essay by Jim Holt about memorizing poetry in the New York Times Book Review reminded me of the way
I got through all the standardized tests when I was in high school.
The advice about test taking skills said to never go back and
have second thoughts, and I was a fast enough reader that I would
often have as much as 10 minutes after I’d gone through and
recorded my first thoughts. My family was impressed when I
memorized poetry (not to the point of paying for it), and I’d been
at the tail end of when you could impress a teacher by doing it,
so I knew several fairly long poems by heart, so I would use the
ten minutes to recite them.
I knew The Raven and The Bells by
Edgar Allen Poe, and The Man against the Sky by
Edwin Arlington Robinson, and lots of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.
I don’t do this often enough these days that I can still keep
the order of all the similar but different stanzas straight, but I
do remember enough to while away a few minutes waiting for a train
Jim Holt says he now memorizes a couple of lines of poetry a
day, and has learned lots of good poems since he started doing
this. I briefly considered doing that, but my life still hasn’t
settled down from trying to post to this blog every day (the house
cleaning and the publishing are both suffering), so I won’t take it
up just now.
But if you’re someone who’s worrying about your memory
declining with age, this seems like a better way to exercise it
than some of the games people play for that purpose.