I’m a forward-leaning poet. Of the works of our many-stranded canon, I swoon to those that lean forward in, & out of, their own times.
Also, I swear by a practice learned in a rearguard setting, private boys’ school in the English model I suffered in 4 years: memorization & recitation. It does get the work down in yr bones.
Here’s how I’ve tried to make that work for my Western dears.
Memorization and Recitation Assignment
A great way to get into the bones of a poem is to memorize and recite it. The process yields insights into the music, structure, and rhetoric of a poem that a more analytical approach can miss. So you’re going to memorize a poem and recite it to the class. Poems in the course outline that are underlined are eligible. I’ll post a sign-up sheet for recitations soon; they’ll begin in about three weeks. Please
do not choose a poem by the poet you working with in your song project;
do not sign up for a poem if two people have already claimed that poem.
Some further guidelines:
Choose a poem to which you feel an emotional or imaginative connection.
First concentrate on memorization. The key here is repetition. Read a line or phrase off the page, put down the poem, say the line or phrase from memory, check what you said against what’s on the page, and repeat till you have it right, without too much effort.
Break the poem into manageable chunks, e.g., quatrains. Let the rhymes be the mnemonic device they maybe originally were. Same with the rhythm, if it’s highly regular.
Once you can recite a chunk (even if effortfully) practice it, either silently or out loud, whenever you can – standing in line at Panda Express, waiting for the bus, going to sleep at night. (Especially going to sleep. A study trick every student should know.)
Check periodically against the poem; don’t memorize a wrong version by accident.
Be sure you understand every inch of the poem. The literal meanings of the words, the sentence structures, the figures of speech at work there.
Also, have these questions in mind: who’s speaking, to whom, and to what ostensible purpose? and what purpose might there be under the ostensible purpose?
You have it fluently memorized when you can recite it at double speed without error.
Then you can turn your attention to recitation. The goal here is a heightened naturalness. You want to sound like a person speaking to other persons. With that in mind:
Don’t let the meter force you into monotony. Poetic rhythm is fluid and variable; let your fluency in English, not an abstract idea of meter, guide your enunciation.
Don’t overstate the line end. As a rule of thumb, you can add about half a comma to whatever other punctuation is there. (More if there’s a rhetorical reason for it. Less if there’s an enjambment you want to convey.)
Listen carefully, a number of times, to readings of poems posted on Canvas – especially ones you find effective or moving. Where does the reader speed up, slow down, pause, emphasize?
Finally, practice, practice, practice. Recite your poem to friends, to family, to strangers, to me (remember those office hours). Get and learn from our reactions. A poem is an offering of beauty; offer it beautifully.
It’s from an exhibition at the Met on the early modern meeting between the Islamic and European worlds. The deets:
Reciting Poetry in a Garden
Object Name: Tile panel
Date: first quarter 17th century
Geography: Country of Origin Iran, Isfahan
Medium: Stonepaste; polychrome glaze within black wax resist outlines (cuerda seca technique)
Dimensions: Panel with tabs: H. 35 1/4 in. (89.5 cm)
W. 61 3/8 in. (155.9 cm)
D. 2 1/2 in. (6.4 cm)
Wt. 300 lbs. (136.1 kg)
Each tile: H. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm)
W. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm)
Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1903
Accession Number: 03.9b
A lush landscape provides the setting for a picnic, complete with fruit and beverages in Chinese‑style blue-and-white vessels. Two men sit in conversation, one writing and holding a safina (an oblong format book typically containing poetry), flanked by a man standing on the left and a woman on the right carrying a covered bowl decorated with Chinese designs. The patterned robes, silk sashes, and striped turbans resemble costumes depicted in seventeenth‑century Persian drawings and paintings.
Orientalism? Go on, say it. I’ll respond, try to.