How to Fall in Love With Poetry
It has been almost three years since I started learning a poem By Heart each month. When the practice (and column) was suggested, I balked. Surely I didn’t need to memorize poetry to appreciate poetry. But I did need to memorize poetry to truly fall in love with it.
So far I have learned thirty-six poems, creating thirty-six anchor points for my soul.
I could tell you how learning poems By Heart has had benefits, like strengthening mental focus and clarity. I could tell you about moments of boredom or moments of fear when a poem’s line has burst forth, right when needed. But it’s deeper than that. Poetry is not some tonic to be applied daily. It’s my love.
Tonight, I am in love with poetry,
with the good words that saved me,
These opening lines are from Dorianne Laux’s Tonight I Am In Love. Laux goes on to pull images and words from her poem-loves. She describes these poem-loves as “bones,” a skeleton on which to build a life.
By Heart has given me the gift of sitting with one poem for an entire month. If a month is particularly busy, then I choose a short one. I have spent time with Important Poets and Instagram poets.
Poetry Time consists of four activities, which take a total of about 15 minutes
1) Make a cup of tea.
2) Listen to a poetry podcast. It started with The Slowdown, but has since migrated.
3) Take five minutes to read aloud and meditate on the By Heart poem of the month.
4) Recite a previous By Heart poem.
I have no tricks for memorization — simply time and tea. A few minutes a day, every weekday of the month, adds up.
Dorianne Laux ends her poem with this stanza:
They could not have known how I would love them,
worlds fallen from their mortal fingers.
When I cannot see to read or walk alone
along the slough, I will hear you, I will
bring the longing in your voices to rest
against my old, tired heart and call you back.
Already I have thirty-six loves made manifest: a rib, a femur, a clavicle. How many bones until I am whole?
By Heart for August
For the next By Heart gathering, August 27, we’ll learn Abigail Carroll’s “What Men Die For Lack Of,” another poem about poetry. See how many lines you can identify!
What Men Die For Lack Of
It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. – William Carlos Williams
Daffodils—ten thousand at a glance.
A globed fruit, palpable and mute.
Pockets full of lichens and seeds.
Apple-bent mossed cottage trees.
Lamb-white days, a lilting house.
Winnings risked on pitch and toss.
Boatmens’ songs, mechanics’ songs.
Rose moles on the skin of trout.
A cherry hung with bloom, a cherry hung with snow.
The flow of Julia’s silks, the liquefaction of her clothes.
An angel robed in real linen, spun on a definite loom.
Bald and wild, the O-gape of the moon.
Telephone poles holding out their arms to birds.
A hammock, a field of sunlight between two pines.
Nine bean rows and nine and fifty swans.
A leaping tongue of bloom spared by a scythe.
Magenta pokeweed sprung in a vacant lot.
The oily, rainbowed deck of a rented boat.
White chickens, a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain.
Marbles and puddles and whistling far and wee.
Truth told slant, truth that dazzles gradually.
– Abigail Carroll
Photo by Mike Locke, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Megan Willome.
Browse more By Heart
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro
- Perspective: The Two, The Only: Calvin and Hobbes - December 16, 2022
- Children’s Book Club: A Very Haunted Christmas - December 9, 2022
- By Heart: ‘The night is darkening round me’ by Emily Brontë - December 2, 2022
L.L. Barkat says
It is always mildly startling to me to learn that what I thought was smooth sailing actually included a protest before setting sail. 😉 You are good to me, Megan, the way you try (most) things in any case, trusting that something will come of it. Thank you for that.
This piece? Completely captured my heart. Loved the “bones” of it. And, your practice has truly created something special for you (and us). I was telling my girls how much I loved the piece and Sonia had all kinds of questions about how you do the memorizing. For instance, she wanted to know how you go over the old poems. Do you do them in rotation over time? Or just pick any poem you want to refresh on for the day?
I was curious, too. Like, what other poetry podcasts do you now listen to?
Also, you inspired me this week. I started reading a poem before bedtime. What a find I found in my stack. Michelle Ortega’s little chapbook from Seven Kitchens Press. I started it from the beginning and am going to go straight through (instead of the jump-around I’ve done so far) 🙂 .
Thanks for this wonderful glimpse into your practice!
Megan Willome says
You are good to me.
When Tracy K. Smith stopped doing The Slowdown, I skipped around a bit, but seem to be settling in with The Daily Poem, which often fails to post daily, but that means I can catch up on previous episodes. I’ve made some good finds, often of older poems. I also like On Being’s Poetry Unbound, but those are longer episodes and come in chunks (seasons). I’ve done a bit of Ours Poetica on YouTube as well. That’s how I chose Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” because I loved Hrishikesh Hirway’s reading.
As to my process of reviewing, I have all the audio files that I record when I memorize a poem, so I re-listen and recite along. If I stumble, I’ll do it two or three times. I might even repeat for a couple of days. Basically, I just go in order, newest to oldest. The ones from 2019 are anchored pretty well, but some of the newer ones definitely need review.
But then, on Wednesday, The Writer’s Almanac featured Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness,” so I revisted that By Heart one. It’s fun when that happens. And it was a day when I needed a double reminder of the truth of the poem
L.L. Barkat says
“a day when I needed a double reminder of the truth of the poem”
Going to write that down and keep it handy 🙂
(Can’t wait to tell Sonia how you do it! I know she will be interested. 🙂 )
Because of you this week (this post), I wrote down the H.D. “Sea Poppies” poem from Every Day Poems and have begun to memorize it. (And, as you recommend, meditate on it.) There is so much more to that poem than initially meets the eye!
fluted with gold…”
Megan Willome says
Oooh, I need to cover H.D. Good tip!