Have you ever had to memorize a poem? Which one(s)? In a graduate class, I memorized "Prufrock," and I'll never forget it. I listened to Eliot read it a million times in my car til I had it down.
Do you ever have your classes do this? What were the results if so? Or if not, why not?
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I think it is great to have students involved in reading poetry. Whether you have them stand up and recite it form memory or read it, I am not sure it matters. As long as they are getting the correct rhythm of the poem as they do so.
As an undergrad, I memorized the beginning of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. I will be saying these lines in my nursing home:
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of march
hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
I don't know why these lines are meaningful to me, but they are. When I was memorizing the words, I was also working as a (crappy) waitress. I vividly remember other co-workers supreme puzzlement of my studies. Have you ever heard the comedian Bill Hicks? He tells a story about a being stuck in a Waffle House after a late-night gig. Waiting for his pancakes, he is reading. A waitress peers over his shoulder and says,
"What are you readin' fer?"
Is that like the weirdest question you've ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading for. Well, godammit, you stumped me. Why do I read? Well... hmmm... I guess I read for a lot of reasons, and the main one, is so I don't end up, being a waffle waitress
I supremely believe in art for art's sake, and would despair to live in a world devoid of intellectual pleasure.
Students at my school memorize and recite a poem for every grading period. We made a commitment several years ago to this project because of our belief that it serves more than one purpose. First, of course, the students are learning poetry (some of which they'll remember for the rest of their lives, we hope), recitation can improve public speaking skills, and poetry becomes a more intrinsic part of our curriculum instead of merely a poetry unit.
I typically have students recite most of the poems to me in order to save class time. Sometimes they write the poems instead of reciting them aloud. Although most of the poems are selected by teachers, students also have the opportunity to make their own choices from time to time. My seniors are currently working on Heaney's "Digging" while the freshmen are memorizing a soliloquy from Macbeth.
By the way, the seniors are still quite proud of themselves for learning the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in Middle English when they were juniors.
And hey, it's National Poetry Month! Celebrate it. Choose some poems the students will like and read them aloud. We just read "Ex-Basketball Player" and listened to Dylan Thomas reading "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." The freshmen loved Frost's "'Out, Out--.'"
I enjoy teaching poetry, and I'm looking forward to attending a conference this summer on poetry and teaching. Always in search of new ideas.
I haven't had them memorize poems, although I do think that would be a great thing to do. It could also be used in conjunction with creating the audio tapes I mentioned in another post. What I have done is have my students memorize scenes from the Shakespearean plays we read in their classes, then act them out at our Shakespeare festival.
Because my Brit Lit class is so small this year, and because two of the three people in it were terrified of having to be up on stage, I had that class be my technical crew and run sound and lights, as well as set up the stage, move furniture, etc. However, because I feel that memorizing and reciting is an important skill to master, I also had the two terrified boys memorize a speech from a play of their choice (one did Macbeth, the other did Shrew) to recite in class, while the third one acted in another class' scene from Twelfth Night. I thought it was a good compromise as they all enjoyed the technical aspect of the stage, and the one who loves acting got to act, too!
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