It remains a mystery why Tweetspeak Poetry chose Prufrock for me to memorize. If they didn’t feel like I was done with Thomas E, or he with me, and they wanted me to extend my brainy pathways with something long, they could have chosen a more sing-songy piece—like maybe something from the Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—say “Growltiger’s Last Stand.”
Growltiger was a Bravo Cat, who travelled on a barge;
In fact he was the roughest cat that ever roamed at large.
From Gravesend up to Oxford he pursued his evil aims,
Rejoicing in his title of ‘The Terror of the Thames.’
Couplets in the cortex. Read it three times. Recite it a couple times. Maybe even sing it. Boom! Memorized. Even easier than The Stolen Child.
I’ve come to realize, though, there’s always a method behind Tweetspeak’s mischief, and at least their dares come wreathed with fun: surprises behind every door and fires in every synapse.
So it’s Prufrock instead of Growltiger. Perhaps it’s important that Prufrock was Eliot’s launch into published poetrydom in 1915—all 139 lines written, by the way, when he was only 22 years old.
They could have overheard me muttering about lost time and growing older and thought this poem might fit me even though I might have to roll up my trousers—I mean, jeans. Or maybe they chose it just because it’s “a great poem worthy of the effort.”
It’s taking me longer than a whole college semester plus Christmas vacation and spring break to finish it off. I take comfort from having read somewhere that when it comes to retention, slow and steady wins over cramming. That may account for why I can’t remember much from high school.
I said yes because I (almost) never turn down a good dare, and I wanted to prove to myself I could do it, even “at my age.” I’ve since learned that there are some very good reasons to memorize poetry—even poems the length of a Burmese python.
1. To give myself a gift
I’m in a season now of learning to give to myself, and Julia Kasdorf says “committing a poem is a form of self love, like buying yourself a gift, only better. And no one can take it away from you.”
2. To occupy myself during downtime
When I’m on a long car ride or stuck in a waiting room or an MRI “coffin” or a post office line or sprawled out on beach sand in bright sun or awake at 3 a.m., I can just call up some verses.
3. To become myself
It’s easy to blow through poetry on the page, to gulp it or swallow it whole. But to sip the words, chew them, and taste them and recite them, maybe even “perform” them—that’s a different story. Poetry is then more likely to become one, or to help one become oneself. I can’t remember where I heard the phrase, “Poetry becomes you,” but it seems to apply here. When taking poetry in through memorization, it becomes a part of a person, and also changes a person—at least it seems like it’s changing me. As I interact with it on a deeper level, emotions and memories surface, and I remember who I am and I find the me I’ve always been.
4. To become a better writer
By taking just Prufrock to heart, I’m also tucking away bits of Shakespeare and Dante, Donne and Chaucer. I’m feeding my muse a gourmet meal, ingredients that it might use to create a new recipe.
5. To have it if I need it
If I ever have a stroke or some condition that affects my ability to speak and I need to rummage for words, maybe I can call up in that present what I’ve memorized in the past. Poet Marie Ponsot recovered her speech and even ability to write more poetry after she suffered a stroke by “leaving the attic of mind,” and descending “into the depths of her heart.”
6. To stave off dementia
There’s more and more medical and scientific evidence that exercising one’s mind, including memorizing poetry, can help one grow a few extra neurons and create some new connections in the brain. Powering up my brain could grow a hedge against losing brain power.
7. To maybe live longer
If reading poetry helps us chill and reduce stress, and if stress reduction helps extend life, it stands to reason that tucking poetry in my heart might give me a little extra time to enjoy more toast and tea.
8. To give my kids some keys to my memory
If I ever do lose my own memory, my kids my be able to use poetry to unlock memories, as what happened to Tracey Guiry’s mother who lives with dementia. Reciting The Listeners together, a poem Tracey’s mom memorized 70 years earlier, triggered some childhood memories and family stories.
9. To memorize more poetry more easily
I think having several verses of Prufrock under my belt made memorizing The Stolen Child a piece of cake.
10. To simply play and have fun
And that might even be the best reason.
Read more on Sandra’s dare to Commit Prufrock
Editor’s Note: In the coming weeks, Sandra will update us on her progress and strategies for committing Prufrock. 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.