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October 17, 2011

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how unfortunate that evidently there were no American women writing poetry circa 1925, or before...but maybe they were on the list for the First Half of the year. At least J. G. Holland was a correspondent with and friend of Emily Dickinson...that should count for something..

but hey, all such limitation has been rectified in our 21st century with Esquire's list of "75 books every man should read - the greatest works of literature ever written" ...there's actually one woman on the list and she's an American...it's "bloody simple" I guess, a "good book is just damn hard to find"....

Dear S: I had an Irish cousin whose job transferred him to Maryland for a year about 5 or 6 years ago. His 3 teenage daughters enrolled in public school, and when I asked them what they thought of American education, their disdain was very clear: our schools were laughably easy in their view. I remember them telling me that they had to memorize something like 40 poems and other pieces per year back in Ireland. (On the other hand, I bet there are many kids in this country who have multitudes of rap lyrics committed to memory.)

How do actors memorize all those lines?

Oh, Stacey, this is wonderful! And reminds me that "sweet and Low" and "a sea dirge" were poems i did know by heart as a child and had forgotten. This also reminds me that in my last blogging stint I signed off an entry on "argument" with John Hollander's poem "By Heart," which is still worth reading and re reading (and hey, maybe memorizing). Terence -- you bring up two interesting points -- in addition to this tradition still being very much alive in Ireland (of course!), people I know who were raised in France know vast amounts of Valery and Appollinaire and others. And yes, zillions of kids no doubt have zillions of rap lyrics memorized. Hollander's poem begin something like "the songs come at us first..." and there are two interesting things about that. It's far easier to memorize a song than a poem. (I would bet i literally know hundreds or more songs by heart, and a dozen poems at most) part of this it that the melody and rhythm of music are like a vessel the words are carried in (i don't know how else to put it) -- and part of it, at risk of provoking snark from free verse jihadists, is rhyme. Our innate need to use pattern recognition to process knowledge makes rhyme irresistible to our processing centers. -- amy

Memorization takes place in every era, but intellectual life lost control of it with the rise of consumer marketing. Which is why, instead of Invictus, my generation learned (and I remember to this day): Give him Doctor Ross dog food / Do him a favor / It's got more meat / And it's got more flavor / It's got more meat / Because it's made the way it should / Doctor Ross dog food / Is dog gone good. Use it or lose it applies not just to waning faculties--but to warring philosophies.

My father had tons of poems memorized, most memorably "Jenny Kissed Me" by Leigh Hunt. And I remember that, at the little reception after Rick's aunt's funeral, his uncle and uncle's sister recited Gray's "Elegy," each one filling in the parts that the other had trouble with. It was just what you did in school in those days,like learning the alphabet and your multiplication tables.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
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of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
                   

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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Ringfinger was nervous
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