After Tweetspeak pinned me down to memorize “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (all of it) and after I stopped hyperventilating, I decided to take a bite of the peach with a smile. I rolled up my sleeves and the bottoms of my jeans (I can do that in November in South Florida) and asked myself: How in the universe am I going to do this thing?
When I read the poem and reviewed what I wrote during my first fling with T.S. Eliot, I was delighted to discover I’d already committed some lines without trying just by hanging out with Tom and J. Alfred for a season.
Next I pulled out Tania Runyan’s How to Read a Poem, one of the books that avoided the moving van from Michigan to Florida where it would otherwise have languished a few months in a storage facility. It traveled with us in the 10 x 10 x 12 box with other not-to-be-without books.
I spent some time again with the poem as a whole, following the suggestions to hold it up to the light, listen to it hum, and skitter around in it like a mouse. I’m taking note of images, listening to the sounds and rhymes, noticing repeated words and questions—and asking questions of my own, like what in the yellow smoke is a sawdust restaurant with oyster shells?
To accomplish this feat, I’ve measured out the poem in coffee spoons to about fourteen sections, fifteen if you count that first stanza. Do I dare try to memorize it in English or find someone to help me recite the Italian? Stay tuned.
I’ve asked friends for some memorization tips. Bethany, one of my poetry barista sisters, suggested singing it. That seems like a fun idea, although Prufrock doesn’t lend itself very well to the tune of “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle.” Linda Chontos finds it easier to memorize a piece while she walks, so I suspect I will try this—perhaps as I walk upon the beach. And Twitter friend @caroleebennett said she was able to commit Prufrock some time back by putting a recording on repeat. I did record myself for myself, but when I do it for the world, it won’t be sans makeup, nor with my hair parted behind. I’ll be exploring other memorization ideas during this dare, so please pass on what works for you in the comments.
That’s my basic plan, and I might stick to. I might not stick to it. But I do need some buddies to commit Prufrock with me.
Will you? I dare you.
Editor’s Note: In the coming weeks, Sandra will update us on her progress and strategies. Stay tuned on Facebook and/or Twitter, where she’ll feature live video updates. We’ve given Sandra the option to Phone a Friend, so be prepared in case she calls on you to help with some Italian pronunciations or to learn a little about a part of the poem, or even to recite a stanza with her.
Want to commit Prufrock with Sandra? Download your own Committing Prufrock Poetry Dare Printable Barista Badges that you can cut out and color to celebrate all 15 sections as you memorize them. Tweet a photo with your badge to us at @tspoetry and use the hashtag #commitprufrock.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish