I shared this video with my students some time ago as a way to think about poetry in a more user friendly way. Lynda Barry, of course, is a wonderfully inspiring and creative soul. Her discussion about Emily Dickinson encouraged us all to pull out those large tomes of her poetry and find one that we would memorize. It was amusing and amazing to see how the students performed her words.
Lynda Barry makes the case for the memorization of poetry as a way to help make meaning. Because memorized words have easy access to living in the everyday world, their applicability and connections are ever present and ready.
Memorization also freely allows for interpretation. I had each student recite their chosen poem from heart. Then I asked them to become an old person, a drunk, a person who was afraid…..(you get the picture) and recite the poem again. It was as if they had been freed. The words spilled from their lips, sometimes humorously, sometimes in great earnestness. RG was bent over, crawling on the floor, hoarse-voiced as an old man reciting “Faith…” LM convincingly stumbled into his classmates, the blackboard, and the garbage can as he drunkenly rendered “Some keep the Sabbath….” GB spoke “Hope is the the thing with feathers…” as if she were Governor Barnett from the early days of the integration of schools, literally as if she were at the 50 yard line during the halftime of a U Miss football game giving a speech, as we witnessed Barnett do earlier in the year in the documentary Eyes on the Prize. (Trust me. It was a star performance.)
Then the students began to choose the characterizations for their peers’ poems themselves– a serial killer, a little kid, a person who just found out their best friend died, a singer, a homeless person without a coat walking in below zero weather, and, yes, Michael Jackson (which was an unforgettable demonstration of word and body coordination). The students were asked to say the poem a third time and, of course, it was much better than the first way they had done it. Something was unleashed. Something snapped. They owned the words. The rote became right.
Thank you, Lynda. Thank you, Emily.
I dwell in Possibility —
A fairer House than Prose —
More numerous of Windows —
Superior — for Doors —
Of Chambers as the Cedars —
Impregnable of eye —
And for an everlasting roof —
The Gambrels of the Sky —
Of Visitors — the fairest —
For Occupation –This–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise —