Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Something Old, But New for Me

I read this last Friday with a great group of poets and tried something new. I memorized a poem. Now, this is such a been-around-the-block idea that I’m surprised I haven’t tried it before, especially considering that some of my favorite readers have been Marilyn Kallet and Yusef Komunyakaa who both recite some of their work. And that’s partially what’s striking to me. Although I’ve been told for years that I should memorize at least one poem and love it when others do, I resisted. Some of my foot-dragging thoughts were: “I almost have them memorized anyway;” “I don’t have the time;” and the more honest one of “It might be a little better to have one memorized, but it could be a whole lot worse forgetting the thing.”

Well, I didn’t forget the lines, and what I found is it changed how I read all the poems that night, including the ones on the page in ways I don’t entirely understand. I focused on the delivery of all of my poems a bit more, seeing myself that night as more of a conduit between the poem and the audience rather than the writer of the work. Those weren’t my poems. They were poems I was sharing. And that’s an important distinction standing on a stage. My ego took a step back, and my focus shifted to how well I was communicating the poems rather than if the audience liked the poems.

The key for me was choosing a poem that didn’t require exact precision with the memorized lines. What I worked on memorizing was the turns in the poem and where I wanted my stressed beats. I also found that as I practiced, I improved the poem, cutting anything extraneous since I would have the added bonus of not having to memorize what I cut. Also, I practiced with a group first to perform a bit of exorcism on the nerves. To Kali Meister, our reading couch, many thanks for giving us your time. And to everyone who came, many thanks for letting us share our work with you.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like some of the old school Nashville writing advice not to ever write down a song because you would make it better in your head and the paper might stop that from happening.