Memorize That Poem!

In the New York Times this Sunday, Molly Worthen writes about the value of memorizing poetry, particularly in our age of rapid-fire digital soundbites:

Understanding a good poem is hard — all the more reason to memorize it. Ask students to write a paper on Wordsworth, and once they turn it in, they consign the text to oblivion. But if they memorize his lament, years from now — perhaps while they are cleaning up their child’s chocolate-smeared face after birthday cake — they may suddenly grasp his nostalgia for “Delight and liberty, the simple creed/Of Childhood” and the bittersweet truth that “Our noisy years seem moments in the being/Of the eternal Silence.”

A memorized poem creates a room within the “architecture of your brain” that you can retreat to for the rest of your life. I’ve read that hostages and prisoners have survived isolation and imprisonment by reciting poems. When I have trouble falling asleep, I recite poems to settle my monkey mind. As I’ve gotten older and had to face the loss of loved ones, including my mother, I’ve been astonished by how often I turn to poems for solace and understanding.

I want my students to have access to the same storehouse of riches, and one of my favorite assignments for any poetry course is the (Im)Personation. After reading Worthen’s essay, I’ve decided to fold an (Im)Personation into your Avant-Garde Writer Project: what better way to get to know your writer than to memorize a piece of writing? Don’t be afraid of this assignment. As Erin and Meredith can attest, (Im)Personations help bring poetry to life for everyone. And they’re fun!


Worthen, Molly. “Opinion | Memorize That Poem!” The New York Times 26 Aug. 2017. Web. 27 Aug. 2017.

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