tips on memorizing poems

for a change of pace, a blog post about one of the great mysteries of spoken word (not!)… how to commit your stuff to memory. i remember that one of the first things that impressed me about spoken word was how can a person spit a five minute diatribe right off the top of their heads like that… it wasn’t long before i stopped being impressed with spoken word and overblown rants but memorization is still a skill that can help a poet gain a deeper insight into their work and its local & global effects… here ya go…

1. recite the poem straight from the page into some kind of recording device (tape, cd, iPod). if you are not that particularly in love with the sound of your voice (personally, i cant stand to hear my stuff played back), play some appropriate instrumental (very important) music softly in the background.

recite the poem in your normal tone, then a faster version, an ultra

slow one, and then back to your normal tone.

then play this for yourself every chance you get. it’ll be just like

learning the words to your favorite song. when you hear the ultra slow version, you will start reciting the lines ahead which lets you know you’re getting there

(i stole the tip of recording your poems from Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry which is a pretty fun book to have in your collection)

2. with the printed version in front of you, copy the poem onto a

blank sheet of paper. continue doing this till you think you have it

memorized, then try writing it from memory onto a new sheet of paper. No Peeking! if you cant do it then start from the top. rinse, lather, repeat till you get it.

some folks claim that writing on a yellow legal pad with a red pen

makes everything stand out more. me, i just steal some paper from wherever i’m at and just go for it.

to keep from boring myself, i also try to write it in different styles (print, script, shorthand, continuous, different paper positions, etc.)

the point should be to make your body say to your brain… “hey, i’m gettin a fuckin cramp here! learn it already!!!”

regie gibson also claims that every poem should be written in longhand at least once to cement the physical relationship between the poem and your body… werd!

(dont throw the used paper away! use the margins to write notes on performance or for future edits)

NEXT. when you think you have the poem fully commited to memory, recite it to a friend who has the hardcopy. do not stress fucking it up. its your friend for chrissakes! if i do fuck up, i like to keep truckin thru till the end. three fuck ups and we start again. this is just me, i know some people want to get it right from jump street. please do what suits ya.

when you have it down. once again, throw a little wrench in the situation. play some loud music while reciting. go to the other end of the rehearsal spot and YELL it out. go right up to your friend and whisper it. use your imagination but try to target your weak spots (loud mofos should try the whisper, calm cats should get all rock -n- roll, etc.)

hope this helps!

ps- if anybody has any other memorization tips, please pass it on.

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  1. block memorization: the process whereby you memorize short sections (blocks) of text and build on what you have.

    works nice in tandem with a piece of straight-out rhythmic music, with palpable resting places in the composition.

    memorization seems best when it’s a normal part of your writing routine. it’s like anything, the more you do it, the better you get at it.

    loves me some reggie, but i wouldn’t discount the relationship between mind and keyboard: in fact, the regular rhythm of keys clicking at the same time your poetic and musical minds are engaged might just lead to a memorization scheme worth trying.

  2. Copy the poem on to an acetate sheet. Shoot the copy against the wall and something about the poem being there in front of you 6 feet high helped me alot. Of course not many people have access to an overhead projector.

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