Posts tagged Poetry
Singing along to The Decemberists’ lovely song ‘O Valencia’ this early morning it seems it is easy to learn anything by heart. Just join in. I stop for a moment and write out a line and there’s less to sing about. These words are good but not that good (although much respect to Colin Molloy, who writes brilliant songs). And looking at the whole song, well, it’s a song for goodness sake, not meant to be read but to be sung, or in my case bellowed. When it comes to learning by heart, songs don’t quite count, but poems do. And I say this because I’ve set myself the task of learning a poem by heart. I’ve done it before. I’ve written about it before. It troubles me that this is unusual and difficult.
I’m learning a poem by heart by a week on Friday because I’m helping to run a Teachers’ Day (with the poet David Calcutt) as part of the Poetry by Heart‘recitation competition’ that is currently running. The brief is simple: school students learn by heart a couple of poems from a range selected by those who know best (sic) and then recite them in a school competition and the best go forward to a regional final and then to a national final. There’s much to feel uneasy about but I’ve signed Writing West Midlands up to support it because I’m waging my own small war against poetry that does not want to be learned by heart.
I have a few poems by heart already and I rather like having them around. I like to say them to myself and to take a little ownership of them. Learning by heart is a great leveller: never mind how well respected you are, prizes garnered, caps doffed, envy generated, if no one wants to con even a line of your verse by heart then you’re less than zero. Do I really mean that? A bit extreme, Jonathan. I know poets write for personal redemption, for the pleasure of diving for pearls, for the joy of the ‘finished jigsaw moment’, because they like ‘liking’ language. And all of that’s fine. And good. But I want more poets to write because they wanted folk to be so enamoured of their work that the practice of learning them by heart is natural, untutored and frequent.
And since you asked, the Poetry by Heart Teachers’ Day is on Friday 1 March 2013 in Birmingham. Check out the website for details. If you are a teacher interested in your students taking poetry to heart come and spend a short day (it will fly by) looking at the how and why of becoming word perfect.