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June 1, 2016

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What Poems Live in You?

When National Poetry Month started (way back on April 1), I thought back to my own school days and poems I’d been assigned to memorize. To this day, lines from “Casey at the Bat,” “Harlem,” and “Invictus” are stuck in the deep recesses of my brain. I know I challenged myself to memorize other pieces, including poems by e. e. cummings, Lewis Carroll,  and Shel Silverstein.

Of course, this made me wonder what poems other people might have memorized. Through a Facebook post, I asked friends and family if they’d ever had to memorize a poem for school. Within minutes I started to get answers.

My aunt Joanne recalled memorizing poems by Edgar Allan Poe, John Donne, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. My uncle Bruce chimed in with Walt Whitman. My cousin was stunned I’d never had to memorize any Robert Frost. Some of my librarian and teacher friends started posting lines from “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “Little Orphant Annie,” “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” and “The Tyger” on my Facebook wall.

When I turned to my Reading Club colleagues with the same question, I was met with more incredible answers.  

Laura D. (Editorial Director):

I had to memorize “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth in 7th grade. To this day, I think “I wandered lonely as a cloud” is one of my favorite opening lines in literature.

Nicole (Reading Club Merchandising):

I DEFINITELY still remember the first stanza of Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride.” I don’t know that we had to memorize it (and definitely not the whole thing!). It might have been a bonus question on a history test. 

Lori W. (Reading Club Editorial):

I had to memorize “The Raven” for a poetry class in college. Luckily, it’s one of my favorites so it wasn’t too terrible. I remember some of it still but I’m definitely rusty. I’ve memorized a couple of Emily Dickinson poems on my own, but the one I always remember is Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.

Julia (Storia Design):

I do remember memorizing a Shel Silverstein poem (of course) for fun…

Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout 

would not take the garbage out​
she’d scrub the pots and scour the pans…

partly because I loved the illustration of the impossibly huge pile of garbage that went with the poem!

Emma (Reading Club Merchandising):

I had to memorize the prologue to The Canterbury Tales for school. On my own, I memorized “Funeral Blues” by W. H. Auden, and I also tried to memorize Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est.”

Concetta (Club Leo Coordinator):

The first poem I had to memorize was for a high school freshman English class. The poem was Ben Jonson’s “Song to Celia,” and I remember a large chunk of it, mostly because I blanked on the last line during my recitation and subsequently could not score higher than a B. Injustice, I tell you!

Kristin (Reading Club Editorial):

There are several poems I liked so much that I’ve memorized most of them just by reading them over and over again! I can do all of “The White Seal” by Rudyard Kipling and large swaths of “Tam o’ Shanter” by Robert Burns and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde.

Ann Marie (Editorial Director):

When I was in elementary school, a couple of friends and I memorized “The Goops.” We performed it by acting out the terrible table manners while reciting the poem. It’s a short poem, but I still remember every word.

Katie (Online Merchandising):

I had to memorize a poem (for extra credit) and I chose “Jabberwocky.” I still remember much of it. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were some of my favorite childhood reads. I also chose to memorize the Alabama fight song (which is kind of like a poem) for my swim coach to win a T-shirt and less laps for the day in practice.

While more than 500 years of poems and poets were represented across all the conversations I had, the fact that we all had memorized poems—and still held many of the poems dear—is what struck me the most. I loved that so many of us had such a variety of verses still rattling around in our heads! I try to read poetry throughout the year, but I’m grateful for the extra push National Poetry Month gives me to incorporate it into my reading life more often.

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April 20, 2016