On the BBC Again….This Time About Memorising Poetry

The BBC are currently having a bit of a season about Poetry.

According to Giles Coren in the Times recently no one cares about poetry.

Yet the BBC in their infinite wisdom think it is worth bothering about and have put a lot of effort into poetry for the broadcasting schedules over the coming weeks.

Tonight (apparently) there is a TV programme about poetry recitals and the challenges that children have in learning poems for a recital competition.

Now perhaps it was my schooling but I don’t really recall any poems from my days in the classroom – well only the rude variants on “Mary had a little lamb…. full of frisks and frolics…one day he jumped over a barbed wire fence……and was seriously hurt in the ensuing accident”.

So learning poetry has not been my thing.

Even in the memory world championships, when it came to the poem event (we had 15 minutes to remember as much of a poem as possible and then recall it) it still wasn’t my thing.

However when it came to it, I think I remembered about 8 lines…..see it was that memorable I can’t even remember myself…..however 8 lines is not bad by “normal” standards.

So memory is my thing but poetry really isn’t.

When it comes down to it and I have to memorise a poem (something I have not done since winning the silver medal at the world championships) it is really an intellectual memorisation exercise and not a philosophical/emotional/literary appreciation of verse (whether it has iambic pentameter or not).

So that was the main thrust of my short appearance on BBC Radio Swindon this morning.

If I go into the studio then usually I get 15 or so minutes of chat, maybe listen to a couple of records, and then perhaps answer a couple of questions from callers to the station.

Today I couldn’t get into the studio and so had a brief 2 minute chat with the presenter who asked about the difference between verbatim learning and a fuller experiential and emotional approach to learning poems.

Yes you can take the mechanics and structure of the words and punctuation that make up the verse and memorise them in a way that you can recall them pretty much perfectly (if you are well practiced).

But is that the same as taking the meaning, nuances, imagery, emotion and contradictions of the verse and truly experiencing them.

Err…..well no.

However which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Do you learn the poem off by heart first so you can then concentrate on appreciating the subtleties of it later without having to keep reaching over to the book to remind yourself of what the next line is?

Or do you experience the emotional journey and the vibrant imagery over and over again and hope that the repetition of it will mean at least some of it sticks in the old grey matter?

It really depends on the individual.

If you want a good old ride on a literary roller coaster then perhaps take the emotional route and ride the rhyme and rhythm of the verse.

If you just want to commit it to memory then….commit it to memory.

….or you could try both.

Either way it does not matter as long as you enjoy it.