Thursday, April 9, 2009

Learning Poetry by Heart

How much poetry can you recite by heart? Can you still declaim those poems you had to learn by heart in primary and secondary school? But have you learned any recently?

At a workshop with Pat Boran a year of two ago he asked the participants if they could recite any of their own poetry by heart. No-one could. He recommended learning poetry by heart. When challenged he gave an almost word perfect recitation of Birches by Robert Frost. "One could do worse than be a swinger of birches."

At the Poetry Now festival in Dun Laoghaire the Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova recited some of his poems by heart.

This article, a sort of review of an anthology by Robert Pinsky ESSENTIAL PLEASURES: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud (Norton, $29.95), deals with the question and extols the practice of learning poetry by heart.

More about learning poetry by heart here and here.

I can still say all of Wordsworth's Daffoldils, Yeats' Lake Isle and the first twenty lines of The Merchant of Venice by heart


Paddy Smith said...

And last Sunday in the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, they had the Off By Heart final of a national competition where children from 7 to 11 participated in a poetry recital contest. They were required to recite Masefield's Sea-Fever and one other from a list of 30. There seems to have been huge interest in this, from the numbers who entered the earlier rounds throughout the country. Something we should consider in Boyne Writers as a service to the community, especially to schools.

Michael Farry said...

And in Ireland there's the Poetry Aloud competition for second level school pupils. It's organised by the National Library of Ireland and Poetry Ireland.