I’m trying to memorize some of my own poems, which is an interesting and embarassing exercise. Like: not only do I think my words are so important that I have to write them down, but I also think you should read them and now–holy self-importance–I’m repeating them to myself over and over again all day long. I only started to do this with poems that I’m pretty satisfied with and intend to share at readings and such. But as I’ve been spending time with these poems, I’ve been finding little and big changes to make–as big as the ordering of stanzas, as little as changing individual words here and there. I was talking to a group of friends who are performers just before I started this process, and everyone shared a slightly different system for their own memorizing. I came home and tried bits of them all (because I have really smart friends). One suggestion was to attempt to memorize in monotone. While I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why that’s a good idea, I think in terms of editing poetry it might be particularly useful. If we are trying to create pieces of writing that will translate from the page and into the minds of the reader, we must imagine the most apathetic reader and start from there, right (I suppose an alternative is to find a teenager who is chronically bored and have him/her read it aloud).
Below is my mother’s favorite poem, the very first poem I remember memorizing. It is impossible to read this in monotone. The word choice requires you to slow and speed as Frost wants you to. We’ve done an exercise with this poem in writing workshops in the past, passing the poem around the room and having each person read it in turn. It is an exercise inspired by Denise Levertov’s “The Poet in the World.” Participants definitely looked at me like I was nuts, but when we got to about the fourth person, the skepticism began to fade away, and the readings were more and more sincere and simultaneously playful. But the poem withstood the test of accents, gender, reading speed–you name it. Try reading the below in monotone and see what I mean. Or tell me you disagree and that I’m an idiot. I can handle it.
This week I want you to listen to your own poems again and again–one that you’re really happy with, or one that you’ve been struggling with–either way. Repeat, repeat, repeat–read the poem aloud ten times, waiting at least a minute between readings so you’re sure to actually listen through. Get the sounds right, make edits.
Two final points:
1. Glamping (glamorous camping) is made even more glamorous when you get to go hang out with your awesome friends in the woods and then come home and sleep in your own bed. Above picture is from said “glamping” trip, near the power lines. Because these are city woods, people.
2. Why is Trombone Shorty so good? Do any of you care to make an introduction? I bet we’d get along so well, and I know he’s in town…
Now get serious, you slackers.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
BY ROBERT FROST
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.