suspended after the last line,
In the complete cessation of self.
Between astonishment and love.
By Heart — Gail Onion
A poem recited creates community
witnessing the vision together
we sign the love letter
to the Great Mystery.
A poem learned by heart
and spoken is the laying
of a branch on the surface
of the world’s turbulent waters
for the beleaguered swimmer
and pulls her back to the resurrection
on the shore.
The poem stepping forth
from its cocoon of silence
is a wild birth of truth.
Unaccountable joy seeds
begin to sprout.
Aches and pains disappear.
We feel the courage to go on.
The poem ripens and strengthens us
and passes the Holy Grail of Hope
back to us.