In fifth grade, we had to memorize a poem and recite it to the class. I loved doing that (like that shocks you) and won second place for “A Fairy Went A-Marketing” by Rose Fyleman. I was ticked off that I didn’t get first place and told myself that it was because my poem was longer than the one recited by the girl who took first place. Hahaha. Actually, I don’t know how she did because we had to go in the hall and recite our poems privately to the teacher. This was a kindness on her part, but it would have been great to listen to all the poems.
When my kids were little I had a handful of poems I’d memorized by accident that I used to recite to them with all manner of sound effects and gestures. One of my favorites was the “Double Double Toil and Trouble” passage from MacBeth. I also loved “The Spangled Pandemonium” and “Keep a Poem in Your Pocket,” as well as a couple of e.e. cummings poems. But after fifth grade, I was neither required nor encouraged to memorize poetry. A generation or two before my time students were routinely required to do so.
In that way, they would have literature to keep them company if they were stranded on a desert island or taken as a POW. Memorization of literature is good for the mind in a way that Google can never be good for us. Here’s just one article about the subject: Why We Should Memorize.
I’ve also heard that poets who recite their own poetry at readings, rather than reading them from the page, are electrifying performers. The thought of that terrifies me. What if my mind goes blank?
AS IT SO OFTEN DOES AS OF LATE. Either my brain is suffering from an overload of iPhone, iPad, computer, and social media–or it’s starting to decay. That is why I now can be sure to complete only one poem from beginning to end without ever reading it. And it so happens that little Perry loves to listen to it ;).
THE SPANGLED PANDEMONIUM
by Palmer Brown*
The Spangled Pandemonium
Is missing from the zoo.
He bent the bars the barest bit,
And slithered glibly through.
He crawled across the moated wall,
He climbed the mango tree,
And when his keeper scrambled up,
He nipped him in the knee.
To all of you a warning
Not to wander after dark,
Or if you must, make very sure
You stay out of the park.
For the Spangled Pandemonium
Is missing from the zoo,
And since he nipped his keeper,
He would just as soon nip you!
I figure Perry imagines himself as the Spangled Pandemonium, wanting to nip all of us if we go after him after he breaks out of his cage and the shelter.
*I tried to look up Palmer Brown and although he wrote five books for children and apparently lived from 1920-2012 I couldn’t even find an obituary for him!