How to memorize a poem

Posted February 15, 2011

by Lensyl Urbano

My students are working on poetry this cycle and I’m having them each memorize and present each of the different types of poems we’re covering.

Jim Holt suggests memorizing poems slowly over time:

… the key to memorizing a poem painlessly is to do it incrementally, in tiny bits.
— Holt (2009): Got Poetry?

But I very much like John Hollander’s advice to use the rhythm of the poem to help with memory:

It is partly like memorizing a song whose tune is that of the words themselves.
–Hollander (1995): Committed to Memory

Another approach, which worked for Michael Weiss, was to type out pairs of lines in a word processing program.

It may take about ten repetitions before a couplet is committed to memory, but as you gain experience, they’ll come faster than that.
–Weiss (2009): How to memorize a poem

All of the essays cited above also make persuasive arguments for why anyone should memorize poems. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that poems in memory are readily available for reflection. You get a feel for the rhythm and musicality, and you get to look at the words in different ways as you turn them around in your mind, playing with their meanings.

Finally, my students have become pretty good at presenting poetry, partly because they’ve seen Shake the Dust, but mainly because of our doing poetry every morning. Good presentations in the past have ratcheted up the quality of the presentations we’ve been seeing.

We’ve already started on haikus, but next week my students will be presenting sonnets. So far, things look promising.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. How to memorize a poem, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

2 Responses to “How to memorize a poem”

  1. Rachel Barbe

    Thanks for these memorization links! I’m excited to get my middle school students started on memorizing some poetry (my favorite)!

  2. Lensyl Urbano

    Poetry does hold a special place in my heart. I like nice set of worksheets you have compiled on your class page.

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